The Completely Real, Totally Not Fake Chronology of the Musical and Philosophical Development of Kenny G
In honor of Kenny G's four-night stand at the Blue Note, which kicks off tonight, we thought we'd look back at some of the key moments in the life of smooth jazz's most mysterious, misunderstood, and feared figure.
June 5, 1956: Kenny G is born Kenneth Bruce Gotti, the secret love child of future mafia kingpin John Gotti, in Ozone Park.
December 25, 1964: Eight-year-old Kenny, already showing a predilection for mayhem, gets a baseball bat as a Christmas gift and quickly proceeds to smash car windows on his street and send three of his elementary school classmates to the hospital. His mother, hoping to steer young Kenny away from a life of violence, wipes the blood off the bat and trades it in for an alto saxophone.
July 17, 1967: Sitting down to dinner, Kenny feels an odd, tingling sensation enter his body and travel up his spinal cord into his brain. Although he doesn't realize it at the time, the 11-year-old has been entrusted with the soul of John Coltrane, who's just died from liver cancer at a hospital in Long Island.
January 8, 1971: Having dropped out of high school and playing some of Manhattan's hottest jazz spots, Kenny's live performances earn a glowing write-up in Downbeat magazine, which reads, in part: "An intimidating figure on stage, due in no small part to his shaved head and terrifying scowl, young Kenneth Gotti attacks his instrument with the fiery zeal of a thousand Viking invaders, creating a chaotic tempest that's scarier than the Nixon Administration and easily the most thrilling, exhilarating thing to happen to jazz in decades."
April 14, 1972: Kenny finds a way to merge his prodigious musical talents and his burgeoning life of crime by forming a crew to rob the clubs he's playing. He unlocks Birdland's back door, then distracts the crowd and staff with his brutal, mesmerizing sax runs while his associates slip in, clean out the safe and the bar registers, and swipe everyone's wallets and purses.
October 22, 1976: With his bare hands, Kenny kills for the first time. It happens in an alley near the Blue Note after a man approaches Kenny and sneers, "You think you're so fuckin' good, but you ain't no Chuck Mangione." It turns out the man is Lucchese capo Salvatore "Two Anuses" Fartulo, a blood rival of Kenny's father. Fearing for his son's life, the elder Gotti spirits Kenny to Seattle and orders him to grow out his hair, stop using his real last name, and to concoct a cover story that he's the mild-mannered son of Canadian Jews who's studying accounting in college while playing the saxophone on the side. And to smile a little.
August 2, 1981: After moving to Los Angeles and taking a job at an accounting firm while overseeing a clandestine drug-and-prostitution ring and occasionally busking on street corners to keep his sax skills sharp, Kenny's shopping for hair-care products at a Sally Beauty Supply one day when he's approached by a man he's seen many times in the relaxer aisle. The man introduces himself as Michael Bolton. They strike up a quick friendship, and Bolton soon reveals that he, too, comes from a background of extreme lawlessness and intense, aggressive music and recently changed his last name from "Bolotin" to throw off his enemies. The duo vows to form both a new crime syndicate and a shrieking, experimental splatterjazz combo "that'll show that John Zorn asshole what's what."
March 23, 1982: On his way up to the penthouse of a Los Angeles high-rise to carry out a hit on a rival kingpin, Kenny undergoes a stunning conversion when the elevator stalls on the 37th floor and he's trapped for nearly 48 hours with only the Muzak piped through the speakers to get him through the near-death ordeal. Inside his being, he can feel the vapid melodies wrestling with the spirit of Coltrane for control of his musical soul, and when Trane's essence finally exits his body, Kenny crumples in a heap as rescue workers finally pry the elevator doors open.