Saxophonist Dave Koz may be Jewish, but he loves Christmas.
“I grew up celebrating Hanukkah with my family, but I used to love to go to my friends’ houses help trim their trees, open presents and drink cider,” recalled the 53-year-old Californian who will be coming to Miami’s Arsht Center this weekend on his 19th annual Christmas concert tour. “The music also really drew me to the holiday.
It’s also true many of the most beloved Christmas tunes were penned by Jewish songwriters: Irving Berlin, “White Christmas;” Mel Torme and Bob Wells, “The Christmas Song;” Buck Ram, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas;” Felix Bernard, “Winter Wonderland.”
“The people who wrote those songs were the people who wrote the Great American Songbook. No matter how many times we hear ‘White Christmas’ it will never go out of style. That’s the way it affects people. It never goes out of style,” Koz said in a phone interview on the first day of rehearsals.
This year, Koz will be joined on the road by Valerie Simpson of the famed duo Ashford & Simpson, singer Kenny Lattimore and South African talent Jonathan Butler, a veteran of many Christmas tours.
Koz described Simpson, whose credits include “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Every Woman,” as “Motown royalty and the “R&B Carole King.” She’ll be making her first tour since her partner Nick Ashford passed away five years ago.
Lattimore, who has performed on Koz’s popular cruises, makes his first Christmas tour, and Koz considers Butler his “brother from a different mother,” who brings an “incredible spirit” to the performances.
For Koz, the tour is really about family. Since the first tour in 1997, he has seen fans return year after year.
“I’ve seen kids grow up and the changes in families and every year they keep coming back,” Koz said. “It’s a great honor, as daunting a task as it is” to put together a new program.
The Christmas tour and its message of peace on Earth can’t come soon enough, Koz admitted.
While he’s not public with his political views, of the recent election he said, “I don’t think you could avoid it. Our country needs a whole lot of healing right now.”
While on a recent international tour to Europe and Australia, he was regularly confronted about his political opinions.
“It was interesting what the rest of the world was thinking about us. No matter where you fall on the ideological lines, we have to find a way to find a way to work together. We are one country and need to bridge this gap. It’s a big concern for me and I want to be on the solution side and, whatever way I can do that, I want to do that,” Koz said.
Fortunately, music can bridge that gap—especially Christmas music.
“We’re lucky that we have an outlet for our expression that can stand on its own. I’m certainly blessed to have that, otherwise I’d be frustrated,” he elaborated. “We have to do what we do best and apply some tools of the light. Keep that big tent philosophy. Let’s do this together, it’s a great time to be out there touring.”
The Dave Koz Christmas Tour with special guests Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore and Valerie Simpson comes to the Arsht Center in Miami on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $45 at ArshtCenter.org.