“I Didn’t Want it to End!” Kenny G’s “Miracles and Holiday Hits” Tour LIVE! at STNJ
By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery
Christmas is in the air inside New Brunswick, NJ’s State Theatre New Jersey this Sunday, December 11, 2022 evening as music lovers of all ages ready themselves for a Miracles Holiday and Hits concert by saxophonist Kenny G.
Inside the historic STNJ auditorium, Kenny G comes on stage before the concert begins to announce, “During my show tonight, I’ll be giving away one of my saxophones.”
He invites audience members to purchase tickets for a drawing where the prize will not only include a soprano saxophone which Kenny designed, but also an invitation to come on stage and be serenaded by Kenny.
Sarah Chaplin, President and CEO of the State Theatre, thanks the audience for supporting live performance as concertgoers line up in the aisles to purchase raffle tickets while still awaiting the start of the show.
The lights dim and Kenny G’s band — keyboardist Robert Damper, guitarist John Raymond, drummer Daniel Bejarano, percussionist Ron Powell, and bassist Vail Johnson — take their places on stage.
The crowd cheers as the spotlight shines on Kenny G who appears standing in the middle of the front section of the auditorium playing “Loving You” on his soprano saxophone.
Concertgoers cheer to show their appreciation for the rich, full sound that surrounds them before Kenny G takes a bow from his perch within the audience.
As his soprano sax flutters with quick runs that dance around the theater, Kenny cues the band to join him in playing “Silhouette.”
Music lovers in the crowd recognize the melody and watch with rapt attention as Kenny’s skillful fingers fly up, down, and around his instrument.
Kenny holds out an incredibly long note which elicits cheers before fist-bumping with fans in the audience.
Moving from the theater aisle to the stage while still holding the same long note, Kenny continues to play the song onstage with amazing accuracy and range. The music floats as it rhythmically scampers prior to ending with a sustained high note that cascades into a flurry of jazzy runs which bring avid cheers from music lovers in the crowd.
Colored lights dance to the beat of the melodic jazz tune, “G Bop,” before a large lighted holiday wreath is lowered from the ceiling and Kenny and the band perform a festive arrangement of “Deck the Halls” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Concertgoers cheer, and Kenny responds, “Thank you!” Revealing that he still plays the same soprano saxophone that he played in high school, Kenny further acknowledges that his backup band has been together for almost 40 years and that he and keyboardist Robert Damper even performed in their high school jazz band together. After pointing out that all the musicians in his ensemble learned how to play instruments from their public school music teachers, Kenny thanks the audience for coming out tonight to support live music.
Kenny and Co. launch into “Havana,” a Latin-influenced song which features John Raymond on a Carlos Santana-inspired electric guitar solo, drummer Daniel Bejarano demonstrating his powerful and quick stick work, and Ron Powell playing percussion with his hands, elbows, and fingers. The crowd claps along as Powell comes downstage to dance with a large tambourine while bassist Vail Johnson takes over on percussion. Accelerating and slowing down the beat, Powell invites the audience to echo-clap rhythms as he adds stomps and vocal sounds to his performance. Then, he dances while improvising on his instrument doing tricks — spinning his tambourine and catching it to enthusiastic cheers and applause.
Following “Forever in Love,” an easy flowing ballad featuring soprano sax, Kenny holds up a tenor saxophone to announce, “Right now, we’ll be turning the State Theatre into a jazz club from the 1960s.” Explaining, “Our next song will be a complete improvisation with no ending already worked out,” Kenny G plays tenor on Stan Getz’s bossa nova tune, “Desafinado.” Robert Damper is featured on a dissonant chordal piano solo which morphs into a cascading melody solo that incorporates snippets of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Damper solos faster and faster on piano, John Raymond responds on guitar, and Kenny G impresses on tenor as the arrangement concludes to whistles and cheers.
After a jazzy interpretation of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Kenny says, “We’re going to completely change styles now,” and he and band wail on a funky version of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” The ensemble percolates to the driving beat and Damper’s organ calls as Kenny’s tenor sax answers. Vail Johnson solos low and funky with fast fingers, dancing as he slaps, slides, and wavers notes on his electric bass to enthusiastic audience cheers and applause.
Kenny G introduces his band members before announcing Doreen from Maplewood as the winner of tonight’s soprano saxophone giveaway. Doreen takes a seat on the stage along with her husband, Ira, and the pair is serenaded by Kenny as he plays “Anthem” just for them before presenting them with the saxophone and posing for photos.
Twinkling lights and piano begin a smooth jazz arrangement of “Winter Wonderland” which has music lovers singing along. Walking bass and tasty guitar, piano, and percussion accompany Kenny’s soprano sax on this breezy rendition that has audience members snapping to the beat.
After revealing, “This next song is not easy to play,” Kenny counts off the introduction to “Sleigh Ride.” As the arrangement progresses, the audience realizes the difficulty of Kenny’s task when his band members start to accompany him in double time. The musicians get even faster with each subsequent verse as Kenny plays his soprano with lightning speed, eliciting hoots and hollers from the enthusiastic crowd.
Following “Saxoloco,” an upbeat jazz tune with a lilting melody, band members exit the stage leaving Kenny alone to play a soprano saxophone “Cadenza” where he masterfully improvises with fancy finger work and circular breathing, generating cheers from the audience.
The entire ensemble returns to accompany Kenny as he performs his 1986 Top 5 hit, “Songbird.”
He and the band conclude tonight’s show with their interpretation of “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. Lights shine over the musicians as audience members rise to their feet and Kenny and the band bow together and wave goodnight to the crowd.
As concertgoers make their way out of the STNJ auditorium, we chat with several who share their opinions of tonight’s performance by Kenny G. Declares Collin from Accokeek, MD, “I’m a big Kenny G fan, and his concert tonight was great! This is the second time I’ve seen him, and his band was amazing. I especially loved the percussionist, and Kenny G was incredible — his playing is really impressive!”
Whereas Charles from South Brunswick asserts, “I loved this show! It was beautiful, and very inclusive. It wasn’t just Kenny G playing — he let his band shine, too,” Pat from South Brunswick contends, “It was a very engaging performance. The band was awesome, and I love how Kenny G is able to relate to all different age levels and generations.”
Says Joe Light, a co-sponsor of tonight’s concert, “This is my second time seeing Kenny G, and he put on a great show. He’s an amazing performer who makes everyone feel like he’s playing just for them.” Co-sponsor Jim Kershner agrees, adding, “He is very kind and open with the audience, and the rest of his band is wonderful, too — they are all longtime friends, which is something you don’t find too often these days.”
Doreen from Maplewood, the winner of the soprano saxophone, confesses, “I just love Kenny G! Coming here tonight was a Christmas present, and I was so excited when I won, I was in tears,” before acknowledging, “I will never forget this night.” Adds Doreen’s husband, Ira, “It was a superb evening. It was our fifth time seeing Kenny G. We just love him and his music.”
Lastly, Marilyn from Somerset asserts, “I loved this show! It was wonderful — amazing — and it absolutely exceeded my expectations. I loved every single thing about it,” prior to exclaiming, “I didn’t want it to end!”
To learn more about Kenny G, please go to www.kennyg.com. For information on upcoming shows at New Brunswick’s STNJ — including Linda Eder on January 22, Boyz II Men on February 10, America on March 3, and Patti LuPone on March 25 — please click on stnj.org.