Rod Blackhurst is working on a Kenny G. documentary, and he needs your help. No really!
Rod Blackhurst is making a documentary about Kenny G., and he needs your help. No, really. Quit laughing. Appearances to the contrary, this is not a joke. That's what we thought, at first, too. But we spoke with Blackhurst, and he's so serious, in fact, that he and his partner Brian McGinn have already shot some footage and launched a Kickstarter drive to fund the project with a stated goal of raising $100K toward the cause. So far, 62 people have kicked $5K and some change.
Blackhurst, as you might remember, used to live in Denver. He lives in L.A. these days, but before he set up his shop on the West Coast and became an in-demand director and producer, he got his start here, working as a merch guy for the Fray. He published a coffee table book containing photos he took while on tour with that band, and from there, he steadily worked his way up from photography into videography, eventually directing a documentary that accompanied the Fray's last album called Fair Fight.
After that, Blackhurst continued to hone his craft, from shooting moving portraits of songwriters like Nathaniel Rateliff and Franky Perez to eventually working with National Geographic on its Music Voyager program. Eventually, his work led him to Los Angeles, and since moving there, he's continued to work on a variety of projects, including a video for Lucinda Williams and commercials for Wilson Tennis Rackets and Trek Bicycle. In the midst of all that, he's venturing into film making, producing his own documentary shorts, such as The Only Band in Town, a documentary that focuses on his dad's band, as well as comedy shorts for Funny or Die.
Blackhurst's latest project is this movie he's making with McGinn (whom he met, incidentally, outside a Nathaniel Rateliff show at the Echo in Los Angeles) about one Mr. Kenneth Bruce Gorelick -- Kenny G., to you and I. The doc is evidently titled, well, Kenny a Documentary in G. Blackhurst is an old friend, so I thought, okay, I'll bite, Lets see what you've got here, buddy. With that in mind, I headed over to the Kickstarter page and checked out the plea from Blackhurst and McGinn, which includes some teaser footage of the proposed doc.
Gotta be honest here: For the first half of the nearly five minute long clip, I was dubious. Were these dudes being serious, or was the whole thing some sort of Funny or Die sketch, with the dudes being ironic, with Kenny G. in on the joke? I mean, Kenny G.? Really? C'mon, dude!
"Kenny G. is actually a really fun, quirky, nice guy," says Blackhurst. "His shows are nothing like you'd expect. Whenever we talk about him, everybody says, 'Well, of course I know who Kenny G. is, but why would I ever want to listen to his music? Why would I ever care about him? Why would I ever want to go see a show? Kenny was, at one point, at the top of his game. He's one of the top 25 recording artists of all time. He put in the work to make it big. He played funk music for thirteen years in Seattle in a funk band. He slugged it out, I guess, in the minors for a long time. And Kenny, at this point, is still trying to be the best he can be at what he does.
"At one point, Kenny was the biggest thing since sliced bread on the musical landscape, about 1987 to the mid '90s," Blackhurst continues. "Kenny knows that he's sort of lost some of his market share, but he wants to try something new, and that is, he believes that he can compose scores for Hollywood films, but nobody will call him back, because they don't want the smooth jazz sound -- and he knows that. He just wants a chance to show people he's got other musical abilities inside of him, and he can actually do that.
"He already has a lot of money himself," Blackhurst notes. "He doesn't need to do this for the money. He's trying to figure out, 'How do I become a musician that people will listen to again or like -- for doing something musical, not just thinking I'm a joke?' Dude, he's just a really fun guy. It's nothing like you'd expect. It kind of blew our minds when we met him."
And how the pair made Mr. G.'s acquaintance, that's a story in itself. Evidently, McGinn was co-directing a documentary called American Teacher, and arranged to meet Matt Damon, who had agreed to narrate the doc, at a studio near where he was shooting We Bought a Zoo, which he was also working on at the time. The studio in question just happened to be Kenny G.'s studio, and unbeknownst to McGinn, the saxman was on hand when he arrived.
While waiting for Damon, the two got to talking and Kenny G. shared with McGinn all about his desire to break into the movie business. Next thing you know, McGinn enlisted Blackhurst to help him put together a documentary focusing on the smooth jazz icon, and the footage the pair has collected thus far is interesting, even if you're loathsome of smooth jazz. The shots of Kenny G reflecting on the enormity of his career while he's piloting a small aircraft (!) are worth the price of admission itself.
As Blackhurst observes, Kenny G. has a keen self-awareness about him, and that's what has made this project so fun to work on so. "Let's just put it this way," says Blackhurst, "Kenny G. is a well of funny material and off-the-cuff stuff, but he's so aware, and he gets it, and all he wants is to work hard to get back to where he once -- not to where he once was, but to some level of success or connection."
That's all well and good, but why Kickstarter? Is a dude who sold more than 75 million records or whatever pretty loaded?
"The first question that everybody asks when they hear we're making a movie about Kenny G. is why doesn't Kenny pay for it?" McGinn reveals in the pair's video plea, "Why do you need Kickstarter for this?"
"The truth is," Blackhurst interjects. "We don't want to make the Kenny G. promotional piece."
"We want to make a fun movie that everyone is going to want to watch," says McGinn. "And it's important to us, as filmmakers, that the subject of our movie is not funding it."
Fair enough. While going in on Kenny G. at this point is about like peeling the wings off a fly (which is why I've refrained from doing so) and I'd normally be quick to dismiss something like this out of hand, knowing Blackhurst and the intelligent way in which he approaches everything he does, I'd wager that this film will be totally worth watching when it's finished.
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.