After almost 25 years in the music business, saxophonist Dave Koz remains one of the most grounded and consistent musicians to emerge out of the jazz genre. His latest effort, Summer Horns, features fellow jazz musicians Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot.
The quartet recently received a Grammy nomination for “Best Pop Instrumental Album.” The acknowledgement still doesn’t change Koz’s perception of what qualifies as “jazz music.”
“Jazz is such an open term. It’s a state of mind as opposed to a style of music. It’s all about feeling comfortable enough to be vulnerable and to not know what’s gonna happen. It’s an attitude about life. It’s the ability to be able to say, ‘I’m cool,’” says Koz relaxing backstage after soundcheck at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
The day prior, Koz’s reunion with “blue eyed soul” singer Bobby Caldwell on this year’s Soul Train Awards telecast proved to be a special moment for the spirited musician. Sitting on his dressing room’s corner loveseat, the San Fernando Valley, CA native remembers graduating from UCLA in 1986 and receiving a call from the “What You Won’t Do For Love” singer two weeks following commencement.
That phone call changed the course of Koz’s life. He admits that he didn’t consider becoming a professional musician nor was he sure of his career objectives. “He was putting together a band and plotting his reemergence. He was the first guy that said, ‘You’re a soloist.’ He gave me lots of room in his band to stretch out and be me. I found who I was. He saw it before I saw it,” says Koz.
The multi-faceted musician and weekend syndicated radio show host reiterates that his award show appearance was “pretty darn special.” Still seated comfortably, Koz further reminisces about watching Soul Train every Saturday morning. He appeared on the music program with keyboardist Jeff Lorber. “They recognized “blue-eyed soul,” and I love they were very inclusive,” says Koz.
Koz is passionate about community outreach. His brand of spirits, KOZ Wines, is available at California Pizza Kitchen and Whole Foods Markets throughout the Southwest. He donates all of the wine’s proceeds to the Starlight Children’s Foundation (SCF), which supports children with chronic, life-threatening illnesses.
Prior to sound check, the musician – also a SCF Global Ambassador – visited Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and befriended a one-year-old infant named London. Koz believes creativity can be a form of healing. “Music and the arts bring a dosage of love. That’s what we need now more than anything to counterbalance all of the bad stuff,” he says.
Later that evening, Koz, along with guitarist Jonathan Butler, vocalist Oleta Adams & pianist Keiko Matsui, performed his 16th Annual Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour in conjunction with Larry Rosen’s Jazz Roots series.
Koz also says of music and arts education, “It’s important to nurture the next generation of talent whenever possible. It’s great to see kids so engaged, so excited and full of questions. I always feel like I learn more than they learn from me,” the instrumentalist says.
Last year’s high octane tour featured percussionist Sheila E., pianist David Benoit, vocalist/songwriter Javier Colon and vocalist Margo Rey. Koz remains cool about this year’s tour being slightly toned down. “Last year, it was all kinds of hot stuff goin’ on. This year is a very emotional show, very different from last year. That’s the beauty of it,” says Koz.
Now 50, Koz believes there are other saxophonists that can blow circles around him. He’s not concerned with critics and knows he will never perform highly stylized jazz solos. The content performer is just grateful to still have fans close to a quarter of a century after releasing his debut album.
“Everybody does their thing. I’ve been myself and done the things that feel right to me. It’s a good lesson to just be who you are,” says Koz.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.