Dave Koz – The Global Ambassador

In a career that spans twenty years and a dozen albums, saxophonist Dave Koz has established himself as one of the most prominent figures in contemporary music. But as noteworthy as his body of recorded work and as entertaining his live performances and other past accomplishments might be, Koz finds himself in an era of dramatic and sweeping change where everything once taken for granted is suddenly up for grabs. For Koz – and for all of us in this new century – it’s a new day, full of new challenges and opportunities, and new rules that are still being written.

Koz embraces this era of change – and even the uncertainty that comes with it – on Hello Tomorrow, his first album for Concord Records. Released on October 12, 2010, Hello Tomorrow debuted at No. 1 on both Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart and iTunes’ Jazz Album chart and was named the “Best Smooth Jazz Album of 2010” by iTunes. Hailed as “an event record” by The New York Times, it has already yielded two No. 1 singles: “Put The Top Down,” which spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on the Mediabase Smooth A/C chart (the longest stint at No. 1 of any of Koz’s chart-topping hits) and “Anything’s Possible.”

Produced by Grammy winners John Burk and Marcus Miller (who also appears on most tracks), the album features a diverse army of high-profile guests: Herb Alpert, Jonathan Butler, Brian Culbertson, Sheila E., Boney James, Jeff Lorber, Keb’ Mo’, Ray Parker, Jr., Lee Ritenour, Christian Scott and others. Each of the thirteen tracks – most of them written by Koz and his collaborators, others penned by friends and legends – focuses on being open to new beginnings, and trusting that the future is unfolding in all the right ways for all the right reasons.

“I’m excited to be with a new record label after nearly 20 years,” says Koz, “but it’s reflective of a larger change for me personally, and there’s always some apprehension that comes with big changes. The more people I talk to, the more I realize that there are millions of people with a similar story – the loss of a job in an economic downturn, the end of a marriage, the beginning of a new career, any circumstances that force them to take a step in a different direction or reinvent themselves in some way. They’re reaching a certain point where they see a life ahead of them that they never expected. Many of us are at the beginning of a new era, and we’d be wise to embrace it.”

The project has been a guiding force for Koz, and could be the same for longtime fans and newcomers alike. “I made this album partly as a means to help myself through this unfamiliar time,” he says. “Hopefully it could be a tool to help anyone else in a similar situation.”

Music – and more specifically, the saxophone – have been Koz’s primary survival tools since his childhood and adolescence in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. He started playing as a means to land a spot in his brother’s band, but somewhere along the way, “the saxophone became my best friend, my most trusted ally, because it enabled me to communicate feelings that I didn’t have the words for. In many ways, it saved my life.”

After earning a degree in mass communications from UCLA, Koz took the leap into a career as a professional musician – a decision that immediately led to touring gigs with vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Bobby Caldwell, keyboardist Jeff Lorber and pop singer Richard Marx. He signed with Capitol and released his self-titled solo debut in 1990. Noteworthy follow-ups included the gold certified Lucky Man (1993), Off the Beaten Path (1996) and four holiday albums – December Makes Me Feel This Way (1997), Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Jazz Christmas (2001) Memories of a Winter’s Night (2007), and Ultimate Christmas (2011). The gold certified The Dance (1999) and Saxophonic (2003) each spawned five Top 5 hits on the contemporary jazz charts, and the latter album scored two Grammy nominations.

In addition to the 2007 Christmas album, Koz also released At the Movies that same year. Produced by the legendary Phil Ramone and crafted as a celebration of timeless melodies from the cinema, At the Movies spent 12 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart and scored a second Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album. A year later, Koz followed up with Dave Koz at the Movies Double Feature CD + DVD, which included the original CD with two new bonus tracks, a new DVD and a track-by-track commentary.

Dave Koz: Greatest Hits, a retrospective collection released in the fall of 2008, debuted at the top of Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart as well as iTunes’ Jazz Album chart. The album included several of Koz’s hits plus four brand new tracks.

In addition to compiling an ambitious discography over the past two decades, Koz continues to flex his mass-communications muscles as a radio personality in two different outlets. On weekdays, he hosts an afternoon radio program that’s nationally distributed on the Smooth Jazz Radio Network; and on weekends, he hosts the syndicated Dave Koz Radio Show – now in its 16th year – in approximately 120 markets.

