Even if you don't know the name Kenni Holmen, there's a pretty good chance you've heard him play his saxophone—no matter what kind of music you're into. Kenni has recorded with everyone from Janet Jackson and Rod Stewart to Billy Graham and Tony Bennett. He's done music for commercials with Diane Keaton, been part of Broadway shows, and performed with the Minnesota Orchestra, Prince and pretty much everyone in between.
And it all got going when he made the Minnetonka High School wind ensemble as a sophomore.
"That's what really got me jump-started," Kenni says. "My band director, Dan Geldert, was very supportive and really pushed for a high level of achievement. He took us to lots of competitions and made sure performance was a big part of the culture."
Geldert also helped Kenni discover something he didn't know about himself. "He asked me to sing a note and then play it back to him," Kenni says. "He found out I had perfect pitch. Things started to move quickly after that. I knew this was what I wanted to do."
Another big turning point was when legendary bandleader Woody Herman performed at the high school during Kenni's junior year, followed by professional saxophonist Dick Oatts the next year.
By then Kenni was practicing about seven hours a day and filling in at gigs around town.
"I'm grateful for the instruction and the caring that people would exhibit, whether it was teachers going the extra mile or other people helping me make connections," he says. "There was a lot of energy in the high school, and it was fun to be around that. The band program was pretty big, but I had friends in a lot of different groups."
That diversity of friends pops up time and again during his performances, where people often come up to him after a show and tell him about their Minnetonka ties—ties that Kenni would never want to cut.
"People have said to me, 'Why don't you move to New York or L.A.?'" he says. "No way. This is the area I want to be in. It's just a solid place to be."