Silver screen sax man

Posted on 14 Jun 2007 at 4:51pm
By Gilbert Garcia Pop Music Critic

Gay jazzer Dave Koz brings his cinematic vision to North Texas



Dave Koz’s voice sounds almost like his saxophone: a cool, lilting tenor.

A major player on the adult contemporary charts, Koz phones from his bustling office in Los Angeles to discuss his latest disc, “At the Movies” (Capitol Records). Although he’s currently juggling a plethora of projects like a solo career, a tour that stops in Grand Prairie on Thursday and hosting a weekly radio show this dude makes everything sound ultra-smooth. Like he’s got time to spare.

“It’s the album I’ve always wanted to make,” Koz says of the iconic collection of cinema-inspired hits he’s interpreted. “The timing just happened to be right this time.”

Reworking a dozen classics like “Moon River” (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) and “As Time Goes By” (“Casablanca”) was both daunting and exhilarating. But he treated each song as if they were characters in movies.

“You approach them with kid gloves,” Koz says.

He was lucky to work with one of the greats: Phil Ramone the studio legend whose producer credits include albums with Sinatra, Elton John and even Sinead O’Connor.

“Phil was like a great casting director. He knew the best tracks to select, the best calls to make,” Koz remembers.

He says narrowing the selection to only 12 gems was a big game of Sophie’s Choice. Which ones were scrapped?

“A lot,” Koz says. “We considered the theme from “‘Alfie,’ and “‘Smile’ ["'Modern Problems']. Various James Bond numbers also failed the cut. I even considered the song “‘Through the Eyes of Love’ from the movie “‘Ice Castles.’ But that one might have been a little sappy.”

It’s been three years since Koz’s last album. And “At the Movies” is his first disc since 2004 when Koz came out in an interview with “The Advocate.” And this disc brims with queer cues. Guest vocalists include Johnny Mathis and Barry Manilow. And the first cut is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” complete with Judy Garland vocal snippet.

“The irony of having Judy Garland open the album isn’t lost on me,” Koz says. “But it was never by design. Barry Manilow has been a longtime friend of mine. Johnny Mathis is a fan of my radio show. And because of that, I was able to get a demo of “‘The Shadow of Your Smile’ [from "'The Sandpiper'] to him.”

He also encouraged collaborators to pick own favorites: India.Arie chose “It Might Be You” from “Tootsie” and Anita Baker “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.”

Along with Baker, Koz also recruited Donna Summer and Vanessa Williams.
Many of his collaborators are guests from his radio show. As the host, he’s become a de facto smooth-jazz expert. With that in mind, is there any common misconception about the artists who play smooth jazz?

“I think the impression is that the people aren’t real players, that they aren’t really musicians,” he says. “Would I compare myself to giants like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins? Absolutely not. But just like them, I’m playing what feels right to me. The music I play is what’s coming from my heart.”

Is Koz always on a strict diet of jazz? Does he ever just cut loose and rock out?

“I am more comfortable with Rat Pack stuff. People like Dean Martin, Sinatra and that group. But those people were the stars of their time. Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller were rock stars,” he says.

How about some names from this century?

“John Legend, Sarah McLaughlin, KT Tunstall and British neo-soul singer Corin Bailey Rae. I’m a huge fan of KD Lang,” he says.

What about Rufus Wainwright?

“Rufus is one of those artists that people either get or they don’t get,” Koz says. “For the longest time, I was one of the latter group. But I picked up his last album. And now I love him.”

How about some Oprah-style prognostication? Can Koz recommend jazz’s Next Big Thing?

“Not really. But I do like to collaborate,” he says. “It’s how I know to make the best show. Showcasing other people doesn’t detract attention from me, it just makes the experience bigger for the audience. Besides, it’s more fun for me. I like hanging out with my friends.”

Between studio work, tours and the radio show, he also conducts the “Dave Koz and Friends at Sea” Caribbean cruises. Does he ever feel like scaling back the empire?

“I like being challenged,” he says. “I’m definitely ambitious and this is what I like to do. I feel like I’ve been given a gift, and it’s my semi-responsibility to share it.”

KOZ AND CREW
Pianist David Benoit and singer Phil Perry open for Dave Koz. So does 19-year-old adult-contemporary chart topper Kelly Sweet. Nokia Theater at Grand Prairie, 1001 Performance Place, June 21 at 8 p.m. $29.50-$59.50. 972.854.5111

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 15, 2007.

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