BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Notable jazz giant Dave Koz is continuously juggling myriad projects. Presently, the nine-time Grammy nominee has his plate full with a number of ventures ranging from his current stint opening shows on his longtime friend Barry Manilow’s “One Last Time!” tour to opening a new restaurant/lounge in Beverly Hills. In addition, the Los Angeles native continues to host his own long-running syndicated radio program, The Dave Koz Radio Show, as well as The Dave Koz Lounge on SiriusXM.
Despite his inundated itinerary, the master musician has no time for taking time off; and that’s just the way he likes it. His future plans include launching his next “Dave Koz and Friends” summer tour almost immediately after wrapping his run with Manilow, closely followed by setting sail on his annual “Dave Koz and Friends At Sea” cruise. With so much on his cluttered calendar, it seems a minor miracle we were able to carve out 30 minutes for our recent conversation in which we tried to cover it all.
You’ve got so much going on that I think we literally have a menu of topics to cover, but let me begin by congratulating you on celebrating 25 years in the business.
Yeah, well thank you very much.
Take us back to your first paying gig as a pro musician.
The first paying gig was a wedding in Woodland Hills, CA. Basically I took up the saxophone to be in a band that my brother was in. He and his friends had this band that was doing weddings and bar mitzvahs and fraternity parties. So I saw – as a kid – that all their friends worked at fast food restaurants and these guys played music and got money. So I was, like, how do I get in that band. My brother one day let it out of the bag that the only way that I would ever get in the band is if I played sax because they didn’t have a saxophone player. So that’s when I took it up; I was 13 years old, I practiced my butt off and then eventually, just to get me off his back from bugging him, he put me in the band for this wedding in Woodland Hills. I got paid $10. So that’s what I remember from my first gig (laughs); I got paid $10, but it was my first professional gig; it was the first time I ever got money for playing the saxophone. And from that point on, I got a taste of that, I eventually started to make a little more money (laughs) and I’ve been on that road ever since.
Very cool, and here we are twenty-five years later. You started at 13 and your older brother was a musical influence in that respect. I wonder if I could take you back even further. Did you have a kind of musical big bang moment? Was there a song that came on the radio or a show that you went to that really made you want to even just pick up an instrument?
I don’t know if it was my actual first concert – I think the very first one that I went to was Stephen Stills at The Forum (in Los Angeles) with my dad and my brother. We were pretty young; I was probably nine or 10. Once the pot started, you know, people lighting their joints, my dad was like, “We’re outta here!” (Laughs) But the next time that I really remember going to a concert where that kind of ah-ha moment happened was also at The Forum and I saw Earth, Wind & Fire. Those guys are good friends now and I love them and I worshiped that band growing up. So that was one that really stuck out for me in terms of the total entertainment package you could have at a concert; the visuals and the pyro and the staging and the spandex and the bell bottoms and the platform shoes. There was so much to look at and so much to take in from this experience and I think that was one of those that always stuck with me. There was another one, too, that happened much later. I went to see Harry Connick’s big band and it was another one of those ah-has and a big moment for me that stayed with me forever.
We’ve sort of discussed your first time, Dave. Let’s fast-forward and talk about “One Last Time!,” that being the name of Barry Manilow’s tour which you’re on and makes a stop right here in Sacramento where I am on April 17 at the Sleep Train Arena and runs through June 17 in Barry’s hometown of Brooklyn. How long have you guys been making beautiful music together?
We’ve known each other for probably about 15 years or so formally. My friend’s brother used to be his music director so I remember when I was in high school going to see him during sound check and I probably met him then. Professionally, he invited me to play on an album called [2001’s] Here at the Mayflower. He actually wrote my name into one of the songs; he said my name in the lyric and then there was a sax solo. He’s been a great mentor and a musical and career inspiration for me since those early days when we met. He was the one who inducted me into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with the Hollywood Star. So we’ve been in each others lives for a number of years. Last year he asked me to join him on a tour as his opening act. I hadn’t done that in a very long time and I jumped at the opportunity because this was in the UK and pretty much nobody knows me in the UK. When I go there to play, I play a hundred-seat venue (laughs) so I said sure I’d love to do that. We had the greatest time.
