February 2004
By Steven M. Housman

Koz For Celebration

Dave Koz is a celebrated jazz musician who has been recording since 1987. Just last month he earned his third Grammy nomination for a track off his latest and most wonderful CD, Saxophonic. I found Dave to be a very warm man with great talent and sensitivity, and a passion for living life to its fullest.

Even if you’re not familiar with his name, it’s almost certain you’ve heard his music. Besides his own catalogue of great albums, Dave has played with a who’s who of the music industry, such as Natalie Cole, Celine Dion and Luther Vandross to name a few.

He’s an extraordinary musician and an extraordinary man. I give you Dave Koz.

First of all before we get started, congratulations on your Grammy nomination. Is it true that’s it’s an honor just to be nominated?

Thanks. This is my third nomination. Last year I was nominated in the same category with B.B. King and Moby, and we were just pinching ourselves. We were in New York and I was with my Mom, and some friends. We really lived it up. We did all the Grammy parties. I’d be lying to you if I said it doesn’t matter if you win or not. Sure you want to win, but as soon as it’s over it’s wow, we’re here. What a great cool thing this is!

Who came up with the title Saxophonic?

It’s funny, I came up with the title in a dream. I was in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. I was there for a radio broadcast. In addition to making music, I also host a couple of radio shows. So anyway, I was there in a moment where everything was twirling around in my head; music, concepts, what am I going to do? I guess every artist one way or another goes through that same thing to make sense out of it all. It was the middle of the night, I woke up and I thought “Saxophonic,” “Saxophonic” is the name of the album! The making of this album was really the relationship between me and the horn. Like other relationships you have in your life, I’ve been playing the sax for thirty years. It’s a primary relationship in my life. Over time it has changed and evolved, got intense, and at times I wanted to throw the thing out!

I LOVE, “Honey-Dipped’” (the first cut) I think it is amazing - Do you have particular favorites on this disc? The last entry “One Last Thing” is also a knockout. Are these tracks or any other on this CD more personal than others?

One of the producers of the album, Jeff Lorber, approached me one day and said, “I’d like to make an album with you.” I was stunned. I said, ‘What have you been smoking?’ I’ve been with Capitol Records since 1987, and I was just floored when Jeff approached me. Well, interestingly enough, “One Last Thing” is a particular favorite. I co-wrote it with Brian McKnight. Everybody knows he’s a great singer, but few know what a killer piano player this guy is. He’s an amazing musician. Brian also sings on another track called “Love Changes Everything.” Another favorite of mine is a track called “Definition Of Beautiful.” It’s got a great hook with a vocal on it by this new hot artist named Javier.
If you noticed, this is the first album I’ve put together like a play. It’s divided into Act I, Act II and ACT III. It was never planned that way, but when I was listening back to the music, it felt like a flow from start to finish, it had a development. Act I is the development of a relationship where everything is just fun, relaxed, full of discovery. Act II is a little deeper, a little bit more intense. Then Act III takes on a spiritual level of love. When Act III is done, there’s a curtain call. It’s 2AM and you’re the last two people at the bar, finishing your drinks and going home.

I understand this is your first tour in four years - Why did you stay away so long?

Actually, I’ve been touring every year, but this is the first time in four years I’ve toured to promote one of my albums. A big part of my life is playing live for the people. I love being in a studio, I love being on the radio, but nothing can ever take the place of performing for the people. I love the immediate reaction. That’s why being in the studio can be so weird. You try and think something is good but you don’t really know until you’ve played it for the people. Playing live is my passion. I don’t love the traveling aspect of it. There’s a lot of one-nighters. We usually play six nights a week traveling by tour bus so it tends to be a bit draining, but all the energy comes back when I’m onstage. When you play you do it for free. When you get your paycheck you get paid for the other twenty-two hours.

Your radio show is played all over the country in over 120 markets - How and when did that begin?

That began with my syndicated show about eight years ago. A friend of mine who was a radio programmer and knew me as an artist got a job with this syndication company and thought It would be interesting to have an artist host a show on the weekends. At that time, it was a very rare thing. I said, “I’ve never done anything like that before.” He said, “Let’s try it.” So, we made a demo and we started out on a few stations and it grew and it grew. Now we’re in about twenty-five countries. We’re all over the United States and, most importantly, we’re played on jazz stations on the weekends. There are a lot of cities that don’t have jazz stations. Those hours on the weekends for some cities is the only jazz that’s played on the radio. So we’re very proud of it. It’s going strong.

Tell me how you got your big break with Capitol Records.

I’d done some touring with other acts such as Bobby Caldwell, who’s incidentally also on the album, and I had a manager at the time that also managed Richard Marx when he was just starting out. He said, “You should go on the road with Richard,” so at the same time I was making a demo and Bruce Lundball, who was with Capitol at the time, he’s the guy who discovered and signed Norah Jones a couple of years ago. This is a guy who has also signed such people as Miles Davis and Bruce Springsteen to record deals. He’s one of the godfathers of the business. Anyway, he heard my demo and said, “We want to sign you to Capitol.” And believe it or not, seventeen years later I’m still with them.

That’s a rarity these days, to be with one label for a lengthy time.

Instrumental music is a lot different than the pop world. It’s not so much who the flavor of the week is. And you have to be living under a rock to not be aware that the music business is in an absolute crisis. What are we doing about that? What are we doing about artist development? I guess a combination of American Idol and the way music is consumed, these artists blow up on one record and then are never to be heard of again. The kids are growing up with the idea, “Well, If I could just be a star, opposed to a real artist.” There’s such emphasis on celebrity. That’s the way of the world, especially the music world where kids don’t always realize that there’s a craft that goes along with it.

I understand you have played with such “pop” and “R&B” artists as Burt Bacharach, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Celine Dion, U2, Luther Vandross…the list goes on and on - Is it as interesting to add vocals to your compositions as it is to have pure instrumentals?

I’ve been playing with singers all my life. I love singers. The saxophone is like a voice, there’s such a wide range of emotions. But, I love playing on other people’s albums as well like on Rod Stewart’s first album of standards last year. There was great R&B in the studio when Rod’s singing. And he’s really good singing that stuff. And a huge hit! I’ve always had singers on my albums because I think it’s really nice for the listener to hear that voice. The saxophone and a great voice really compliment each other.

Do you have a favorite singer that you’d like to collaborate with?

We’ve had Stevie Wonder in the studio with us. I’ve had him on my weekend show where we’ve had him as a special guest for a whole week on the morning show in Los Angeles. Although we’ve never recorded together, that would be a dream come true. My long wish list would include Elton John, I’m such a huge fan. I would love to make music with Sting one day. I guess it’s the people who have really been around for a long time. On the new side, I really like John Mayer. He’s a jazz guy. If you really listen to his music you can hear it. He really knows music, he really studies it. I listen to R&B and a bit of hip-hop, but I guess that would be my list right now.

Is there anything in particular you would like to add before I leave you?

This album for me was a right of passage. It was a 40th birthday present to myself, and a lot of people have an age thing but I don’t. I have to say, I love being 40. This is what I do and I have great confidence in what I do. Who you are and what you can do, nobody else can do it except you. That’s what this album is about for me.

© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.