Penny Lane’s “Listening to Kenny G” is an insightful, thoughtful approach to a successful career in easily heard saxophonist music. Lane describes the rise of the saxophonist’s fame, when, humorously, love and intense hatred provoke his music. Film screens at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Did you decide to make a movie with Kenny GK?
Bill Simmons (creator of the HBO music box series) contacted me and asked me to give him ideas for a music documentary. I really wanted to work with him, but I felt like I couldn’t think of a documentary that I’d be less interested in. . As such, you must create a music documentary. I know I’m really interested in the idea of artistic taste. Then I thought, maybe a picture of a musician who is objectively popular by selling records, but also hated by the “critical class”. Once I had that idea, I just thought of Kenny.
In the film, Kenny says he will boycott the documentary if it becomes part of his first music video film. So, is he dropping your TIFF premiere?
No. He will come to the premiere. In that one scene you see him change his mind. He said, “No. You can’t show that video. ”But then I promise that I will make sure everyone knows he hates it. Then he’s fine. I love that. He is just a truly reasonable person.
Some of the most ridiculous parts of Doc are your interviews with various jazz critics, including New York Times critic Ben Ratliff. How did you decide who to talk to for this dock?
It was not clear who should be [featured] Critic. In all other music documentaries, it’s like, “Get the person writing the artist’s biography.” But in this case, no one wrote Kenny G’s biography and no one will. So it was more about identifying people who had a sense of humor and had a subtle way of looking at the world.
Nowadays many music docs are made by subject. Did Kenny work as a producer on this project?
No. He had no control or creative speech.
After making this film, would you say you are a Kenny G fan?
I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of his music. I’ve definitely gained an appreciation for what it is and where it comes from and what people like about it. I’d say there’s a song – “Everlasting Love” – that I’ve created a very emotional response to.
Doc reveals that Kenny G is not only one of the best-selling artists of all time, but also a pilot, an award-winning golfer, one of Starbucks’ first investors, and has a sense of humor to end it. Would you say he got the last smile?
It’s funny that you put it in that position, because at first one of the titles was titled “Kenny G Hays The Last Laugh.” That’s how it felt to me. She is doing great. It doesn’t matter what Music Snow says. They don’t hurt his feelings. He’s smiling all the way to the bank and he’s really with himself and proud of what he does. No one can do anything about it.