SAXOPHONIST DAVE KOZ CELEBRATES 25 YEARS OF RECORDING WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS
Collaborations: 25th Anniversary Collection includes 15 tracks showcasing Koz’s work with numerous high-profile creative partners
Over the span of nearly 20 albums and an ambitious international touring schedule, Dave Koz has forged a distinctive sound that merges the best elements of jazz, pop R&B, soul and funk. In the 25 years since the release of his self-titled solo debut album, the acclaimed saxophonist has received nine GRAMMY® nominations, had seven albums top Billboard’s Current Contemporary Jazz Albums chart and been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Along the way, he’s established an impressive body of work and built a fan base that stretches around the globe. But Koz would be the first to tell you that he hasn’t done it all by himself.
“How did I get here? I can tell you it was not entirely my doing,” says Koz. “You’ve heard the phrase, ‘It takes a village.’ That’s really what my career has been about. It’s been about really talented people – fellow musicians, managers, agents, producers, engineers, radio people, retailers and others – who have supported me along the way. I’m so proud of that, and so blown away by it. In this milestone year, I want to say thank you to all of them for helping me along this road. And I especially want to thank the fans who’ve been with me since day one. Every single one has been a collaborator with me.”
Koz celebrates and gives thanks for those many creative partnerships with Collaborations: 25th Anniversary Collection, a set of 15 tracks that includes material from his own previous recordings as well as recordings from projects with other artists. The album also includes three new tracks that send a clear message that there’s still plenty in store in the next 25 years. Collaborations: 25th Anniversary Collection is scheduled for release on July 31, 2015 via Concord Records.
“Some my favorite moments in the last twenty-five years have been collaborations with people whom I just love and treasure, and from whom I’ve learned so much – mentors and friends and people whom I never would have expected to meet,” says Koz. “And that’s the power of music. It will come up against any wall that can divide people and bring it right down.”
That unifying power is in evidence in the very first notes of “Good Foot,” a brand new track featuring keyboardist Jeff Lorber. “If you took Jeff out of the story of my career, there would be no story,” says Koz. “He was the first person to say to me, ‘You need to be a recording artist.’ The initial demos I made with him got me signed to Capitol Records, so he changed my life. It was very important to me that he be a part of this record. This song is actually something we wrote together a long time ago. We dusted it off and heard it with fresh ears and turned it into something new for this project.”
Another new track – and the first single going to radio – is the rousing “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” featuring vocalist Kenny Lattimore and trumpeter Rick Braun. “‘Higher And Higher’ is a great vehicle for the three of us,” Koz says. “Amazing horn parts for Rick and I to play, and a very soulful melody and lyric that Kenny just crushes! The saxophone and trumpet together have been such an amazing sound on so many hit records over the past several decades – be they pop, R&B or jazz. But it only works when you have the right combination of people playing the sax and the trumpet. Rick and I have played on each other’s records, we’ve written songs together and we’ve toured together. We have a musical kinship that spans so many years.”
“When Will I Know for Sure,” a selection from Koz’s 2010 album, Hello Tomorrow, features saxophonist Boney James. “The song was never released as a single, and it never really got its due,” says Koz. “But there was something that happened between Boney’s tenor sax and my soprano sax. It was an alchemic thing. I thought this album could be another opportunity for this great tune to be heard.”
Vocalist Michael McDonald and the Summer Horns – saxophonists Mindi Abair, Gerald Albright and Richard Elliott – appear on “So Very Hard to Go,” a rendition of a classic Tower of Power hit that originally appeared on Koz’s GRAMMY®-nominated 2013 release, Dave Koz & Friends Summer Horns. “Michael has always had the passion for Tower of Power, like I do and like most horn players do,” says Koz. “He delivered such an amazing performance on this track and the horn section of Mindi, Gerald, Richard and me turned it into something with a great groove all the way around.”
The classic ballad “(I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons” features rock and pop icon Rod Stewart on vocals, and originally appeared on Stewart’s Stardust: The Great American Songbook Vol. 3, released in 2004. “I always enjoyed the musical relationship Rod and I developed over the course of the four American Songbook recordings that I played on,” says Koz, “so I thought this track would be a fun one to include here.”
Stevie Nicks appears on “Let Me Count the Ways,” a track from Koz’s 1996 album, Off the Beaten Path. “Stevie’s been a friend for a long time,” says Koz, “but she’s also this superstar of rock and pop, and getting her to come in and sing on that album back in 1996 was a big coup. She came into the studio and recorded it on the night before my birthday, and she just slayed it. The memory of her bringing a cake into the studio on the night we recorded is part of why that song is so special for me.”
Trumpeter Herb Alpert lends a hand with “This Guy’s in Love with You,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song that Alpert himself had a hit with in 1968. The version on this collection is from Koz’s Hello Tomorrow. Koz recalls: “I sent Herb the track and I said ‘You need to tell me right now whether I’m making the biggest mistake of my life. Should I sing this song, or should I just play it instrumentally?’ Herb said, ‘Not only do I think you should sing it, but if you want, I’d love to play on it as well.’ It turned out to be this great memory – collaborating with the same guy who’d had such a big hit with the same song more than a generation earlier.”