At the risk of giving away some surprises, can the folks here in Sacramento and across the rest of the dates expect something special onstage with the two of you?
Well, yeah, that’s the thing that’s so great about working with Barry is that he has such an incredible skill set. We know him as the consummate singer and great songwriter and such an entertainer and he is also a monster musician. People don’t realize how great of a musician this guy is. So from the beginning to the end it is a full and complete evening of music.
I asked about you and Barry making music together; speaking of that, you’ve worked with lots of folks, among them two of my all-time favorite artists: Rod Stewart and U2. This being my first opportunity to speak with you, I have to ask if you could give me a quick story about working with each of those artists.
Well Rod I’ve spent some time with; that guy is a rock star (laughs)! In my instances of being around him, that’s like a different planet; like visiting a different planet, that’s the best way I can describe it. It’s really, really fun and different and outlandish. My best experience working with him was on his [The Great American Songbook] standards project. I played on every one of those records. Those were four very, very successful and popular albums and I was very honored to be asked to play on all of them. With U2, that was very early on in my life and I never got a chance to meet those guys. I played on a remix of the U2 song that BB King played on, “When Love Comes to Town.” That was way, way back at the beginning of my career that I got asked to do that but I never got a chance to meet those guys. And I am a huge fan!
Me too! Well I guess this is a good time to pivot to your forthcoming “Dave Koz and Friends” summer tour, set to get underway on July 11 and 12 in Temecula, CA. Which friends are you bringing along this time around?
Well you may be familiar with a very successful trumpeter by the name of Rick Braun. Rick and I have had a very long musical relationship and friendship and we’ve done a lot of touring together. And we’re gonna be joined by a guy named Kenny Lattimore who is a very soulful R&B vocalist who’s been kicking around for a number of years, very popular and most known for his ballads. He’s a very handsome guy and the women love him (laughs)! I think it’s gonna be a really fun summer. We have probably about 25-30 shows across the country, and it’s kinda switching gears, going from one thing to the other but I’m excited about it. We also just made a record – it’ll probably come out some time during the summer – sort of like a 25th anniversary retrospective focusing in on collaborations. I usually am like a fish moving forward; I don’t take the time to stop and look back but I had to a little bit because we were making this project. Over the last 25 years if I look at a constant, a thread that’s run through my career, it’s collaboration. I just love working with other artists. There’s three brand new songs that will be on that album; one of which is a remake of the classic “Higher” with Rick Braun and Kenny Lattimore.
Just a second ago, you described yourself as a fish – from one radio guy to another, thank you for the segue; you have friends on land and sea because your “Dave Koz and Friends at Sea” cruise is also on the horizon. It’s set to set sail February 21-28. Tell us who’ll be on-board and what fans can experience on the open seas.
Well this is the tenth one that I’ve hosted. It started in 2005 and it’s been an incredible experience for me. Music is a wonderful way of bringing people together; it’s a unifying force. If you’re going on a music cruise, once you set foot on-board you’re amongst people that share the same passion and love for music as you do. Of course there are the scheduled shows and everything that’s in the program that happens but it’s all those unexpected things, those late-night jams or in a hallway where you meet your favorite artist and you get to talk with them. Those are the moments and experiences that stay with people forever and keep them coming back. Plus there are excursions and wonderful meals and wine. so it’s a really complete vacation with music at its core.
Again, Dave, you’re giving me some great segues. You mentioned the food and wine on the cruise, well back on land you are quite literally wining and dining your friends and fans and you’re involved in some great causes as well. Let’s talk about your line of Koz Wines and the special charity that the purchase of each bottle benefits.
