Walking down the aisle to the seats of Templeton Blackburn-Alumni Memorial Auditorium, the house lights dimmed and blue stage lights shone on a single, shimmering saxophone, facing the crowd.
Though the stage was still dim, the silhouette of Kenny G’s signature locks made its way to the stage to take the audience on a magical and "saxy" journey.
“We’re gonna take the Templeton Blackburn-Alumni Memorial Theater and turn it into a jazz club,” Kenny G told the crowd.
Two songs into his set, the 17-time Grammy nominee stepped down into the crowd, weaving through the audience. There were high-fives and fist bumps, and the jazz icon was able to hold one note for more than a minute without taking a breath.
After a few songs with no introduction between, it seemed that the music would simply speak for itself. Kenny G eventually spoke, giving a grand introduction.
“We’re having music tonight,” Kenny G said. “And sax education.”
The evening, however, was anything but just a saxophone show. Kenny G swayed to the beat of a bongo solo, clapped along to the drums and stood to the side to share the spotlight with members of his band.
Classics like “Songbird” and “The Moment” were interspersed with fresh takes on old jazz hits, like Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's “Desafinado.”
In a show peppered with bongo drums, bossa nova and sexual innuendos, it was clear that, although Kenny G is the frontman of the band, every member of the sextet plays a key role.
Each band member had their own solo at some point in the show, but Kenny G stood out with his complex scales spread through the majority of the songs. For some longtime fans, the scales were a surprising new addition to the set.
“He didn’t quite do all the scale stuff, he just played music. There wasn’t a lot of scale playing, so he just seems to be adding a lot more,” Athens resident Bruce Nottke said. “It was enjoyable … obviously, that he was playing (tunes) that you remember, but then it was kind of incorporated with the rest of it. Not that it made it bad. It just made it different.”
Speaking to the crowd about the importance of music education in the public school system, Kenny G harkened back to his high school days.
In particular, Robert Damper — the band’s pianist — has been by Kenny G’s side since the two were in school together in Seattle. It was their music education that brought them together, Kenny G said.
“This is what we dreamed of doing,” Kenny G said. “And we’re living our dreams because you guys are out here supporting the arts.”
The audience proved that they enjoyed the arts in different ways. During “Songbird,” a couple moved to the front of the auditorium to slow dance near the stage.
Others enjoyed the experience from their seats, including Athens resident Donte Brown.
“I thought it was absolutely amazing.” Brown said. “I used to always listen to him with my grandparents, so once I heard that there was Kenny G coming, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m coming to the concert. Of course.’”
To wrap up the two-hour set, Kenny G played a cover that old and new fans alike could appreciate: Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” Afterward, he greeted patient audience members in the lobby for a CD signing and photo opportunity before the band departed for its show tomorrow night in Van Wert.
One lucky member of the audience went home with a signed saxophone, designed by Kenny G himself. The winning ticket was drawn, and a sixth-grade student walked to the stage for a personal serenade.
The student told Kenny G she was a trombone player, but she hoisted her new instrument high overhead like a championship trophy.
“You’ve got to switch to saxophone,” Kenny G said to her.