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Smooth Saxophonics

by Jason MacNeil

Dave Koz, one of the few recognized saxophonists around, often compared to David Sanborn among others, is held in high regard on his own. But it’s his many collaborations that have made him a household name among musicians. Everyone from U2 to the late Ray Charles to Celine Dion has collaborated with Koz at some point.

“I’m miserable writing alone and I love writing music and making music with other people,” Koz says on the phone from Los Angeles. “I like to create that family vibe where artists can feel comfortable and stretch out and do their thing. And I love it because when you put two or three artists together, there is the unknown factor.”

Koz came to the forefront of what is often called ‘Smooth Jazz’ in the early ‘90s with his self-titled album and 1993’s Lucky Men. Koz says he’s seen the genre change for the better since he first started out.

“It was a fringe format and they played a lot more different styles of music,” he says. “Now, it’s certainly more of a viable format in the amount of radio stations that have popped up. This is a legit format 15 years later. That doesn’t mean that we sit back on our laurels, we still have to come up with new sounds and keep it fresh. I think our main thing is to continue to push the boundaries.”

He enjoyed making his last studio album, Saxophonic, released last year. Although Koz says the title track might best describe the album, there are definitely romantic and reflective gems such as “I Believe” and “Definition Of Beautiful.” “I think the songs that people react to are the same type they’ve reacted to in my past, which is the emotional, romantic tug-on-the-heartstrings kind of songs,” he says. “And the saxophone is just a really emotional instrument. What it does best is when you have a melody, you can really sink your teeth into and emotionalize and play it.” The album’s final song “One Last Thing”, a duet with Brian McKnight, was a bit harder to pull off.

“I had talked to him and worked with him before. We’re friends,” Koz says. “I asked him about getting together and he said to come over to the studio. He’s one of these guys who works really late at night and I get up early so we have very different schedules but that song just wrote itself. I played along with him and it was very jazzy. It just seemed like the perfect coda to the album.”

But Koz has more on his plate than just the recording and touring rigors of usual musicians. As host of a weekend radio program and early morning Los Angeles radio show, Koz is able to juggle both quite well.
“I think the thread that holds it all together is a passion for music,” Koz says. “It works for me because I get to be around music and artists, interviewing them for a weekend show or the morning show.

“I guess it gives me more of a vocabulary to talk about the music as opposed to someone who was just finding out about the music and who happened to be a radio show host. I think it gives our audience more of a backstage, behind-the-scenes look at the music people are hearing.”

Aside from the radio show, Koz plans on making a new studio album next year followed by more touring and even going on a Dave Koz and Friends cruise in November 2005.

But for now he’s gearing up for his Smooth Jazz Christmas tour of Florida, one he is eagerly anticipating.
“We’re coming down your way and really looking forward to spreading some musical cheer to the natives of Florida who need a little bit of cheer after a tough year,” Koz says. “So we look forward to getting this tour up and running!” •

from the November-December 2004 issue