Two lessons from Kenny G

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I came across an interesting quote the other day that I posted on my Facebook page.

“I practice my saxophone three hours a day. I’m not saying I’m particularly special, but if you do something three hours a day for forty years, you get pretty good at it.” ~Kenny G.

The takeaway here is obvious. Learning to become an expert at anything is not a sprint. It is a marathon. If you commit to spending just a bit of time each day on something, you are going to get a lot better over time. If you do that for a few decades, you will be an expert. It really is that simple.

Of course, in the case of Kenny G, not everyone thinks he is an expert. Many in the musical world consider him a bit of a hack who plays dumbed down music. And that leads to me to another thing you can learn from Kenny G that is very important and that is this:

Sometimes, the most effective music is not the most complicated and creative music.

Kenny G is a major influence in a genre of music called smooth jazz. Smooth jazz essentially means jazz that is simplified to make it more accessible to the average listener.

Jazz purists don’t like that. They like their ultra-intellectual and ultra-technical music. I like it too but I can tell you that even with my music training, it took me years to understand how to listen to it much less play it.

The casual listener doesn’t even try. I always laugh when I hear people talking about jazz being pop music. It is anything but pop music because it is anything but popular. Even in a big city like Atlanta, a jazz concert pianist is doing good to get a few hundred people to a concert. A typical jazz CD that is considered successful is one that sells a few thousand copies.

And then there is Kenny G. Kenny G is a ultra-talented jazz sax player who intentionally removes the complexity from his music so it will appeal to more people. As a result, he is the recipient of much scorn from the jazz elite community. He seems to deal with that OK though. Probably the fact that he plays to huge crowds and has sold 75 million records helps soften the blow.

Record sales is not the final metric of success. I know that. But it is an indicator of how music is working. Kenny G’s music works because he intentionally simplifies it. That is important.

Yes I talk about this often but I feel strongly about it. Want to become a better musician? Have the disciple to work every day and learn to make music that hits normal people in the gut even if it means dialing back on some of the complexity.

That is what we can learn from Kenny G.