The lively “Linus and Lucy,” featuring David Benoit, is a track from an anniversary compilation called 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas, released on Peak Records in 2005. The project featured renditions of Vince Guaraldi’s classic Peanuts Christmas music by numerous artists. Koz and Benoit teamed up to deliver a lively rendition of the signature Peanuts tune that has become an iconic holiday favorite. “That version of that song was only heard on that 2005 compilation,” says Koz, “so a lot of my fans never knew that I had done it. So I decided to put it on this collection because I’m so proud of the collaboration with David.”
“Can’t Let You Go (The Sha La Song),” from Koz’s 1999 album, The Dance, features the legendary vocals of Luther Vandross, whose performance here is as brilliant as it is minimalist. “Luther’s star has not waned a bit since his passing several years ago,” says Koz. “He’s still revered as one of the greatest vocalists of all time. He actually never sings any words in this song. He just sings sha-la’s in a bunch of different ways. That was the genius of Luther Vandross. He could take something as simple as sha-la and turn it into a vocal masterpiece.”
The stirring rendition of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” which originally appeared on Koz’s The 25th of December,features a crew of nine vocalists and musicians, including Johnny Mathis and Stevie Wonder. “This track was like a Christmas version of ‘We Are the World,’” says Koz. “It all leads to the payoff when Stevie Wonder’s voice comes in, and we do a harmonica/saxophone trade at the end. To me, if you can say on an album called Collaborations that you had the honor of making music with Stevie Wonder, how much better does it get?”
Koz originally recorded the jazz waltz version of “Game of Thrones Theme (The Smooth Version)” for a YouTube video with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. “At millions of hits, this song brought jazz to a whole new audience of younger people who may not have been exposed to it otherwise,” says Koz. I was so proud of it, but if you weren’t already a Postmodern Jukebox fan, you may never have heard of it.”
The poignant “Cryin’ for Me (Wayman’s Song)” features country artist Toby Keith. Originally released on Keith’s 2009 album, American Ride, the song was written and recorded in tribute to athlete and musician Wayman Tisdale, who died earlier that year. “Toby invited Marcus Miller and me to play on the tribute to Wayman, who was a dear friend. It’s a beautiful song, and it was a huge country hit for Toby. After the album came out, I went on the Country Music Awards and played it with him. We got to be friends in the process, and I really love the song.”
The rollicking “Think Big,” another selection from Koz’s Hello Tomorrow, features trombonist Brian Culbertson and slide guitarist Keb’ Mo’. “Both of those guys are amazing instrumentalists, each with their own unique voice,” says Koz. “This is a song that Brian and I wrote. It’s a New Orleans-style, fun-loving romp. It’s a kitchen-sink kind of song, and everybody just had a lot of fun with it.”
“Apartment 2G: I Hear Her Playing Music” is a track from Barry Manilow’s 2001 concept album, Here at the Mayflower.“He wrote this song about a woman in an apartment who would listen to my music late at night,” says Koz. “I went into the studio to play on the track and listened to the song, and towards the end I hear this line that goes: ‘I hear her playing Dave Koz in the middle of the night.’ I just said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And Barry said, ‘Yeah, that’s you.’ Barry’s an amazing musician. He’s at the top of his game at 72, and he’s filling arenas. I just have so much admiration and respect for him. I knew I wanted to have a song with him on this collection. This was the first thing we worked on together, so it always holds a special place in my heart.”
The set closes with a soaring rendition of “Let It Go,” the hugely popular anthem from the 2013 Disney film, Frozen. This last track, co-produced by Carl Sturken (who also plays keyboards and guitar) and Evan Rogers – both of whom produced tracks on Koz’s very first album in 1990 and several since – puts Koz in the launch position for the next chapter in an already highly successful and multi-faceted career.
“So many people have recorded this song, but to my knowledge, no one has ever done an instrumental version of it,” he says. “It’s not a sung version, but hopefully you can feel what the song is about by the way it comes across on the saxophone. And what a great message, whether it’s for kids or people my age or senior citizens. It’s about truly letting yourself be who you are. That’s why the song has a lot of resonance for me personally. Getting to the point where I can be comfortable and confident in my own shoes has been a long journey. It’s a message that, no matter how old we get, we can always use some reinforcement.”
“And the moment when you reach that point is the moment when you are most open to engaging with others and creating something entirely new,” says Koz. “There’s a message in this album about opening your heart, opening your mind, opening your arms to the idea of working with others,” he says. “The art of collaboration has been a theme that has run through my entire career and my entire life. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over again about how important it is to keep yourself open so you can truly understand other people, walk in their shoes for a minute and become a better citizen of the world in the process. It’s a message that I think is a bit lost in the noise right now. This record is my way of inviting people to open up a little and become better human beings.”