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April 20, 2018 Smooth Jazz Vibes title logo News, infos and CD reviews by Peter Böhi - your host and fellow smooth jazz aficionado

December 8, 2002

DAVE KOZ by Jonathan Widran

For a few months after Dave Koz began his weekday morning DJ stint on 94.7 KTWV The Wave in the Spring of 2001, pals in the local music community teased him with an off-color joke. They called him the “Rosa Parks of smooth jazz,” because his face was on the back of every bus in Los Angeles. Seems you couldn’t go anywhere in the city without seeing the veteran saxman’s friendly smile shining back at you. As part of the station’s intense promotional push for their new morning show (joining Koz with veteran genre DJ Pat Prescott, long a part of CD 101 in New York), he was on busses (not just the back, but the sides, too), billboards (Sunset, Ventura and all boulevards north and south) and benches.

“ I grew up in L.A. and to see myself like that in all these same neighborhoods was a trip,” says Koz. “The one on Sunset Strip especially. I’d look up and say, that’s not really me. It’s too bizarre. Isn’t it? If you had told me ten years ago that I would have parlayed my music career into this, I would have thought you were nuts.”

Eager to juice up the station’s morning commute hours, The Waves’ management team had made Koz an offer he couldn’t refuse; they’d work around his often busy recording and touring schedule, and Prescott and producer Rosemary Jimenez would help prepare the details of each day’s show for him during his personal crunch times. An instant hit in a very competitive market, the show not only features more new music than the Wave plays any other time of the day, but also popular comedy and lifestyle segments like “Anything’s Possible,” “Ride the Wave to Work” (tips on surviving in the workplace), cooking segments and a personal thought for the day. All designed to promote positive living for the (mostly) 30s and 40s audience tuning in.

Dave Koz - Lucky Man

Koz as a daily radio presence was a logical progression from his stint as the host of the syndicated Dave Koz Radio Show, currently in its 7th year and carried on over 100 stations throughout the U.S. via NBG Network and in 30 markets worldwide, including spots in Europe, Africa and Asia. Koz remembers asking the folks at SW Networks, the shows’ original producer who approached him with the idea not long after the release of his second disc Lucky Man (1993), “Why me? And,” he says, “because we believe you can.”

“ I think that ’s been successful because smooth jazz fans around the world really want something substantial to sink their teeth into,” Koz adds. “Because it’s a niche market, there really aren’t a great deal of media outlets with personal information on these artists. The concept we stick to is that I’m conducting privileged conversations, allowing the listener in on a backstage vibe. Serving up the artists and their music on silver platter. I’m part of the genre, so I’m obviously an advocate for my friends and musician colleagues, fighting for its survival and growth. It’s a natural offshoot of the music for me.”

Should you listen to stations like The Wave or even the many AC stations Koz beams into (in markets without a specific smooth jazz outlet), you’re probably also hip to the musical foundation of the multi-media Koz experience. It drives Koz’s mother crazy to no end that one third of her nice Jewish son’s six album catalog is Christmas albums; the second of these, A Smooth Jazz Christmas (billed to Dave Koz & Friends), was a hit last holiday season. It’s the spirited chronicle of the Koz & Friends Christmas tour, which is heading into its sixth incarnation. Since 1997, it has evolved from a handful of concerts by the beloved saxman and pianist David Benoit to a 30 plus city national phenomenon also featuring fellow genre all-stars Peter White and Rick Braun and singer Brenda Russell. The Koz and Friends concept also extends to summertime, this year’s A Smooth Summer Night extravaganza featured fellow genre mainstays Norman Brown and Brian Culbertson as well as R&B vocalist James Ingram; last year’s round had Michael McDonald.

Koz’s gold selling 1999 hit The Dance spawned a record setting five radio singles; two of them hit #1 on the airplay charts. Billboard named this disc the #3 Contemporary Jazz album of 2000, and Koz was the #3 artist. At the 2001 second annual National Smooth Jazz Awards, he won in four top categories - Best CD of the Year, Best Saxophonist, Male Artist of the Year and overall Artist of the Year. His record was broken in 2002 by Rick Braun (who garnered five), but no matter - Koz, ever the likeable center of attention, was master of ceremonies at the San Diego event with Ms. Russell.

