These Saxes Don’t Duel, They Collaborate

Alto saxophonists Sanborn, Koz take the stage at Westbury Aug. 25

Koz
David Sanborn (left) with Dave Koz. Photo by Lynn Goldsmith

The first time he met the man he called “his No. 1 sax idol,” 17-year-old Dave Koz found himself doing what many a fan does in the presence of a favored celebrity—gush.

“Oh my God, I want to be like you, sound like you,” the aspiring jazz musician said to David Sanborn.

“He motioned me to stop,” Koz related on the phone from his home in Sausalito, near San Francisco. “He told me, ‘Why don’t you let me be me? And you be you? You can’t do what everyone else has done. Try to develop your own sound.’ ”

It was a lesson Koz took to heart, and now, 36 years after that encounter, the two “smooth jazz” sax giants are doing a national tour and will be appearing at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury this Thursday, Aug. 25, at 8 p.m.

“This is a very special tour, 25 years in the making,” Koz noted. “I dreamt about it, to stand next to my idol. It finally happened. The lesson is, don’t forget to nurture your dreams.”

Koz also looks forward to performing on what he called “one of the few theaters in the round” at Westbury.

“We play a lot of venues, and it definitely stands out,” he said. “Musicians talk about it. It’s got a heritage and uniqueness. It sounds great and Long Island audiences have always been special.”

Music Obsession

A sax player on the jazz ensemble at the Los Angeles high school he attended, Koz decided to pursue his dream of being a professional musician shortly after graduating from UCLA with a degree in communications.

His parents, Norman (a dermatologist) and Audrey (a pharmacist), supported this risky career choice.

“They died young,” Koz said of his parents. “Nobody was prouder when they saw us play.”

“I learned a good lesson from them, that it is difficult to rain on your kids’ parade. You can’t [stymie] their passion.”

His obsession paid off when he was asked to join the band of singer-songwriter Bobby Caldwell, and other supporting gigs followed.

In 1990, Koz went solo and released his self-titled solo album, the first of nine No. 1 albums on Billboard’s Current Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.

Talking about the “smooth jazz” category in which he has been pigeonholed—and which Sanborn has rejected—Koz is philosophical.

“My music started to get popular when that format became popular. [The label] sort of got attached,” he said. “[Sanborn] preceded all that. I can see why he doesn’t like it.”

Unfair or not, Koz rode the format’s wave of popularity, earning nine Grammy nominations in the process of releasing a slew of gold- and platinum-certified albums and scoring numerous hit singles.

Last year he celebrated his 25th year of recording with a retrospective album, Collaborations: 25th Anniversary Collection. It features three brand new tracks: “Good Foot” with Jeff Lorber, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” with Kenny Lattimore and Rick Braun, and “Let It Go” (from Frozen) with Sturken & Rogers, plus previously recorded collaborations with Barry Manilow (who recently tapped Koz to be an opening act on his One Last Time! tour of the U.S.), Luther Vandross, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, Toby Keith, Herb Alpert, Rod Stewart, David Benoit and Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, among others.

In the course of his career, Koz has also played with such artists as Burt Bacharach, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Celine Dion, Shelby Lynne, Kenny Loggins, U2 and Michael McDonald.

“It’s a wonderful experience to make music by collaboration,” Koz said, not only of the album, but his current tour with Sanborn. “It’s very entertaining, and we play a tremendous amount of hit songs.”

Keeping Busy

In addition to touring and recording, Koz keeps busy with the Dave Koz & Friends At Sea cruises. His next two cruises are sold out, bringing the total to seven.

For 21 years he has hosted his syndicated Dave Koz Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast, and two years ago launched The Dave Koz Lounge on SiriusXM and Dave Koz & Friends Radio, a 24-hour-a-day radio channel he curates on jazzradio.com, a multichannel internet radio service. He also the bandleader on The Emeril Lagasse Show.

Koz wears other labels: as an entrepreneur, he founded Rendezvous Entertainment. In 2015, he became a partner in the eatery Spaghettini in Beverly Hills. He has served as global ambassador for the Starlight Children’s Foundation for over 20 years. In 2009 he founded KOZ Wines, and is donating all his proceeds from the wines— available at Whole Foods Markets, Amazon and California Pizza Kitchen—to Starlight.

Two wines from Koz’s partnership with premium Santa Barbara winemaker Terravant picked up Gold and Best of Class awards in the 2014 Los Angeles International Wine Competition.

Koz completed a four-year term on the Grammy Foundation Artists Committee and has served as National Trustee for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS).

Koz laments the demise of such outlets as NYC’s CD 101.9 and admits that “it’s been a real struggle {for artists] to create income streams,” especially with the decline of physical record/CD sales.

“I really feel for any young artists trying to break in,” he noted. “But I believe that if music is your passion, you will find a way to make it work.”

Asked about all this activity, Koz laughed and admitted, “I do have a bit of ADD (attention deficit disorder), but I really do enjoy all the different aspects of my life.”

On certain weekends Koz repairs to his home to read, relax and listen to music in what he calls “a quiet, meditative environment.”

“Because my life can be so crazy!” he explained.

NYCB Theatre at Westbury is at 960 Brush Hollow Rd. Westbury. Call 516-334-0800 or visit venue.thetheatreatwestbury.com.

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Frank Rizzo
Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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