Dave Koz's uplifting, high-energy cool jazz has possibly played beneath a romantic moment or two in your life. Over his 20 plus year career, Koz has established himself as an award-winning recording artist, nationally syndicated radio host, vintner—whose wine line Koz Wine recently became available at California Pizza Kitchen restaurants nationwide—and philanthropist. Profits from his wine benefit the Starlight Children's Foundation. Koz is also a confident out gay man.
Koz, now 50, brings his Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour filled with fresh, lively arrangements of seasonal favorites back to Florida with stops at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Nov. 23, Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Nov. 24 and Melbourne’s King Center for Performing Arts Nov. 27.
Watermark caught up with Koz to discuss how music became a way of expressing himself when he couldn’t find the words to do so, a new album and bachelorhood.
WATERMARK: This year will mark the 15th anniversary of your holiday tour. What can we expect this time?
DAVE KOZ: Fifteen years! That just blows my mind! Doing anything for 15 years nowadays is a small feat. I’m very excited about it. This show has a tremendous amount of talent on stage. Christmas is all about traditions. A lot of the audiences come back year after year. I never take that for granted so I have enough there that is familiar and traditional while still adding some new spices.
This year we’ve got Javier Colon, who was the first season winner on The Voice, an amazing vocalist, and we’ve got Sheila E. who brings fire to the whole collaboration. David Benoit, with whom I originally started this tour, is returning. He brings all that traditional Christmas music. He’s an amazing piano player. He’s the purveyor of all that notable Vince Guaraldi “Peanuts” music; he does a whole section of that which is near and dear to a lot of our fans. I’m introducing a new artist, Margo Rey, who has an actual Christmas hit on her hands. It’s called “This Holiday Night.”
Your last studio album, Hello Tomorrow, came out in 2010. Are you working on anything currently?
I released a live album earlier this fall, called Live From the Blue Note, Tokyo. I’m starting work in January, as soon as this tour is over, on a brand-new project that I’m very excited about. I grew up listening to all these horn bands like Tower of Power, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Chicago; the kind of music I’ve always loved. To my knowledge, there’s never been a tribute album done to those great horn section bands. So, mine is going to be called Summer Horns and it should be released early next year with a tour to follow.
You state that your song “Whisper in Your Ear” offers subtle messages. What message are you trying to convey through it?
I want people to feel love. We all face hard times and challenges in our daily lives. So, I guess my message is for people to aspire to be the best selves they can be.
I read that you said the song “Start All Over Again” is about “hope in the face of adversity.” What’s your take on the recent movements in LGBT rights?
It’s not only about not being afraid of the unknown but also embracing the innate power of individuals. When you do that, amazing things can happen. I think this last election was a good shot in the arm—certainly for gay rights—but also in general. You can feel this momentum in this country. People are starting to realize their own power. Look at what happened with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Nothing changed in the military. I feel it only got stronger because it’s now more inclusive.
How important do you think music is to LGBT people living in what is often an unfriendly world?
I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but from my own experience, music saved my life. Growing up, I was going through stuff that I couldn’t even put words to but inherently, I knew I was different from basically the rest of the world. [Laughs] Without having the ability to talk to my parents, I felt like a stranger in my own family. Music was the thing that I latched onto at a very early age. I found comfort in it. It was such a gift to find that vehicle because if I hadn’t, I don’t know what would’ve happened.
If I couldn’t get it out in words, at least I was able to channel all that communication through the horn. That’s why I believe I’ve had a career as a saxophonist—that sound is totally me. It’s my journey. There’s a lot of emotion in it. Music at its purest core is all about capturing an emotion and conveying it to others.
No matter what kind of music—techno, dance, rock—I have friends that love to go and dance until the morning hours and just let the music take them away. That process is incredibly cathartic. I think music is very important, especially to [the LGBT] community.
You came out publicly in an interview in The Advocate. What was that experience like for you?
It was not planned. I told myself I was never going to come out publicly. My friends knew, my colleagues knew, and family, of course. But the idea of a public announcement about my personal life just never crossed my mind.
I don’t know what it was that changed but one day I just didn’t want to settle anymore; I didn’t want to play the hand I was dealt in this lifetime without having a full deck. I got to a point where I thought whatever happens—if my career is over because I came out—so be it. So, I said, ‘let’s go for it’ and The Advocate was a wonderful outlet to do that. This was back in the day when celebs made these big “coming out” announcements.
I love the fact that I was able to summon up the courage to do that at a time when it certainly wasn’t necessary to come out. There was no gun to my head; I wasn’t trying to fight off a controversy or scandal. It was about personal power and being able to say, “This is who I am.” Nowadays, celebs like Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons are coming out very matter-of-factly. To me, that shows how far we’ve come. It’s no longer a “drum roll please” kind of thing.
It’s like, “Hey, this is one small aspect of who I am and it doesn’t need to be overdramatized.” I love that. I get that it’s a very personal decision; some kids come out at 14 while others get married [to the opposite sex] because they’re not ready. I try not to judge anybody on their journey but hope and pray that they’ll find the ability to say, “This is who I am and I’m proud of it.”
In regards to the final song on Hello Tomorrow, “What You Leave Behind,” what impression do you hope to leave behind?
[Laughs] I would like to be thought of as someone who loved what they did, had a lot of fun and touched people. Success and awards, you can’t take with you when you die. The true currency in life is how you make people feel.
I’ve been blessed with the ability to communicate with people on a level that most people don’t have—whether it’s through tours or albums. My message is simple, I want to make people feel good, put a little spring in their step. At the end of my life, whenever that is, if I can feel like I’ve touched some lives or given them some inspiration— musical or otherwise—then I have done my job.
The last time Watermark spoke to you (back in 2010), we asked about the song “This Guy’s In Love” and if there was one man in particular you were crooning your single line to. At the time you said you were still waiting on him. Has that changed?
[Laughs] I think I’m an eternal bachelor. I think I’m more married to my saxophone than anything else. I wonder if they have marriage equality for a man and his sax. I think that I was, in a sense, putting that message out into the future. While I certainly remain open to it, I think the part of my life of having a one-on-one relationship is destined for later on in my life.
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