Well thank you for bringing that up; that’s very kind. I’ve worked with an organization called the Starlight Children’s Foundation for about 20 years now, and Starlight helps kids that are in the hospital for long periods of time, whose lives are turned upside down; not just the kid but for their families as well. Through a variety of really wonderful programs they give kids a little break to smile and remember that they’re kids. I do a lot of work to raise awareness and much needed funds for Starlight and one of the ways that we do that is through the sale of wine, which all of my proceeds go to Starlight. We make a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay now, and you can find that wine at Whole Foods Markets in California – and four states, actually – and starting in June, the wine will be on the menu at all California Pizza Kitchens across the country. And also on our cruise, for the last two cruises we’ve had silent auctions to benefit Starlight and over the last two years we’ve raised over $200,000 for them. So it’s been a really great program and the wine is really good and people seem to like it.
That’s fantastic work, Dave. I commend you on that. And of course what’s a great glass of wine without some fabulous food to pair it with; talk about your new meals and music venue in Beverly Hills.
Well this is a new venture, so it’s very exciting. It’s been over five years in the making. Spaghettini is a restaurant that exists in Seal Beach, CA for over 26 years and the owners came to me and said we have this idea, this hankering to open up a Spaghettini in Beverly Hills and when we do we want you to be our partner. They made it happen and it opened up in December and it’s going strong. Its fine dining and world class music six nights a week…and we’ve had unbelievable musical experiences already. The one I like to talk about is the time that Sir Tom Jones came in to eat. There was a young jazz vocalist named Ariana Savalas who did a show. Her show finished and I go over to [Jones’] table to say hello and thank him for coming in and he said, “I thought you were gonna ask me to come up and sing.” I said, “What? Are you kidding?” And he said, “No.” So I ran back to try and find the band because they were already done for the night and I said, “Nobody leave!” So we got the band back up onstage, I go up to introduce him [Tom] and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, lock the doors, a legend wants to sing a song.” The place went bananas and he came up there and sang an Elvis song. The crowd went wild. He stuck around and did three songs. It was probably one of the best moments of my life because I had my sax and he said, “Please help me out.” I was jamming with the legend.
Wow! By the way, Dave, you didn’t by any chance get hit with any lingerie while you were onstage with Tom, did you?
I didn’t see any bras flying at that particular show, but you never know.
Being a longtime radio guy I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your long-running radio show. Was it your idea to get on the radio or did someone suggest you do this? How did it first kick off?
It first kicked off by a guy named Paul Goldstein who was doing syndication at the time and he said, “I think you have the personality to do radio.” And I was, like, “Really?!” And then he became my boss at [94.7] The Wave in Los Angeles when I did the morning show for six years, which I really, really loved. I’ve always loved doing that and the syndicated show which has been on the air for over 20 years – uninterrupted; it has been one of the things I’ve been very, very proud of over the years. I still love doing it.
I know you grew up in Los Angeles. What are some of your earliest memories of listening to radio? Did you have a favorite DJ? A favorite station you listened to?
When I first started getting into music Rick Dees was my go-to guy. I used to listen to him on KIIS-FM. But earlier than that it was KHJ; that was the one I remember first listening to and really kind of being opened up to music with. And then there was the jazz station KKGO and a guy named Chuck Niles who had one of the greatest radio voices ever. I remember listening to that and that was where I was first exposed to a lot of jazz music that I hadn’t heard elsewhere. Those are a few on the dial that I used to listen to.
I grew up in Los Angeles as well and my earliest radio memories were also with Boss Radio, 93-KHJ. Well Dave, let’s wrap up here. Again, Barry Manilow’s “One Last Time!” tour runs through June 17 in Brooklyn. Your “Dave Koz and Friends” summer tour gets underway July 11 and 12 in the beautiful wine country of Temecula, CA and the “Dave Koz and Friends at Sea” cruise runs February 21-28. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss here, Dave? A new line of cologne? Neckties? Craft beers?
(Laughs) I think you got it, man. I think you got it all in which I appreciate so much.
It was great to finally get a chance to talk to you. I hope we have an opportunity to meet face-to-face some time very soon.
I hope so, too. Nice to talk with you, buddy, and it’s about time! I really appreciate it so much. Bye.
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