HBO’s LISTENING TO KENNY G, part of the Music Box series, directed by Penny Lane (“Hail Satan?”) and executive produced by Bill Simmons (HBO’s “Andre The Giant,” “Showbiz Kids”) takes a humorous but incisive look at the saxophonist Kenny G, the best-selling instrumental artist of all time, and quite possibly one of the most famous living musicians. Through several interviews with renowned jazz critics, music professors and writers, and including a new in-depth, intimate interview with the artist, LISTENING TO KENNY G is a multifaceted exploration of the two extremes between the musician’s critics and his superfans, revealing a meditation on the larger idea of artistic taste and how our musical preferences define us. Alternatively playful and probing, the documentary traces the artist’s career through pivotal moments: playing “Songbird” on The Tonight Show, his monumental record sales, his crushing reviews, his newfound fans on social media and his recent collaborations with Kanye West, The Weeknd and others. Dismissed by the media and mocked by the jazz establishment, Kenny G nevertheless embraces his detractors. Aware of how he is often perceived, he nevertheless strives to perfect his craft and to continually move forward in a changing musical landscape. What emerges in LISTENING TO KENNY G is the portrait of an obsessive musician who still practices three hours a day in an effort to rise above his critics and to satisfy his fans, while also exceling at many of his hobbies, including golfing, flying, and investing. Award-winning director Penny Lane joins us for a conversation on her own perceptions of Ken Gorelick and how they changed over the course of making his wildly entertaining profile of a perfectionist with a perceptive view of himself and a drive to be the best at whatever he sets his mind to.
LISTENING TO KENNY G debuts THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max. The weekly series will air on subsequent Thursdays at the same time and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
About the filmmaker – Penny Lane, a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, has been making innovative nonfiction films for over a decade. In 2018 she was honored with a Chicken & Egg Breakthrough Award, received the Vanguard Award at SF DocFest, and was admitted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She has been honored to receive mid-career retrospectives at the Museum of the Moving Image, San Francisco DocFest, Open City Documentary Festival and Cinema Moderne. Penny has made five feature-length documentaries, most recently LISTENING TO KENNY G (Toronto 2021) for HBO. Previously, she directed HAIL SATAN? (Sundance 2019), THE PAIN OF OTHERS (Rotterdam 2018), NUTS! (Sundance 2016) and OUR NIXON (Rotterdam 2013).For this and other work she has been awarded grants and fellowships from Sundance Institute, Creative Capital, Cinereach, TFI Documentary Fund, Wexner Center for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Catapult Film Fund, MacDowell, Yaddo and many other organizations. She’s won many awards (including a Sundance Jury Prize for Editing) but is probably most proud of being “Most Badass!” at the Iowa City Documentary Film Festival in 2009. Penny’s short films are distributed by VTAPE and include titles such as THE VOYAGERS (2010), JUST ADD WATER (2016) and WE ARE THE LITTLETONS: A TRUE STORY (2004). Her 2005 half-hour documentary THE ABORTION DIARIES has screened in at least 42 states & worldwide at over 350 different community venues, ranging from bars to art centers to clinics to colleges, and on Yes! Television and Free Speech TV. In 2006, Penny was given a Choice USA “Generation Award” for her work on this film. Penny received her MFA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and her BA from Vassar College. She was a college professor for over a decade, teaching film, video and new media art at Colgate University, Bard College, Hampshire College and Williams College. And yes, Penny Lane is her real name. For more: pennylaneismyrealname.com
“Mocking Kenny G has become a three-decade game of one-upmanship. And who better than Penny Lane to serve as a sort of devil’s advocate, so to speak.” –Daniel Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter
“A revisionist joyride that’s one of the most entertaining nonfiction efforts in recent years.” –Christian Blauvelt, IndieWire
“Lane takes what sounds like the lamest and squarest of subjects on paper . . . and turns it into something brilliant . . . a hugely entertaining essay about the perceived incompatibility of popularity and artistic success, as well as the seemingly impossible debate about what distinguishes good art from bad.” –Pat Mullen, POV Magazine
“More than a mere biography of one of the most famous and divisive jazz musicians of all time, the great Lane uses Kenny G to unpack how passionate we can get about musical taste.” –Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
“[Penny Lane] proves yet again that nobody can tonally marry edification and entertainment onscreen so effortlessly. It’s masterful.” –Jared Mobarak, The Film Stage