It is an extremely rare occurrence, within the music industry, that an artist is critically acknowledged at the very beginning of his or her career. However, occasionally one musician’s work stands out among thousands of releases presented that year and that artist achieves not only success but personal growth and the respect of his or her peers as well. Dave Koz may very well be one of Adult Contemporary Jazz’s greatest success stories and perhaps one of its most inspirational.
Impassioned by music at a young age, Koz recalls being captivated by the soaring horn section of his favorite band, Tower of Power. However it may have been older brother Jeff who was most directly responsible for Dave’s progression from fan to performer. When he was just 13, Dave watched his older sibling, a guitarist, lead his own band vigorously around the wedding, bar-mitzvah, and fraternity circuits. Tempted by a need for pocket cash and figuring it was more enterprising than a part-time career in fast food, the younger Koz begged to be a part of the group. Since the ensemble was missing a consistent saxophone player, Jeff insisted if Dave learned the instrument and rehearsed he could join. Practicing fiendishly, Dave eventually obtained the much-coveted spot with the group. “I remember that wedding like it was yesterday,” Koz jokingly told USA Today. “Everybody got paid $100 and I got paid $10 and I’ve been getting back at my brother ever since.” Koz progressed on his instrument by studying privately, playing with high school bands and—what he considers his most prized way of learning—blowing along to favorite records, such as James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. Koz also cites Pat Metheny, Stevie Wonder, Tom Scott, David Sanborn, Michael Breckner and Tower of Power as cherished influences.
Level-headed and uncertain about the future, while Koz was studying the saxophone and performing a wide range of music with his brother’s band, he was simultaneously working towards a degree in Mass Communications at the University of California, Los Angeles. After graduation in 1986, the ambitious musician gave himself an intriguing option. Rather than heading straight for an office and a possible business career, Koz allowed himself six months to see if he could gain any attention as a professional musician or at least earn a living. Fate and perseverance took hold of the situation and within a few weeks he received a welcome call from vocalist Bobby Caldwell to join his band. “That was a great gig,” Koz told the Jazz Times. “Bobby is like the singer’s singer and those gigs were attended by everybody in the music business; singers, musicians, record company people. So it was great way to get exposure.”
Born March 27, 1963, in Encino, Califor nia; son of Norman and Audrey Koz. Education: UCLA, degree in Mass Communications, 1986
First professional job with vocalist Bobby Caldwell. Joins Jeff Lorber’s band as sideman, 1986. Released debut album, Dave Koz, Capitol Records, October 1990; released Lucky Man, Capitol Records, 1993; debut of Personal Notes hosted by Dave Koz, January, 1995. various television appearances including Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, The Tonight Show, 1992-1996; cohost of the Cerebral Palsy National Telethon (twice); performed at President Clinton’s inauguration ceremonies, 1992; released Off the Beaten Path, August 1996.
Addresses: Publicity —Mitch Schneider Organization, 14724 Ventura Blvd., Suite 410, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403; phone (818) 380-0400. Management— Shelly Heber and Leanne Meyers, Vision Management, 7958 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90040.
The exposure generated from those shows helped garner the attention of Jeff Lorber. Highly impressed by Koz’s now obvious abilities, Lorber recruited the burgeoning saxophonist to join his touring band. In a peculiar twist, it was at Lorber’s insistence that Koz first considered pursuing a solo career. Lorber and Caldwell both helped Koz to create the demo tapes which caught the attention of Capitol Records
Dave Koz’s self-titled debut was released on October 10, 1990. It established Koz as a highly respectable and personable figure in the area of contemporary jazz. Bridging stylistically between the languid flow of adult contemporary and modern jazz, Koz’s musical category is debatable. Koz also questions his own categorization. As he explained to the Jazz Times, “Because you play the saxophone, people automatically assumeyou’re a jazz musician and they kind of get down on contemporary sax players because they say it’s jazz-lite. I agree that it’s not as challenging or complex, but you know, it’s music that’s honestly from me and it’s real for me…. The public is not dumb. People can pick up when it’s real or not. I think as long as an artist is true to themselves and making music that’s vibrant and a true reflection of who they are, then whatever style it is, its okay.”
Only twenty-six at the time of his debut, Koz managed to impress and delight a music-loving public. His debut album received gracious critical praise as well as varied prestigious triumphs. Internationally, Dave Koz. managed to achieve double platinum status in Malaysia and gold status in Singapore. He also landed a number-one single in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Hong Kong with the melodic, breezy, “Emily.” In the States there were equally dynamic accomplishments. His first album spent 25 weeks on Billboard’ contemporary music chart and gave birth to the prolific saxophonist’s first number-one single “Nothing But the Radio On.” Dave Koz. reached number eight on Billboard’. list of top contemporary jazz recordings for the year. With the record’s success, the talented Koz was offered a wide array of opportunities that not were not only due to his musical abilities but additionally attributable to his warm and affable personality.
In 1991 and 1992, Koz regularly sat in with the Arsenio Hall Show house band, The Posse. The nowdefunct late-night talk show was hosted by vibrant comedian Arsenio Hall and seen throughout the United States. Koz appeared in over eighty episodes. The prolific young musician also appeared on the soap opera General Hospital, ABC’S prime time sitcom, Family Matters and teen television hit, Beverly Hills 90210.
