Jazz saxophonist Dave Koz

Saxophonist and six-time Grammy nominee discusses his decision to sing on ‘Hello Tomorrow.’

During a 20-year career, saxophonist and six-time Grammy nominee Dave Koz has compiled an ambitious discography, in addition to hosting two radio shows, keeping a hand in various entrepreneurial ventures and supporting several philanthropic organizations, including the Starlight Children's Foundation. Koz began performing with his brother's band, but hedged his bet by studying mass communications at UCLA. Degree in hand, he opted to pursue his music, initially as a sideman and, later, as a solo artist. His latest CD is "Hello Tomorrow."



Tavis: Dave Koz is a six-time Grammy nominee who’s celebrating 20 years in the music business with the release of his latest project. It’s called “Hello Tomorrow.” In just a few moments, he’ll perform a song from the new CD. But first, Dave Koz, good to have you on this program.
Dave Koz: It’s great to see you.
Tavis: You doing all right?
Koz: I’m doing great. We were laughing before we went on because I have to say to your audience that is watching here, what you may not know about Tavis is that he’s a pretty bad ass singer.
Tavis: Oh, don’t start. Don’t start that again (laughter).
Koz: We did a gig up there in Saratoga, California. You happened to be in the audience and it was Sheila E. and Jonathan Butler and me, and Sheila called you up onstage. She was playing the drums just solo, right? You went up there and she was doing some sort of Prince jam and you just rocked the house. Now I’m not gonna perform without you anymore.
Tavis: Yeah, whatever (laughter). That was a lot of fun that night. But I was saying to you before we came on the air that you and I should like go on a private plane together. I’ll pay like $500 if you cover the rest.
Koz: No, no, no. You –
Tavis: – but we keep running into each other in airports, so we should like get a plane together or something.
Koz: I was the one who was coming up with $500. You pay for the rest.
Tavis: I thought that was me (laughter). I was just in Boston the other day – shameless plug here. In December, I’ve been doing these quarterly prime time specials in addition to my late-night show here and the last one for the year is in December, a wonderful piece about Gustavo Dudamel, the 28, 29-year-old conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic, the biggest rock star in the world of classical music these days.
Dudamel starts in a program in Venezuela for young people called El Sistema and they believe that every kid has some kind of gift, some kind of talent, and they believe that music is a key to social change. That’s the program that gives the world Gustavo Dudamel.
I raise that only because I know that, as a child, your mother against your will forced you to play piano, so your mother was right.
Koz: She was right. She was always right. We were just talking about that in the dressing room right before coming out here actually. My mom, Audrey, forced me to play piano and I hated it. To rebel, I played the drums and I remember actually my dad coming to pick me up from a drum lesson and the teacher taking my dad aside, within earshot of me, and saying, “You might want to think about sports for Dave because it ain’t gonna happen with music.”
When I was 13 years old, I picked up the saxophone. I was dealing with a lot of stuff in my life, like most 13-year-olds, and music, the saxophone specifically, became my best friend and became my saving grace. In many ways, I think it saved my life because I poured all of the emotions that I couldn’t get out through words through that horn and it allowed me this opportunity to get to know myself.
It’s so painful to see the opportunity that I had not be available to young people around the country here with music programs going out.
Tavis: What’s the price that we pay as a society for abandoning music education for kids?
Koz: Oh, I think it’s a huge price because, specifically, music has an ability to stir the soul in ways that words can’t. For young people coming up – and we’ve just been seeing some terrible things happen with young gay kids, people not necessarily knowing who they are, having the tools to come to grips with whatever it is that’s going on in their lives.
Music and arts in general become much more important to a kid growing up being able to have access to an instrument or to a school play, just to be able to have that socialization skill enriched in other ways it’s not possible. So I think it’s a huge price.
Tavis: I was saying to Dudamel, to your point now, that – and I include myself in this. As you know, I played saxophone when I was a kid. I actually started at second chair and, at one point for like two weeks, I was first chair in the band. For two weeks, only two weeks, because the number one chair was out sick for a couple of weeks (laughter). But I was number one, I was first chair for a couple of weeks playing saxophone.