“ These things just happen, I guess people know I’m comfortable in front of big crowds and love to entertain,” he says. “I think I get that from my dad, who was a great public speaker. He was a funny man, the ultimate toastmaster.”

Golden Slumbers

Koz remembers his parents asking the usual “So what are you going to do with your life now?” type questions when he graduated from UCLA as a Mass Communications major in the mid-80s. Before he submitted himself to the drudgery of a real job, he decided to give music a shot for six months. Someone who saw him playing a small gig at Sherman Oaks’ Le Café with Gregg Karukas told him that singer Bobby Caldwell was looking for a sax player. Within weeks, Koz was on the road, and this stint led to tours with Jeff Lorber and Richard Marx, who was a huge pop star at the time.

“ Jeff was the one who first suggested I had what it took to be a recording artist and he helped me make a four song demo, which eventually found its way to (Capitol GM) Bruce Lundvall,” Koz recalls. “A few of those demos are also the masters on the first album. Before all that, though, I had to go through the devastation of having Tommy LiPuma at Warner Bros. pass on me. I thought my life was over! Capitol made an initial shipment of only 11,000 units, but the label pushed me really hard over the next few years, arranging tours with big stars like Kenny Loggins, big radio promotions and advertising like crazy. We wound up selling over 400,000.

“ Don’t think that I didn’t have to wrestle with some personal demons even then, however,” he adds. “Anytime I’d listen to legendary players like Michael Brecker, I’d say to myself, ‘what do you have to offer? How can I compete? The success of the first album was a wake up call for me. I realized that I may not be the sax player’s sax player, but the pressure was off. I realized I could do other things that would make my music special and get people to enjoy my shows. As with anything in life, you have to be honest to who you are. People ask me how to make it and I say get out there, put your heart into it. If I was putting this all on as an act, I wouldn’t be successful.”

(Just an aside to show that he’s no longer upset about the LiPuma rejection. Koz recently formed a new label, Rendezvous Entertainment, with two business partners. It’s first release, out September 23, was an all star collection of lullabies by a handful of smooth jazz dads (with Koz also appearing), Golden Slumbers. Its parent label? Warner Bros.! LiPuma is now safely at the helm of GRP.)

Back to the story. He toured constantly upon the success of Dave Koz and its 1993 follow-up, Lucky Man, well over a year and a half behind each recording. Lucky Man was his first gold album, and its most recognized single, “Faces of the Heart,” became the new theme to the long running ABC Daytime drama General Hospital. Proceeds from the song were donated to the Starlight Foundation. Over the years, the charitable Koz has also hosted the United Cerebral Palsy telethon several times and appeared on the Easter Seals Telethon; he has also been a global ambassador of The Starlight Foundation, dedicated to brightening the lives of seriously ill children.

Dave Koz - The Dance

Koz’s two other studio discs - 1996’s highly acoustic Off the Beaten Path and The Dance - reflect the many personal spiritual changes in Koz’s life as he attempted to balance the celebrity whirlwind with reality and respond to the passing of his father Norman later in the decade. He moved to Northern California in the early 90s to escape the L.A. treadmill, then returned, only to encounter a creative block amidst a spiritual crisis. He worked through it by connecting with the joys of the Jewish faith - no conflict with the Christmas recordings or tours there!; collaborating in Havana with musicians from all over the world at a writer’s conference; and by visiting the magnificent red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, which put his life in proper perspective.

“ I relate to the lyrics of the title track to The Dance as an ideal I can honestly say I aspire to live every day,” he says. “It’s a life lived without fear, one where you accept the ups and downs with equal grace as your eye is on the whole picture. No matter what new endeavor I’m involved in, I’m always finding myself back to the relationship I have with the sax. There are so many other things going on, but that’s what keeps the mojo working, to quote Austin Powers.

“ I did a chatroom thing on my website (davekoz.com) recently where fans could ask me any kind of question they wanted, ” he adds. “One got pretty deep, asking me, ‘what is your mission statement for your life?’ That hit me hard. I thought about it and wrote, ‘Enjoy it while you’re here.’ I realize life doesn’t have to be that hard if you don’t let it be. While you’re here, stop banging your head against the wall when things don’t go your way. Find a balance. Have no regrets. Rise to the challenge, and make it all about joy for yourself and others.”

If you would like to read what I wrote in previous issues of "Peter's Smooth Jazz Page" check out the vaults!