Saxophonist Dave Koz

The multiple Grammy nominee talks about his latest project, the CD, “Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns.”

During a 20-year career, saxophonist and eight-time Grammy nominee Dave Koz has compiled an ambitious discography, in addition to hosting his own syndicated radio show, keeping a hand in various entrepreneurial ventures and supporting several philanthropic organizations, including the Starlight Children's Foundation. He began playing the sax in 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. On his latest album, "Summer Horns," Koz revisits the music of the brassy juggernaut bands that ruled the airwaves back in the day.


Tavis: Eight-time Grammy nominee, Dave Koz. His latest CD brings together three of his most trusted musical colleagues, Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot and Mindi Abair, to reinvent classic songs from the ’60s and ’70s for a new CD titled “Summer Horns.”

The album features their take on hits from bands such Sly & the Family Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Let’s take a look at a cut from “Summer Horns,” The Beatles, “Got to Get You into My Life.”


Tavis: See, for a cat who grew up in the hood like I did, when you hear that, you think the elements. You think Earth, Wind & Fire. But it just goes to show how brilliant Lennon and McCartney were. It’s their song, but the other ones put their stank on it and, when you hear it in my neighborhood, you think Earth, Wind & Fire.

Dave Koz: Well, that was – first of all, you know I love you.

Tavis: I love you back and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it [laugh].

Koz: It’s great to see you.

Tavis: You too.

Koz: Thank you so much for having me on to talk about this project ’cause this project, honestly, it’s a labor of love. It’s what I’ve wanted to do. I’d had it in my head for so many years. It was just a matter of timing when we would do it and now just seemed to be the right time to do it.

But all these songs, whether it’s “Got To Get You Into My Life” or there’s so many that are so attached to these bands, these horn bands, which represent the golden era of music where every song that you heard on the air had this kickin’ horn section, tight horn section, so much excitement.

Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Sly & and Family Stone, James Brown. You know, this was for a young horn player growing up. It was what I wanted to hear and why I became a musician really.

Tavis: What was it about that era? What was it about the ’70s and the ’80s that made it such a fertile time for horn sections?

Koz: I think there was a lot more playing that was going on, a lot more musicianship and fellowship with musicianship. Nowadays, not to say that that doesn’t happen, but music is made a lot almost in a laboratory where you get one guy working in one studio. They send the file to another guy in some other part of the world. They send it back and then they send it this way and that way. Musicianship is kind of – there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, some great music is made that way.

But bands like Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, these bands that we’re talking about, they played together nonstop. When they weren’t in the studio, they were out doing 250 shows a year. And that kind of just being in that proximity with each other, knowing each other, knowing exactly the horn section phrasing.

The way I play the saxophone versus the way Gerald Albright, who’s on this album, plays the saxophone, we approach the instrument so differently. Yet, if we’re going to be playing together, we have to come up with a blend.

Tavis: So you all play differently, but how do you know that it’s going to blend into something that we want to hear when you get you and Mindi Abair and Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot all on sax? How do you know it’s gonna work as opposed to…

Koz: You bring up a very good point. We didn’t know.

Tavis: Yeah [laugh].

Koz: Tavis, the first day in the studio – it was produced by a guy named Paul Brown who’s a legendary jazz producer.

Tavis: I love Paul.

Koz: And we got in the studio the first day and we all looked at each other and we said, “Well, let’s just pray this works.” Because we had agreed to doing a “Summer Horns” tour which we’re on right now. We agreed to doing the album. And the first track that we worked on was “So Very Hard to Go,” which is a Tower of Power classic. And we all put our horns up, they hit record, and we…

Tavis: Go ahead and do it. Do it.


Koz: These great horn section parts, and they were all arranged on this album by the guys who did the original. So Greg Adams who was the principal horn arranger for Tower of Power, and Tom Scott who did the arrangements for everybody from Michael Jackson to Paul McCartney to – I mean, just go on and on, all the Steely Dan stuff.

So we had the greatest arrangers doing the arrangements. So when we put our horns to our mouths and made the first sound, we all looked at each other and we said, “I think this is gonna work!” [Laugh]

Tavis: Because there’s so many – I mean, you know I’m a music lover, of course – because there are so many great horn sections and so many great hits, I mean, you could just do Earth, Wind & Fire’s corpus and have a great album of, you know, horn solos. But there’s some great vocals on here. Michael McDonald, Jeffrey Osborne…

Koz: Yeah. Jonathan Butler’s singing on that.

