Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland Artist Spotlight: Dave Koz
May 08, 2014
Dave Koz studied communications at University of California, Los Angeles, but when he graduated, he wasn’t sure what to do with his degree. He had picked his major not because of career ambition. He chose it because it was his sister’s major.
As a student, he played saxophone at weddings, bar mitzvahs and club gigs. His brother had a band.
So, when he finished school, his parents gave him an ultimatum: Take six months to give it a go as a musician. After that, get a job. Koz figured he’d take the six months, but after that, he would have to pound the pavement.
“It never entered my mind that I would do music for a living,” Koz said.
Soon, however, calls started coming in. First, singer Bobby Caldwell asked Koz to audition. Then, keyboardist Jeff Lorber rang Koz.
Today, Koz, 51, has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards. He runs an annual “jazz cruise” called Dave Koz and Friends at Sea. He hosts “The Dave Koz Radio Show,” and he even has his own wine label, Koz Wine.
He performs June 28 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare as part of Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland. That evening, the Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns Tour co-headlines with bassist Marcus Miller.
The name of the tour is a reference to Koz’s 2014, Grammy-nominated release, Dave Koz and Friends’ Summer Horns. The album finds Koz working with saxophonists Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot and Mindi Abair and revisiting the funk and R&B that got him interested in the saxophone in the first place. It features new arrangements of popular songs like “Got To Get You into My Life,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Koz said getting four alpha horn players together could have gone a few different ways.
“It could have been absolute chaos,” Koz said. “That first day in the studio was tense. But after the first track, we were high-fiving. We knew we had something.”
That “something” is a slick, smooth jazz tribute to the classics. Koz is firmly entrenched in smooth jazz, even if he has reservations about the label.
“It started as a radio term,” he said. “Sadly, it got attached to the music. I think it’s a somewhat limiting term.”
YouTube softened his stance, though. When pianist Scott Bradlee posted a video to YouTube featuring Koz on sax doing a cover of the Game of Thrones theme, he began to think differently about the term. The video was posted as “Game of Thrones Theme — the ‘Smooth’ Version ft. Dave Koz.”
Koz asked Bradlee if he really wanted to use the word ‘smooth.’ Bradlee said yes, and the video got a million hits in 24 hours, Koz said.
Dave Koz and Friends at Sea — Koz’s jazz-themed cruise — sets off Sept. 5 for Alaska. Koz admitted he was initially cynical about the cruise idea, but eight cruises later, he’s changed his tune on that, too.
“Cruise ships have changed so much. There is one for all interests,” he said. On his cruises, “It’s like everyone has a backstage pass. You are immersed in music for seven days.”
Back on land, Koz said he looks forward to bringing his Summer Horns Tour to PlayhouseSquare.
“It’s one of the classic venues in America. The people who come out in Cleveland are serious. They’re nuts.”
Marcus Miller/Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns Tour, 8 p.m. June 29 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. For tickets call 216-987-4444.