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Famous Asthma Sufferer: Kenny G

We are all familiar with the lyrical tunes of Kenny G. The Grammy-winning American saxophone player, whose full name is Kenneth Gorelick, first became enamored with the instrument when he heard someone playing one on The Ed Sullivan Show. From there, he studied under a local trumpet player and played along with records, most notably those of Grover Washington, Jr. who influenced the style he eventually honed to perfection.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Kenny G's childhood was marked by many of the same ups and downs faced by average youngsters everywhere. For instance the first time he tried out for the high school jazz band, he didn't make the cut. Undeterred, he tried again the next year and was accepted.

Kenny G's musical career began when he was about 18 years old as a sideman forBarry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra. Ironically, after he was rejected from Central Washington University as a music major, he attended the University of Washington and earned a degree in accounting. During his college years, he played with the funk band Cold, Bold & Together before joining The Jeff Lorber Fusion. Following these experiences, he began his solo musical career.

Though significantly less improvisational than other artists in the jazz category, Kenny G's music is considered to be "smooth jazz." He is credited with bringing the genre to a wider audience. Interestingly, his work is remarkably popular in China where his music is often played at public functions.

In 2003, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) named Kenny G the 25th-highest selling artist in America with 48 million albums sold in the U.S. as of mid-2006. Other interests for the artist include golf and flying. Kenny G is also one of the original investors in Starbucks. He is married and has two sons.

Perseverance in his musical passion despite roadblocks along the way makes Kenny G an inspiration to us all. These external discouragements did not stop his pursuit of being a musician and neither did his asthma. One wonders if his album entitled Breathless is in any way a nod to the asthma condition he has learned to live with over the years.

In fact, it turns out that playing the saxophone and other wind instruments may actually help improve asthma symptoms. A thread on Sax on the Web discusses this very matter. Several saxophone players joined the discussion and attest to the benefit of playing musical instruments.

Here are some comments from musicians describing how playing an instrument helps them:

The individual who began the discussion shares, "When I am sick and having breathing problems I have found that practicing helps me, longtones especially. And it really helps me when I do this on soprano."

"One time I went into emergency with breathing issues. The doctor gave me a test to test my resistance and was amazed that I could push the air as well as I could. I told him I was a saxophonist and he told me, 'Keep playing.'"

One person cautions, "While saxophone playing may aid asthmatics, please realize the fact that atopic asthma symptoms often disappear around puberty. Since many players start at about this time, I'm not sure of the validity of thinking that disappearing symptoms are caused by starting sax."

However, another individual offers the following explanation, "When people are admitted with serious airways obstruction (particularly chronic obstructive lung disease which is a condition related to asthma), part of the treatment may be CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a machine that provides an air pressure inside the airways that is higher than the atmospheric pressure. This treatment can also be used for pulmonary edema / acute heart failure. Blowing a saxophone, particularly long tones, will, in principle, have a somewhat similar effect on the airways as the CPAP."

In any case, playing the saxophone or another wind instrument certainly can't hurt your asthma and the fact that it may help forestall attacks is a good incentive to play. And who knows? Maybe you or your child could end up being the next Kenny G!