In 1993 the saxophonist released his second album, entitled Lucky Man. The record not only achieved more impressive sales figures than his first effort, it also brought Koz under the glow of the music industry’s limelight. Lucky Man spent an impressive two years on Billboard’s jazz contemporary charts, achieving RIAA certified gold status. Partly responsible was the single “Faces of the Heart” (co-written by Jeff Koz), as it became the first new theme in twenty years for the soap opera General Hospital. Koz launched his first solo tour in 1993, playing 132 dates, where he performed for sold-out crowds and had the opportunity to warm the stages for both Kenny Loggins and Michael Bolton.
Koz was granted a unique opportunity to be on the other side of the mike when he became the host of Personal Notes with Dave Koz. The two-hour weekly adult alternative radio show debuted on January 21, 1995. As he told Phyllis Stark of Billboard magazine, “It’s sort of intimidating to getbehind a mike when you don’t have a saxophone. The concern is, Is there enough inside me to make this interesting?” His doubts proved unnecessary, however, since the show, which is syndicated by Sony Worldwide networks, has become extremely popular and is broadcast from over 100 different stations. On the air, Koz’s insight as an artist helps to initiate interesting interviews with prestigious musical peers such as Al Jarreau, Stanley Clark, and Anita Baker. Even though quite a successful musician himself, Koz has not lost his ability to be a fan. In many magazine interviews, Koz cites one of the highlights of his career as being able to perform along with such legendary musicians as Grover Washington Jr. and Tom Scott at President Clinton’s Inaugural Ball. On Personal Notes, when given the opportunity to interview one of his idols, David Sanborn, Koz humbly explained to Billboard, “Half the interviewwas me gushing. He finally told me to stop. It’s kind of funny and fun to be able to be put in that position. I’ve had two successful records, but I still consider myself a new kid on the block.” Koz generally records Personal Notes. from his home; however, when he is away the network outfits him with gear to record the show on the road.
For all that Koz has accomplished at such a young age, the musician does seem to carry some slight regrets. When asked by Cheryl Lavin of the Chicago Tribune Magazine what he would do over if he could, Koz replied, “I would have spent my 20s working more on who I am as opposed to what I do.” With a hectic tour schedule, a radio show, and the many appearances that he has made in the course of his career, Koz has found he has been left with little personal time. After Lucky Man, he felt that both a personal and musical change were in order. He moved from his long-time home of Los Angeles to northern California in an effort to slow down the pace of his frantic schedule. He explained the move to Smooth Notes. magazine: “I’m thirty-three, and I’m after balance in my life. After ten years or so of going through life with blinders on—worrying about making records…. Other than being concerned with the health and happiness of my family, all I thought about was working. I think there’s more to life than selling records and touring, and I kinda think I got away from that. I wanted to refocus my life’”
Koz’s album Off the Beaten Path (Capitol Records 1996) was almost a direct result of his deviation both physically and mentally from his earlier career path. Instead of being under the disguising layer of synthesizers and drum machines, the record displays a more vulnerable folksy quality. Instruments not necessarily associated with jazz, such as mandolins, harmonicas, and various guitars, changed Koz’s sound for this recording. “This is a new sound for both me and my listeners,” Koz explained to Jazziz magazine,“It’s a logical progression from my earlier music. This isn’t change for the sake of change, or jumping on any kind of bandwagon. I truly feel this sound found me.” The record also boasted Koz’s first vocal effort as well as a guest appearance by former Fleetwood Mac diva Stevie Nicks. Dave Koz explains to Jazz Flyte magazine about the change in his work, “while I am proud of my last two records—they’re very good records, good songwriting and good playing. I think for me a lot of it was hiding behind technology. I tend to come from a school of naturally over production where you put the string pad and the bells and the whistles on. When you put all that stuff on, the saxophone becomes smaller and smaller. I think it was really fear of being vulnerable. Not that I would’ve attached that label to it in the past. But now, in retrospect, I look at it and say I was afraid to let it all hang out. On this record there was a real conscious effort, from the very first timewe started, to make the saxophone really vulnerable. To let it out, surround it with instruments that really complement it and not just populate the listening field. I wanted to give it a new complementary sound. That theme goes through this record”.
While Off the Beaten Path was a change for Koz, it still managed to provoke an audience response. Both “Let Me Count The Ways and “Don’t Look Back” have become radio hits. Dave Koz continues to remain a talent and beloved personality in the world of adult contemporary music.
Dave Koz, Capitol Records, 1990.
Lucky Man, Capitol Records, 1993.
Off the Beaten Path, Capitol Records, 1996
Billboard, April 1, 1995; July 13, 1996, p. 14; September 7, 1996.
Cash Box, August 31, 1996, p. 5.
Chicago Tribune Magazine, September 8, 1996, section 10.
Jazz Flyte, August 1996, p. 5.
Jazz Times, December 1996.
Jazziz, December 1996, p. 24; January 1997.
Smooth Notes, 1996.
USA Today, October 16, 1996.
Press information provided by Capitol Records and the Mitch Schneider Organization.
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