SAN DIEGO — In a recording career spanning 23 years, 10 solo albums and contributions to more than 100 gold albums by other artists, Larry Carlton has yet to equal the explosive debut of pop-jazz saxophonist Dave Koz.
Koz's self-titled first album, released last year, has sold 250,000, while Carlton's most successful efforts, including 1989's "On Solid Ground," peaked around 225,000.
Carlton, 43, the mercurial pop-jazz-rock-you-name-it guitarist, and Koz, 28, the pop-jazz rookie, appear Sunday night at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay. The two will not be playing together, however.
When talking about Koz's comparatively rapid commercial rise, Carlton shows no envy or bitterness.
"I'm happy for Koz, but the reason my record sales aren't as high is because I haven't been with a label that's been focused on instrumental music," Carlton said. "MCA barely had a jazz department when I started with them (in 1986). My acoustic albums ('Alone/But Never Alone' and 'Discovery') were the first releases on the MCA Masters Series, and they had no idea some of those songs would become such radio hits. To put it bluntly, the (marketing) machine wasn't in place.
"Those of us who were making (instrumental) records during the early and mid-1980s kind of paved the way. Today, companies know there are sales to be had in the instrumental marketplace."
Carlton moved to the GRP label last year when the company was acquired by his previous label, industry giant MCA. And, although Carlton believes recording companies now know how to market instrumental music, his new album--a follow-up to last year's "Collection"--threw GRP for a loop.
"I had already told them I didn't know what I was going to do, but it would be different," said Carlton, who lives on a 2.5-acre spread near Magic Mountain, north of Los Angeles, with his second wife, gospel singer Michele Pillar.
"I wrote a bunch of songs, hired some guys and the music kind of came together in the studio. After the first two days of recording, I thought, 'I want a blues harmonica in the band, no sax.'
"I called the best blues harmonica player I ever heard, Terry McMillan from Nashville. Then I decided to use only acoustic piano and a Hammond B-3 organ in place of synthesizers, and I got Matt Rollings (from Lyle Lovett's band).
"The material could have been arranged many ways, but we took a hard-edged, more rock 'n' roll approach. . . . The ultimate bottom line is GRP has decided they're not the label for this, they're not sure they can do justice to it."
So Carlton is without a new release to go with his current mini-tour. Assuming he signs a new recording deal (his seven-album deal with GRP would remain intact) and a new album is released next year, Carlton plans a major tour in support.
Humphrey's concert-goers will hear a mix of old Carlton favorites and four or five of the new songs. Carlton's new, sax-less sound is not good news for at least one San Diegan. Saxophonist Hollis Gentry, who had become a regular in Carlton's road band, is out of a job.
Carlton's new band will look more like a rock-blues outfit. He'll be backed by a straightforward lineup of drums, bass, keyboards, and harmonica.
"On the older material, like 'Smiles and Smiles to Go' and 'Minute by Minute,' Matt plays what's appropriate, and it sounds like the record," Carlton said. "But it will be real interesting to hear 'Minute by Minute' with harmonica instead of sax."
Carlton's career, which began with his 1968 debut solo album, "With a Little Help From My Friends," has reeled through an incredible range of associations.
He was known as Larry Guitar on "Mrs. Alphabet," an NBC-TV children's show that aired during the early 1980s. He made 13 albums with the Crusaders, four more with Steely Dan during the late 1970s, and, during his peak 1970s years as a session guitarist, played on recordings by Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Dolly Parton, Bobby Bland and many others. He also wrote music for the TV show "Who's The Boss" and the movie "Against All Odds," and arranged Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" album.
In 1987, Carlton won a Grammy for his version of the Doobie Brothers' "Minute by Minute," from his live album "Last Nite." Carlton's other Grammy was for the theme music he wrote for the TV show "Hill Street Blues."
Carlton, who plans to take time off this fall to go trout fishing in the San Joaquin Valley, sees his new, rock-blues direction as more than a passing fancy.
"At this point, it definitely has the possibility of being something I'll continue to do," he said.
Koz, on the other hand, displays no such inclination to depart from the light, warm, romantic sound that fueled his rapid rise.
"I spent a lot of time checking out the masters--Charlie Parker, Phil Woods, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, the great masters of the instrument," Koz said of his formative years at UCLA during the early 1980s, where he majored in mass communications.