Koz also keeps a hand in various other entrepreneurial and philanthropic ventures. He is the founder of Rendezvous Records, and has served for 18 years as global ambassador for the Starlight Children’s Foundation – an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and life-altering injuries. He recently partnered with Vinum Cellars, a Napa Valley boutique winery, and Whole Foods Market to introduce three types of KOZ wines. The wines are available exclusively at Whole Foods Market stores in California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Nevada, with all proceeds going directly to the Starlight Foundation.

He recently completed a four-year term on the Grammy Foundation Artists Committee, has served as national trustee for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), and is an ongoing member of the Board of Governors for the Grammy Foundation.

Koz keeps busy on the road with annual summer and holiday tours – the Dave Koz & Friends Smooth Jazz Christmas Tour entered its 14th season in 2011 – and he will be hosting the next Dave Koz and Friends at Sea Cruise to Europe aboard Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas in 2012.

Hello Tomorrow is the culmination of all of these accomplishments and more. It’s a first step into a new creative environment, however uncharted the territory might be.

The set opens with “Put the Top Down,” a lighthearted collaboration by Koz and Culbertson that features (among others) Lee Ritenour, Ray Parker, Jr., and Jonathan Butler on guitars; Marcus Miller on bass; and Sheila E. on percussion. The star-studded crew on hand for this opening salvo sets up a solid melodic hook that rides comfortably atop a funky bass-and-percussion groove.

“When Will I Know for Sure” is a quieter, more introspective piece that includes Koz and Boney James trading soprano and tenor licks, respectively. “I was very excited to record this track with Boney, because I’m a huge fan of his,” says Koz. “There’s an element of mystery to this song. It’s about not knowing what the definitive answers are to life’s questions. But it’s also about being comfortable in that place where you don’t have the answers, and trusting that things will unfold as they should.”

Koz not only lays down the alto sax parts on Burt Bacharach’s 1968 classic “This Guy’s in Love with You,” but sings the vocal line as well. “It’s one thing to play a song on your horn, but it’s another thing altogether to open your mouth and sing it,” he says. “But I eventually got more confident with it until I realized it was the right thing to do.” In a final nod to Bacharach’s original hit, Herb Alpert steps in at the close of the track and delivers what Koz calls “those same iconic notes he played on the original.” The track hit No. 1 on the Breakouts for Hot Dance Club Play chart.

Written and sung by Koz’s longtime friend, Dana Glover, the Top 5 hit “Start All Over Again” is a passionate piece that offers hope in the face of adversity. “The message isn’t new, but it’s one that we all need to hear in one way or another,” says Koz. “No matter how bad things might be, if you’re still alive, if you’re still breathing, there’s still the opportunity for you to start over again and do whatever you want with your life. That’s the situation a lot of people are in right now. They’re being forced to pull up their bootstraps and figure out a way to move forward into uncharted territory.”

In the home stretch, the quiet but compelling “Whisper in Your Ear” is an invitation to heed the subtle voice of reason that often gets buried in the noise of life’s everyday struggles. “It’s that faint, faint voice in our heads that tells us all the things we need to know,” Koz explains. “It’s so soft that we often find it hard to hear, and a lot of us don’t trust it because it’s so quiet and mysterious. If you listen closely, there are phrases that are being whispered throughout the track. The song reminds us to trust that inner voice.”

The brief and poignant closer, “What You Leave Behind,” featuring Miller in a rare moment on guitar, is a tribute to former Concord executive Hal Gaba and bassist Wayman Tisdale, two of Koz’s mentors who passed away in recent years. “These two figures were such influential people when they were here, that what they left behind will reverberate for a very long time,” he says. “That’s what the song’s about. While you’re here, you have to make the most of it. Wherever possible, you have to make it count.”

Hello Tomorrow pushes the reset button for an artist who’s been in the game for two decades, and positions him for the next chapter in a story that’s already multi-dimensional and compelling. “In many ways, I feel like this is the beginning of my career,” he says. “That may sound strange, because I’ve enjoyed a wonderful and blessed career up until now, but I feel like my best days are still ahead of me. I’ve made a Dave Koz record that fans of my earlier work will be able to connect to. It’s still me, but I’m coming from a different perspective that’s reflective of the times we’re living in and the changes that continue to define this new era.”

Dave Koz published with permission of Bettie Grace Miner.