The Pittsburgh Symphony Pops season ended on a mellow note as Grammy Award-winning sax player Kenny G took to the stage Thursday night at Heinz Hall.
He approached the audience from the back, sweetly, almost plaintively, playing his soprano saxophone, as if coaxing them into his musical world. The smooth jazz master slowly made his way down the aisle, his mouth wrapped around his saxophone in an elfin smile, and stood on a small platform, the better to reach his fans in the balcony.
Following applause for "Loving You," he immediately segued into "Silhouette," stamped with one of his musical calling cards, a long-held note (using circular breathing) that kept flowing while he made his way back up the aisle, across a row in the center section and then up the stairs to the stage. There, he did a fist bump with conductor Lawrence Loh, meandered into a trill and finished with those softly dazzling runs that he loves.
That took 20 minutes.
The trim musician with the cherubic hair paused to take a breath and talk about his longest life relationship -- He still plays his high school instrument. Then he broke into slick Caribbean waves of repetitive phrases (another well-known part of his repertoire) in "Havana," featuring percussionist Ron Powell, the only time the tempo surged forward. Staying in the Latino mood, he briefly switched to tenor saxophone, giving a glossy nod to jazz great Stan Getz and his crisply soulful "Desafinado."
In general, this was the kind of music that didn't invite close inspection. Kenny G has been criticized for sticking to his very recognizable brand of smooth jazz instead of pushing for more texture and rhythmic play. Instead, he brings the music to his audiences, allowing it to swirl and entice, like a modern-day Pied Piper.
It was best to sit back and just be entranced by this polished entertainer. Who can argue with his laundry list of Grammy nominations and a winning composition for "Forever in Love"?
In the second half, he again settled into his main groove, with "Songbird" and a technical cadenza that seemed to be inspired by his classical surroundings. However, the orchestra was barely used in the arrangements (something that he should develop more fully).
He conducted a raffle for a soprano sax that he manufactures (something that will also occur in subsequent performances). The winner, a Pittsburgh man, rushed to the stage, leaving his wife behind for a moment. They were directed to two chairs, whereupon she produced a cell phone and Mr. Loh volunteered to take a photo of the couple with Kenny G.
While the sax star played just for them, she slowly lifted the cell phone again and again for her own personal remembrance of the night, much to the audience's delight. Yes, there was a kiss.
There was no doubt that the audience appreciated Kenny G's low-key, meditative approach that was never rushed. Maybe it's something that they need, awash in this fast-paced contemporary society. And they know that Kenny G, like a musical guru, will always produce.music
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.