Kenny G and his band brought their Miracles Holiday & Hits Tour to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on Wednesday night. Billed as a night filled with festive spirit and contemporary classics, the newly renovated NAC was all decked out for the holidays. Decorations included an enormous Christmas tree, giant nutcrackers, and the largest rocking chair this side of the Rideau canal.
There was an audible buzz as guests were ushered into the grand Southam Hall by dimming lights indicating that the show was about to start. As I made my way to my seat, I noticed that there seemed to be a crowd gathering near the merch table. Low and behold, the main attraction was signing autographs for his adoring fans, greeting them and pausing for photos. It should be no surprise that Kenny G came across as a warm and friendly host throughout the evening. After all, his late mother Evelyn was originally from Saskatchewan and the Seattleite’s Canadian roots came shining through again and again.
Kenny G is and will always be an engaging entertainer at heart. After an inspiring opening number where he dazzled the audience with shifts between smooth melodic jazz and expressive sax screams, he treated his fans to a proper introduction, in both official languages no less. In nearly perfect french he thanked the crowd for coming. He told them that he and his high school pal Robert Damper, who was on stage with him as his pianist/keyboardist, dreamed as kids that they would someday become professional musicians and get to play in such a fantastic venue as Southam Hall.
In a recording career that spans more than three decades and 23 albums, the Grammy Award winner has earned a reputation as being the premiere artist in contemporary jazz. Since the early ‘80s, his success has resulted in sales of more than 75 million records worldwide and more than a dozen climbs to the top of Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart. He has collaborated with the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Aaron Neville, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, and more surprising acts such as Weezer and Katy Perry. This success has brought fame and fortune, but also criticism, most notably from mainstream jazz musicians and enthusiasts who consider him to have strayed too far into the “pop” category. Critics are also of the view that his technical abilities are lacking in comparison to other accomplished jazz musicians.
Is his style too pop for some? Maybe. Is a Kenny G concert a bit on the cheesy side? Perhaps, but the man and his band know how to put on a show. He showed off his ability to hold a note (he’s the Guinness world record-holder at 45 minutes and 47 seconds using a technique called circular breathing), while waving, shaking hands, flashing high-fives and climbing on to the stage. His accomplished percussionist Ron Powell then gave him a much deserved break by treating the audience to an astonishing rhythmic set that ended with drumsticks being flung to the back of the stage.
If you are in the mood for fantastic musicianship combined with a little star power and the faint aroma of parmesan. For more information on the tour visit https://www.kennyg.com/