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Festival Features Saxman Koz in Dramatic Role


A funny thing happened to Dave Koz on the way to the seventh annual Newport Beach Jazz Festival Saturday at the Hyatt Newporter. The saxophonist and headliner, his performance in doubt for much of the day, traveled halfway around the globe to make it. And, as in most epic travel stories, the last several miles were the toughest.

Koz's heroic tale--he arrived in the nick of time--ended in triumph when the alto saxophonist jumped on stage for the last few numbers with the band that replaced his.

It was an emotional high point for a crowd that until that point had shown hearty, yet measured response to pop vocalist Regina Belle, guitarist Lee Ritenour and others. Koz's entry brought the audience, estimated by festival organizers at more than 5,000, to its collective feet.

Earlier in the day, concert-goers were greeted with signs warning that Koz, because of airline problems "may" not appear. Schedules had been printed with the replacement act, guitarist Jonathan Butler and saxophonist Everette Harp, listed in Koz's place. If this weren't teaser enough, producer Eric Jensen worked the crowd between acts like the emcee at a children's Christmas party in which a scheduled visit from Santa was in doubt.

Jensen announced Koz was delayed flying into Los Angeles from Cyprus, where he and his band had performed the previous day in the Miss Universe Pageant. Figure in a long drive down from LAX, and the saxophonist probably wouldn't be there by dusk and the show's end. That's when something out of "Miracle on 34th Street" took place.

A fan in the audience stepped forward and told Jensen he had a jet standing by at John Wayne. A plan was hatched. The fan flew to Los Angeles, plucked Koz--to whom he was a perfect stranger--out of the airport and rushed him to Orange County, circling above the festival grounds as a signal of success before landing.

Bringing Koz into South African guitarist-vocalist Butler's band pulled something new out of the predictable saxophonist. The township feel of Butler's ballad "Do You Love Me?" pushed Koz into the kind of invention and harmonic alertness not usually associated with his smooth-pop style.

An alto showdown between Harp and Koz on Butler's "Sarah, Sarah" was cut short just as Harp began to blow the lightweight Koz into a corner. Still, it was amazing that Koz was able to fall into Butler's act so seamlessly.

The day's class act was guitarist Ritenour, who included the versatile saxophonist Ernie Watts in his band. Moving among electric, acoustic and guitar synthesizer, Ritenour offered a brief retrospective of his career, touching on Brazilian, mainstream and fusion sounds.

Orange County fans of Watts who've seen him play mainstream gigs at Steamers Cafe in Fullerton with pianist Jon Mayer, or his own band, were reminded what a fine fusion player he is. His tenor exchange with the guitarist on "This Is Love" was lusty and full of salt. He added sultry flute to Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Agua de Beber," a piece that featured Ritenour's most sensitive side.

The most electrifying moment before Koz's appearance came when vocalist Phil Perry joined Ritenour's band, applying his sweet falsetto to "Is It You?" with masterly effect.

Earlier in the day, Belle displayed a fine voice and sense of phrasing to a surprisingly tepid response. A very competent singer who doesn't overblow her chops in the matter of Whitney Houston, Belle varied her program of funk themes and ballads with a respectful rendition of "You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)" in the manner of Ella Fitzgerald.


The Newport Beach Jazz Festival continued Sunday with scheduled appearances from Keiko Matsui, Patti Austin, Guitars & Saxes, the Commodores and others, and resumes next Friday-Sunday with Eric Marienthal, Hiroshima, Joe Sample, David Sanborn, Chaka Khan and others. (949) 721-4000.

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