“Keep your head down, do good work, challenge yourself and your audience, keep it fresh — and remember to have fun.”
That’s the mantra of Grammy-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary in music. The latest phase in the celebration kicked off Nov. 27 when the self-described “nice Jewish boy” hit the road for his 18th annual Christmas tour. Along for the ride are special guests Jonathan Butler (“my partner in crime”), fellow sax player Candy Dulfer (“one of the funkiest females on the planet”) and Bill Medley of Righteous Brothers fame (“there aren’t that many people left who have that kind of iconic voice”). The 23-city tour wraps Dec. 23 in San Diego.
In addition to playing his first shows in China earlier this year as well as the Macufe Festival in South Africa and seven shows in London, Koz scored his ninth No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums chart this summer with Collaborations: 25th Anniversary Collection featuring duets with Stevie Nicks, Rod Stewart and Luther Vandross, among others.
Rounding out his whirlwind 2015: KOZ Wines was added to the menu at the nation’s 200+ California Pizza Kitchens. All proceeds go to the Starlight Children’s Foundation for which Koz has served as global ambassador for more than 20 years. Not to mention the popular Dave Koz and Friends At Sea cruise brand, celebrating its 10th anniversary come February. The next three sailings — 2016’s Ultimate Caribbean and 2017’s Venice and Beyond, Voyage One and Two — are all sold out. And this month Koz will mark the one-year anniversary of his partnership in the Beverly Hills eatery Spaghettini & the Dave Koz Lounge.
“I just like to mix it up constantly,” says Koz. “If you look at all the craziness that is my life, it’s meant to keep me inspired.”
Also providing inspiration: the Billboard Hot 100. Going back to the ‘80s, he recalls, there was “a sax solo on pretty much every pop record; tons of classic songs like Billy Joel’s ‘Just the Way You Are.’ And the horn sections of bands like Chicago, Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire added such power and excitement. It’s like shifting a song from one level into fifth gear.
“Horns have been making some nice appearances like on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ ‘Downtown,’” Koz adds. “Horn power can be still be used in pop without sacrificing the modern nature of the music.”
In honor of his 25th anniversary, Billboard asked Koz to select five pop songs he’d love to hear remixed with live horns:
Adele, “Hello”: “Of course, it doesn’t need any horns. But I just keep jonesing about the idea of an alto sax exploding out of her voice into this screaming solo. It’s because her voice is so incredibly expressive and the saxophone can mirror that. It would be like wow to build in a solo and then have some answers in the second verse.”
Elle King, “Ex’s & Oh’s”: “It has a kind of modern Stray Cats kind of vibe to me, almost like a rockabilly song with a retro feel. It uses a guitar solo, which is great. But a cool, growling tenor sax solo would fit perfectly.”
The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”: “This reminds me of all my Michael Jackson records. Jerry Hey, one of music’s all-time great horn arrangers, wrote all that stuff for Quincy Jones and Jackson. You immediately knew it was a Jerry Hey horn section chart because of the tightness, the inventiveness. These tracks would be so packed with hooks; every little square inch would be spoken for. Then somehow Jerry would find that tiny little crevice and put something in there for the horns to play. That was the genius of Jerry Hey. And this song would be awesome with some Hey horns in it. The same could be said for the incredible groove of Maroon 5’s ‘Sugar.'”
Charlie Puth featuring Meghan Trainor, “Marvin Gaye”: “If you’re going to be talking about Gaye, you’ve got to have a little saxual healing, you know.”
Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”: “This is the one I love the most for its absolute, sheer beauty. It’s a simple groove, and Sheeran obviously has a phenomenal voice. “Loud” is so great melodically that it could stand on its own as a phenomenal instrumental without the lyrics. Not many songs can do that.”