I took piano lessons for a couple of years and I include myself in this. I do not know a single adult, have never met a single adult, who played an instrument as a young person and stopped who does not now regret it.
Koz: Yeah. That’s what I hear every day when I’m on tour. I played the saxophone in high school for a year or something like that and wish I kept it up. You know, the thing is, it’s an interesting time, our business, and that’s what this album is all about. It’s about the future. After 20 years of being a musician and traveling the world, I woke up one day and I was like, wow, my life looks really different than I thought.
So many people are waking up right now in 2010 and saying my life looks very different than I thought it would. So many massive amounts of changes, and every era has its change. You know, this is the era of change. But right now, the velocity or frequency of change, myself included, I was dealing with it and that’s what came out as a chance for me to embrace all these unfamiliar things in my life and find a lot of comfort in the discomfort.
I think that’s the role that music can play for a lot of people is providing the inspiration for anybody on their path to enlightenment. That’s what it did for me and I came out on the other side a lot better.
Tavis: Dave Koz, a philosopher too. I like that. Comfort in the discomfort.
Koz: Yeah, that’s true.
Tavis: There’s something there to work with. We can unearth that at some point.
Koz: Okay.
Tavis: I want to make room for your performance here. Tell me about the CD. You’re singing?
Koz: I am.
Tavis: You’re singing now?
Koz: We’re trying to get people to buy the CD (laughter).
Tavis: (Laughter) I saw you in concert and I was sitting there waiting and when you said you were gonna sing, I was like, “Dave’s gonna sing?” You killed it. I mean, I’m not saying this because you’re here because, if you’d been horrible, I wouldn’t have invited you on the show (laughter). But you were really very good. You been holding back on us.
Koz: Well, you know, people know me as a saxophone player and, believe me, I’m gonna stick as a saxophone player. But there was the one song that Herb Alpert made famous in the late ‘60s called “This Guy’s in Love with You”and I always loved that song. I was gonna play it on the saxophone and I brought it to Marcus Miller.
Marcus is the producer, together with John Burk, and he said, “Oh, no, you’re singing it.” I said, “Marcus, I’m not a singer.” He said, “Well, neither was Herb and he had one of his biggest hits.” So I tried it and I got a performance – this is not one of those songs that you need to be Pavarotti to sing. So I got a performance that I was pleased with and I sent it – just to get his blessing, I sent it to Herb Alpert who is a huge mentor in my life not only for his music, but for all the philanthropy that he does and his art.
So he called me and he said, “First of all, you have my blessing and I’d like to play on it as well.” So he’s playing on this new version of a song that he made famous so many years, which was really a “Hello Tomorrow”moment. So in addition to that, there’s great musicians, Lee Ritenour, Boney James, Herb Alpert, as mentioned, Jonathan Butler and Sheila E. and Keb’Mo’, the great blues guitarist is on it, Christian Scott, one of the most phenomenal young trumpet players.
It’s a celebration of music. It’s about, you know, in this era where there’s a lot of negative stuff out there, this is a very positive reflection on these very unfamiliar times. That’s what it did for me. I worked through it, I wrote through it and played through it, this interesting and unusual time in my life, and I came out, as I mentioned, in a different air and I hope that people listening to it will feel the same.
Tavis: I’m sure they will. Your music is always soothing to us. His name, of course, Dave Koz. The new CD is called Hello Tomorrow. I could talk to this guy for hours, but I’m sure you would much rather hear him play, so let me shut up and make room for a special performance from Dave Koz coming up in just a moment.
Koz: Can I tell you, by the way, what we’re gonna do?
Tavis: What?
Koz: We’re gonna book end. We’re gonna start with a little bit of the song from the last piece which is called What You Leave Behind and we’re gonna end with our current single which is Put The Top Down. That’s special just for you, Tavis.
Tavis: Whatever you have for me, I’ll take it.
Koz: And feel free to jump in and sing any time.
Tavis: That’s quite all right (laughter). Go grab your horn.
Koz: You got it.
Tavis: Dave, in a moment. Stay with us. From his new CD, “Hello Tomorrow,” here is Dave Koz performing “Put the Top Down.” Enjoy.
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Last modified: November 5, 2014 at 10:33 pm