Dave Koz has managed to build a thriving career as one of the top artists in the contemporary “smooth” jazz world, complete with world tours and a top-10 album. He’s also a nationally syndicated radio host with a weekly series that spotlights the best of modern jazz as he interviews and plays music from the latest and greatest performers on the scene.
But five years ago, he decided to try something high-energy and found great success with the Summer Horns tour, in which he teamed up with other star saxophonists and created an album that debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Current Contemporary Jazz Albums chart, scored a Grammy nomination and fueled two sold-out world tours. Now, he’s back with the followup Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns CD, and will be performing on Friday, July 6, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
“The first Summer Horns tour was in 2013 when our first project came out, a side project for four sax players with successful careers,” says Koz. “It was an idea I wanted to do for a long time, so much fun. So I’m back with the summer blockbuster follow-up sequel, but the timing wasn’t right until this year. When one member of the original couldn’t do this year’s tour, that gave us a chance to figure how to change the sound of Summer Horns.”
“This time out we added brass, with trumpet by Rick Braun and trombone by Aubrey Logan, who’s also an unbelievable singer, so that added a nice thing for us as well,” adds Koz. “As we opened up the sound, it opened up the repertoire choices. We have one song that’s a medley of ‘Take the A Train’ from Duke Ellington and a hip-hop rap song by Jay-Z called ‘Roc Boys.’ But that shows what brass can do for you in modern music.”
Among the other performers in the show are Gerald Albright, who has worked with Anita Baker, Whitney Houston and The Temptations; former Tower of Power member Richard Elliott; and guitarist Adam Hawley, who was named Debut Artist of the Year by both Smooth Jazz News and JazzTrax. The ensemble will team up to play an assortment of classic songs across multiple genres, but spotlight their own individual recordings as well.
A native of Encino, Koz started performing on saxophone as a member of the school jazz band at William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills. He graduated from UCLA in 1986 with a degree in mass communications before going pro as a member of jazz legend Bobby Caldwell’s touring band. He built his reputation further as a popular session musician for several bands, including those of fellow jazzman Jeff Lorber and pop star Richard Marx, and even played in the house band of Pat Sajak’s short-lived CBS late-night talk show. But his biggest move came in 1990, when he decided to pursue a solo career — and immediately scored a Capitol Records contract.
“It was not really a decision to be in the smooth style, but more like playing music that’s in my heart, like Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire and Chicago, more than straight, traditional jazz,” explains Koz. “Smooth jazz is really a radio format more than a style of music, as it’s really just contemporary taking on elements of R&B and rock fused with melody and a rhythmic drum element, rather than emphasizing improvisational playing.”
The past decade has brought a couple of landmark changes to the life of the 49-year-old Koz, particularly his decision to publicly come out as gay at age 40. Although he had long worried that such an announcement would hurt his career, he admits being surprised that there was “zero impact” professionally. “The only impact was on me, because I could be a whole person, not two people all the time,” says Koz.
“I’m married to my saxophone,” he says . “I grew up in a time very different from now, and so I’d come out to friends and family but not publicly until I was 40. It’s been eight or nine years, and the only impact has been creating a lot more wholeness in my life.”
The Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns Tour on Friday, July 6, at 8 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets and more information, call 805-449-2787 or visit civicartsplaza.com.