On This Day in 1997 Kenny G Held a Note on his Sax for 45 Minutes

Kenny G has always been a sight to behold. The curly-haired horn player has outsold every jazz musician in history by moving over 75 million units, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Sorry Miles, Bird, Coltrane, and Ella.

They noted in 2011 that Kenneth Bruce Gorelick was then responsible for 15 gold, 11 platinum and 8 multi-platinum albums, meaning his tally has only increased.

But anyone can sell millions and millions of albums with a soprano saxophone, right? Perhaps. But can they hold a note on that thing for the entirety of one of those LPs?

On December 1, 1997, Mr. G. did just that, breaking the previous record.

Kenny explains the way he was able to do it was by using a technique called "circular breathing" which he says is like turning your mouth into a bagpipe where you fill your cheeks with air and while you squeeze it out through the mouthpiece, you breathe in via your nose.

According to the Guiness Book, you may not want to try this at home for too long.

Don't be discouraged if you can't do it right away. Kenny says it took him 20 years to master it.

Likewise, the Guinness Book says it's dangerous and has stopped updating the record-breakers because it's not good for your health.

"Back in 2000, Vann Burchfield broke the record for longest continuous note on a saxophone using circular breathing, with a note that lasted an unfathomable 47 mins 45 secs," Vicki Newman wrote earlier this year on the Guinness website.

Vann Burchfield breaking Kenny G's record.

"No matter how hard anyone tries, it would be impossible for them to beat this record.That’s because the title was officially rested on the back of medical evidence that suggested the practice of circular breathing is dangerous," she stated.

Burchfield claims his personal record went on for more than an hour.

The fact the good people at Guinness stopped keeping track of this record hasn't stopped musicians from attempting to push the boundaries.

Nigeria's beloved, Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo Kuti, otherwise known as Femi Kuti shattered Kenny's record in 2017.

Kuti, son of legendary musician Fela Kuti, pulled off the feat after two attempts because it is not easy to do and you shouldn't try.

But you should be inspired by these musicians, if anything for their sportsmanship.

When Kuti originally broke Kenny's record by a minute, he was later told about Burchfield's time. Frustrated he asked the messenger "why didn't you tell me earlier?"

Burchfield, who lives in Alabama, told NPR he loves and respects Kenny G., so he didn't want to rain on his parade by telling the world he had broken the record. But when news came out that Kuti had bested it with a 47 minute time, Burchfield called local radio stations to alert them Kuti had beaten one American, but not both.

He also advised Kuti to play a C-Sharp as it meant he didn't have to hold down any keys on the instrument, thus no fingers would be cramped for that long period.

Femi Kuti in 2010

Kuti acknowledged the tip but said it was more than breaking a record for him, he needed to have fun doing it.

"Oh, his technique was very good technique," Kuti said of Burchfield. "The mistake I am making is I'm holding my fingers. But I can't go back to using - because it's too late. Because I have to find excitement in that note. I have found excitement in the 'A.'"

In 2019, Kanye West surprised his then-wife Kim Kardashian with a surprise appearance of Kenny G in their living room for Valentine's Day.

To play an "A" on sax, you need to use your pointer and middle fingers, which Kuti did that very next day and broke Burchfield's record, but alas only technically. Guinness has stood by their ruling and will not update that page in their glorious book ever again.

It's curious neither of the men opted to play a "G," since they were breaking Kenny's record. Maybe because it requires three fingers?

Speaking of: today Kenny G released the 15th album of his career, Innocence, and is on the road touring to support it.

Currently Kenny is on the east coast but he will be making his way to the west in time for a series of shows in Seattle concluding with a series of New Year's Eve gigs at the Jazz Alley. Get your tickets via Kenny's website.

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Last updated: 28 Feb 2024, 18:26 Etc/UTC