Free Kenny G !

Smooth jazz saxophonist headlines Syracuse Jazz Fest this weekend at OCC

Frank Malfitano clearly remembers the first time he ever heard Kenny G.

"It was in the early-1980s and I saw him at Jabberwocky playing with Jeff Lorber Fusion," the founder of the Syracuse Jazz Festival recalled. "He was known as Kenny Gorelick then and he played all the saxes -- tenor, alto, soprano -- and he was technically proficient on all of them. He just knocked me out!"

Since then, Gorelick has forged a hugely successful solo career billing himself simply as Kenny G and specializing in the soaring sound of the soprano sax.

Kenny G headlines the 2009 Syracuse Jazz Festival on Saturday night June 27, at Onondaga Community College. "Kenny has crossed over into pop in a way no other jazz instrumentalist ever has," Malfitano noted, "so for us, his Jazz Fest debut this year is historic and a major thrill."

The 27th edition of the free-admission festival starts Friday afternoon, June 26, and continues Saturday, June 27, on the campus located high atop Onondaga Hill.

The 2008 festival, headlined by Chaka Khan, cost more than $350,000. For 2009, Malfitano has budgeted approximately $250,000 in a year which he characterized as his "worst ever" for fund-raising.

Nevertheless, the festival's two-day, twin-stage format will present continuous music, with 14 sets alternating between the Louis Everding Main Stage and the Scholastic Stage. In all, six international touring acts and eight scholastic jazz ensembles will perform.

The wide popularity of Kenny G, the 53-year-old king of smooth-jazz, should draw tens of thousands to the grassy amphitheatre. The festival's biggest crowd ever was 40,000 for Aretha Franklin's soulful set in 2007 at the event's silver anniversary.

The multitudes will enjoy the 2009 seating plan which allows first-come, first-served spaces at the front of the stage for the first time ever. That area was previously filled with chairs reserved for festival sponsors.

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