Tavis: Jonathan Butler [laugh]. It’s not just the horns.

Koz: I have a good story to tell you about Michael McDonald.

Tavis: I love Michael McDonald stories.

Koz: Okay. So Michael McDonald – “So Very Hard to Go,” Tower of Power song. I always heard him singing that. He was my first choice. So I called him up. He’s a good friend. In fact, he’s coming on our cruise which you’re coming on, right? On television?

Tavis: I’m going on cruise; I’m going on the cruise.

Koz: Okay, good.

Tavis: Okay.

Koz: We’ll talk about that later [laugh]. So anyway, I call him and I say, “Mike, I want to talk to you about this album that we’re making, this “Summer Horns” project.” He told me the story that he was – I told him about the song, right?

He said, “Look, this is not a joke. I was shopping at Home Depot about two weeks ago” and the image of Michael McDonald shopping at Home Depot kind of cracked me up, right? So I got over that and I said, “Okay, well, tell me the story.”

This song, the original from Tower of Power, came on the loudspeaker and he took a moment out whatever aisle he was in, paint aisle or whatever, and he said, “It’s a great song. Somebody should really cover that song ’cause it’s never been covered by anybody pretty much other than Tower of Power.”

Tavis: And you happened to call him and ask him to do that song.

Koz: Two weeks later. He said, “I’m taking this as a sign from God that I need to do this project.” He turned in one of the great Michael McDonald vocals.

Tavis: You mentioned a cruise. This is a great cruise. I mean, you do this every year. Tell me about the cruise.

Koz: Well, this is gonna be our eighth annual Dave Koz & Friends at Sea, and it starts in Rome September 22nd through the 29th. It starts in Rome, Italy and we’re cruising the Mediterranean to the island of Sicily and then we go to Athens and Mykonos, Greece.

Tavis: What were those dates again?

Koz: September 22nd through the 29th.

Tavis: Coby?

Koz: Block it out!

Tavis: Coby’s my producer. I’ll be gone September 22nd through the what?

Koz: 29th.

Tavis: Find somebody else to do the show for a week. I’ll be on a ship hanging out with Dave Koz.

Koz: It’s like nothing else and I really want to share it with you. It’s something like you’re marinating in music. If you love music, music is going on in every corner of the ship. We’ve got Michael McDonald; we’ve got Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright. Mindi will be there.

Peter White will be on the ship. Brian Culbertson. We have about 40 headline artists. Sheila E., Larry Graham & Grand Central Station will be on the ship. It just goes on and on and on. Plus, you’re seeing these incredible ports of call and there are no strangers on the ship.

Tavis: Time goes too fast. We’re out of time. It just goes that quick. But you can’t bring your horn and not play me out with something. So let me say goodbye and what are you going to play us out with, first of all?

Koz: Well, I’m gonna quiz you. Tell me whether you can recognize this one.

Tavis: Oh, don’t put me on the spot.


Koz: Well, how about this one?

Tavis: [Laugh] All right, how about this one?


Tavis: I got it [laugh]. You got one more? Go ahead.

Koz: Ah, let’s see.


Tavis: Got it [laugh]. You didn’t stump me today.

Koz: I never stump you. You’re an encyclopedia!

Tavis: Those are great licks, though.

Koz: They’re good licks.

Tavis: They’re good licks. You want to hear all these licks and more. The new project from Dave Koz and Friends is called “Summer Horns.” It features my good friend, Dave Koz, with Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair, Richard Elliot. Catch him on tour sometime this summer, as I will. And if you are on that cruise September 22, you may very well see me.

Koz: Woo!

Tavis: I may come sing with you, man. I’m invited.

Koz: You just said that on television!

Tavis: Did I just invite myself on stage [laugh]?

Koz: Yes, you did. We’ll give you your own show, man!

Tavis: No, no, no, no. You don’t want people jumping off the ship in the water [laugh]. Dave, I love you, man.

Koz: Love you too.

Tavis: Good to have you back.

Koz: Thank you so much, Tavis.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching. Until next time, as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: July 1, 2013 at 11:54 am