Dave Koz & Larry Graham Talk Working 'Side by Side' on New Tour, Music

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Eric Hegi
Dave Koz and Larry Graham

The saxophonist and bassist's Side by Side tour hits Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, but it's not the first time they've shared that stage.

Musicians Dave Koz and Larry Graham are bringing their Side by Side tour to Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, but this isn’t the first time the saxophonist and bassist have shared that stage.

Six years ago, Graham (Sly & the Family Stone, Graham Central Station, Prince) was among the billed “friends” -- including Sheila E. -- who joined Koz for one of the L.A. Phil’s Smooth Summer jazz concerts at the Bowl. And as Koz recalls, he learned an important lesson that evening.

“I saw what Larry and his band Graham Central Station did to that audience,” says Koz with a laugh. “Then we had to follow them. So I made a very conscious decision that night to never follow him again.”

But that didn’t keep Koz from inviting Graham to perform on one of his eponymous cruises a couple of years later. “And he slayed the audience again,” says Koz.

When Koz and Graham arrive at the Bowl this Sunday, they will be joined by singers Kenny Lattimore and Ashford & Simpson’s Valerie Simpson. And gauging by the laughter and easygoing camaraderie between the duo during a recent phone interview from the road, fans are definitely in for a treat, including Koz playing the horn parts on several Sly and Graham Central Station hits and Graham noting that he will pay tribute to his musical comrade and friend Prince.

Speaking with Billboard, Koz and Graham talked about their “head-scratching” touring together, teaming up on a new song and why Graham always wears white.

Billboard: How did the Side by Side tour finally come to pass?

Koz: It was just something in the back of my mind: could we join forces on land? It’s kind of a head-scratcher when you look at us together because genre-wise we’re very different. But it works because my music is standing on the shoulders of the music that he made. Speaking in musical DNA, we’re all made of the same fabric. So it really works. And we’re having the greatest time. I mean, I don’t know about him, but I am [laughs]. It’s been a great honor and privilege to play the horn parts on Larry’s hits with Sly Stone, Graham Central Station and his own “One in a Million.” The hard part for me is the dance steps [laughs].

Graham: Don’t believe him [laughs]; he’s doing great. And we’re having a great time. In every city that we’ve been in, people are just loving the show. They get it. It’s a combination that takes smooth jazz and funk and puts them together. So what we’re doing is smooth funk. If we do a CD together, they’re going to have to make a new Grammy category for us. “And the winners of the smooth-funk category are..." But with each show on this tour, we’ve gotten to know each other better and now some spontaneous things have been happening onstage. When you have that much camaraderie and chemistry with other musicians, you don’t fear taking a chance.

So is writing and recording some music together in the works?

Koz: Before we even started the tour, we went in the studio. There was a track that some producers I was working with had, with a bass melody inspired by Larry. Then Larry took it and completely transformed it. This was after a full day of rehearsal; we didn’t even get to the studio until 10 p.m. which is his sweet spot. For me, that’s usually when I’m winding things down. We left the studio at 3 a.m. and Larry was ready to go for another five hours [laughs]. We’re not quite done with the song yet, but it’s been so exciting to create something together from scratch.

Larry, how did wearing white become a performance tradition?

Graham: It started in Jamaica where my wife Tina and I lived for seven years before moving to Minneapolis. And Jamaica is hot and humid. We discovered that wearing white was really a lot cooler than any other color. So little by little our wardrobes started getting whiter and whiter. It wasn’t planned, it just happened.

Koz: And it’s not just white in the show. During travel days or wherever we’re going, they’re decked out in beautiful, white, billowy outfits. I mean they look like a page out of a magazine every single time. They’re putting us all to shame.

What individual projects are you working on?

Koz: This year marks the 20th anniversary for our Christmas tour. So we got our original cast back together: David Benoit, Rick Braun, Peter White and me plus some special guests. To also celebrate the anniversary, a new Christmas companion album will be coming out this fall [Sept. 29]. Then there’s going to be another Summer Horns project [Dave Koz, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair and Richard Elliot] due early next year. It’s been five years, so it will be really fresh to whip that one back up.

Graham: Graham Central Station just got back from touring Europe before I joined Dave and we have more dates we have to finish out. Then we’ll have to see what happens next year. I’m a spontaneous person. It’s always the things that I don’t plan that have been best things to happen. Playing with my mother’s band [the Dell Graham Trio], Sly & the Family Stone, Graham Central Station and Prince; doing a solo album wasn't ever planned. I just sit back and say whoa. Then I thank god that I got another blessing.


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