10 Questions with Dave Koz

1. Your career spans three decades and includes many achievements. Which of those high notes are you most proud of?

I feel blessed to have had so many incredible, pinch-me moments in my 30+ year career. There was one moment when I had the chance to introduce the President of the United States to my parents. What I do for a living allowed me the opportunity to introduce a sitting president to my parents, and that will always stand out as one of the greatest moments of my career. My mom and dad were so tickled by the whole experience. It was pretty special, and it will be tough to beat that one.

2. You began playing the saxophone in the 7th grade as a way to join your brother’s band. Do the two of you still play music together?

My brother retired from music and is an incredible musician. He chose a behind-the-scenes background as a jingle writer, producer and writer for television, music and film music for about 35 years. Together, we wrote a bunch of songs over the course of my career, and many released singles became my biggest hits. He and I share this sort of musical DNA that’s pretty magical. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think I would be talking to you because he was the first person to suggest I may want to think about the saxophone. He was extremely encouraging and inspiring to me. He nurtured me in ways I will never be able to repay.

3. How has your music evolved?

As an artist, you want to continue to grow and nurture new aspects of yourself. You can’t stay in the same lane for your whole career, or it gets boring for both the artist and the audience. My music has grown through collaborations. And that doesn’t mean just with my music — the songs I release under my own name. It’s about collaborating with other artists on their music and seeing where that takes you. Whether I collaborate with Cory Wong, a young guitarist in the instrumental music world, or the band Scary Pockets, I’ve learned so much and gotten out of my musical comfort zone.

4. The list of notable artists you’ve collaborated with is expansive, including Burt Bacharach, Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder and The Foo Fighters. What makes a strong collaboration?

It’s about an attitude of coming into a situation and being open. I think if you have two or more people coming into a room with their egos in check and their hearts and ears open, you’re going to walk away with something. I picture collaboration as two circles. I’ve got my circle, and the other person has their circle, and then you come into a room and blend our circles together. The little shape where our circles overlap is where the collaboration magic is. These are the things I live for and if you can mine that, you are doing great!

5. What is a piece of advice you were given that you still keep top-of-mind?

David Sanborn is the saxophone idol of my life. I grew up listening to his albums and learned all his phrasing, licks and melodies. When I was 18, I finagled my way backstage at one of his concerts in Los Angeles. I was tongue-tied when I met him and blurted out, “I want to be just like you!” He told me to stop and explained he was already here and hoped to make music for many more years. He said I should let him be him and that I needed to find and be me. While I wasn’t sure what the words meant in that moment, they stuck with me. Many years later, I was able to tell him how important that piece of advice was. If I had stayed on the track to be just like him, I would sound just like him and wouldn’t have found my own unique voice.

6. You believe music is needed now more than ever. How is music a connector in today’s world?

We are in a tough bind, given how divided and difficult life is and how much conflict there is in the world. Music can be a bridge to bring people together. I’ve seen this firsthand on our Dave Koz Cruises, which attract people from all races, religions, political affiliations, ages and sexual orientations. We are bound by our mutual love of music and see each other in a different way.

7. You serve as a global ambassador for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Why is this cause important to you?

My bond with the organization dates back to the 90’s. My music was used in a soap opera called “General Hospital,” and my brother and I wrote its theme song that was used for 10 years. I met the “General Hospital” actor Emma Samms at a party and learned that she and her cousin started the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Emma took me up on my offer to help by calling the next day to see if I could bring my sax and perform at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, which I did. I saw kids who just wanted to be kids but couldn’t because of the physical issues in their lives, whether they were burn victims or had cancer. They were innocent, very strong souls. And over the course of many years, I have gotten more involved with the great work they do to bring some lightness and brightness to these kids and their families. I am proud that $1.8 million has been raised to support Starlight because of the generosity and heart of our fan networks.

8. Your tour is coming to Flagstaff in July. What are you looking forward to about your time in Northern Arizona?

I love Flagstaff and Sedona and think they are awesome places. Sedona is an important place in my life. I remember one time when I came to Sedona, I hiked to the top of Airport Mesa at sunrise and played my album “The Dance” on a Walkman. I released it to the universe and that album went on to become the biggest-selling album of my career. This area of the world has always been special and magnetic for me. We’ve been looking for an opportunity to come back, and I could not be more thrilled.

9. How do you choose the titles of your albums?

There’s usually a song title that becomes the signifier and tends to have the most meaning as the album takes shape. Song titles for instrumentals can be difficult because you’re not attaching to lyrics. Often, you listen to the song over and over, and you’re looking for a feeling. One of the big hits of my life came when I was writing a song with my brother. Our sister gave birth to our first niece, so we took a break from writing the song to go and meet her the day she was born. It was an out-of-body experience. We were so happy when we came back to finish the piece. And the song title, “You Make Me Smile,” was just there and is dedicated to her. Sometimes you look at real-life situations and bring them into whatever you’re doing.

10. What is something our readers may not know about you?

I have an overactive mind and inherited my love of crossword puzzles from my dad. When my dad was alive, I didn’t understand why he did them. After he passed away, I started to do them and really loved it. I enjoy sitting down on a Saturday or Sunday with a crossword puzzle and a cup of coffee. That is my happy spot.

Dave Koz will perform at the Pepsi Amphitheater in Flagstaff on July 21. To learn more, visit pepsiamp.com.

About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.
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