"Hello Tomorrow," L.A. saxophonist Dave Koz's first album of original material in seven years, recently debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Album chart. Koz, 47, a platinum-selling artist and six-time Grammy nominee, comes to the Cerritos Center on Dec. 17 and 18 for "A Smooth Jazz Christmas 2010" with guests Jonathan Butler, Brian Culbertson and Candy Dulfer.
"Hello Tomorrow" comes out on the 20th anniversary of your first album. How do you think you've grown as an artist over those years?
It's probably better to count the ways I haven't grown, because there's just been a complete sea change in how I approach things. But one thing that hasn't changed is why I play the saxophone. An obvious reason why I picked the saxophone is that my brother had a band when we were growing up, and they didn't have a sax player, and that was the only way I was going to get in the band. But truthfully, when I picked it up and played it, it was like finding another part of my body, as strange as that sounds. It became my best friend, my most trusted ally and confidante.
I started when I was 13, and like most kids, my world was exploding and a lot of stuff I couldn't figure out how to get out in words. So the sax became my vehicle for self-expression and getting out some of those emotions that I couldn't find the words for. That's probably been consistent throughout my career. I think everything else has changed.
In what way does the album reflect the changes you've been going through?
For me it was a musical survival guide. I've been dealing in my own life with changes in my business. The music business is one of the first media that was a casualty of the digital changeover. The rules are constantly being rewritten, so for me, it was trying to find a way to surf that and embrace the change, not only in my professional life but in my personal life too, having lost my mom a few years ago and just recently dealing with what that really meant.
Even the recording process was different — it was all live musicians in the studio. I had new producers, new music, new studio, a new record company. On the last day of our Christmas tour, about two weeks before we started recording, I chipped my tooth on my saxophone, so I had to get a new front tooth that I was playing on for the first time. And new front teeth for a sax player is a big change.
But I found a tremendous sense of freedom and abandon in the new, so I could create something that was fresh for me and hopefully for the audience as well.
This is your first record for Concord. Why did you switch record companies?
I had 20 great years on Capitol. I love Capitol Records; it was being a historic part of Hollywood and the music business. It's the label the Beatles were on and the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Last September, it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life when I had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that was actually at the front door of the Capitol Records tower.
But for the last several years, I think I have been out of the realm of what Capitol does now. I have had great friends at Concord. It really has been a great shot in the arm because these are people who are passionate about exactly what I do and allow me the freedom to explore. So it took a minute to come up with the idea behind the album, and when I started sharing it with people I noticed an immediate resonance among people going through the same things I was. If you're a certain age, you're going through an unprecedented time of great change. And people are having to press the reset button on their lives when they didn't think they'd have to. That's very scary, and I think a lot of people are freaked out. I know I was. This music project helped me traverse that gulf and come out on the other side.
It looks like you also reached back to the past with "This Guy's in Love With You," which is sung by Herb Alpert, who made it famous. Is that the wrong way to look at that?
No, it's exactly the right way. That's a song I've always loved. I was planning an instrumental version, and I thought it would sound great on the alto saxophone. I sent it to Herb, who has been a mentor of mine, and he called me back immediately and said, "You have my blessing on this song, and I might find a place to play on it." And to me that was like the biggest "Hello Tomorrow" moment — knowing where you have come from, to know where you want to go. There's another song on the album called "Remember Where You Come From." So much of our lives is about moving forward without reflecting on where we've been.
I know you've been volunteering for Starlight Children's Foundation for many years. Having kids yourself would be more complicated for you as a gay man, but are you hoping to have your own or adopt?
When I was growing up, even before I knew I was gay, I always saw myself as a dad. And then I think I got more involved in my music and my career, and I remember the feeling, many years ago, of not being able to come clean with my friends and family before I came out. I felt this internal shame that I couldn't get out in words and tell people I cared about because I didn't have the tools. So I poured it all in music. When I say my saxophone became my most trusted ally, that's really what it was.
And then in 2004, I came out publicly, and in that moment I became a whole person. And at that point I started thinking about becoming a dad again, although I don't see exactly how it's going to work just now. But I trust that one day, if that is to be my path, it will be illuminated for me to walk down. First and foremost, I need to probably find a partner. Hopefully soon, when the time is right, that will come too.