Cruising with Dave Koz

  • by David R. Guarino
  • Tuesday December 26, 2006
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World-renowned saxophonist Dave Koz has been enjoying a banner year with the release of his eighth studio album, celebrating timeless movie themes with an all-star line-up of vocalists accompanying him.

The handsome, charismatic musician's career spans over 20 years. He started out playing for legendary crooner Bobby Caldwell after graduating from UCLA. In the 1980s, Koz served as a session musician, toured with recording artists such as Richard Marx, and played in the house band on Arsenio Hall's late-night talk show.

Dave Koz at the Movies, his new studio album, is produced by the legendary Phil Ramone and features an impressive roster of guest vocalists, including India Arie, Vanessa Williams, Anita Baker, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis and Donna Summer. The soulful sounds of Chris Botti, a 40-piece orchestra, and Koz's intrepid use of tenor, alto and soprano sax combine to create an impressive homage to the classic movie themes that have formed the soundtrack of our lives.

"We approached this project as if we were recording it many years ago — no machines, no loops," Koz said.

Named one of People magazine's "50 Hottest Bachelors" in June 2004, the openly gay Koz has embraced his sexuality both in the public eye and in private. His journey from living a closeted gay life to being out and secure with his true identity was one of the topics we touched upon in a recent interview.

David Guarino: You've been billed as "the second coming of Sanborn." How do you feel about that comparison?

Dave Koz: I am really flattered. David Sanborn was a huge influence of mine growing up; I used to wear those records out. He had the ability to create an identifiable sound unique on the alpha saxophone. The minute you hear it, you know it's him. So if somebody's equating me, I say "Yeah! Thank you very much!" He's a lovely guy, and he's become a good friend; I invited him to be on our second annual cruise, which was to the Mexican Riviera, and he had the time of his life. And he'd never been on a ship before!

How did you come to start having these cruises?

Michael Lazaroff, a ship promoter, came to me with the idea of doing a "Dave Koz and Friends at Sea" Cruise. I was a bit apprehensive at first but we did it, it sold out the first week, and it was fantastic! So we did it a second year, and we're going to do it a third year.

You've been nominated many times for a Grammy Award, but you haven't taken home the prize. Is the nomination a destination in itself?

Well, a lot of people have said the old adage that it's an honor just to be nominated, but let me tell you, when you're sitting there and your category comes up, you wanna win! Grammies are hard to get nominated for, but they're really hard to win. For a long time, my music wasn't even on the Grammy radar screen, and then all of a sudden things change. 2007 is the 20th anniversary of my signing with Capitol Records, and I think if you don't go away, and you keep making music that people enjoy, then there comes this time when the scales tip your way.

Dave Koz at the Movies is soon to be released by Capitol. I've heard the tracks, and I think it's one of the best things you've ever done. Tell me about what to expect in the DVD.

Yesterday we actually did the filming for that. We had a full orchestra at Capitol Records in Hollywood, and we were doing selections from At the Movies for DVD. And in walks Johnny Mathis to sing "The Shadow of Your Smile," and as soon as he leaves, in walks Barry Manilow to do "Moon River." Vanessa Williams followed him, and she sang "The Way We Were." I was flying so high, it was like an out-of-body experience.

How did you make the decision in 2004 to come out as a gay man, in a climate that can often be judgmental and discriminatory?

I think it was just one of those things that kept bubbling under the surface for years. I was out in my personal and professional life with my band and crew, agents and managers. Everybody knew, it was just that I had not yet taken that step to come out, publicly, to my fans. I was worried for a lot of years about what would happen if I did. It had something to do with turning 40, feeling confident, and stepping into my own shoes. And feeling like it's not worth it to me not to show up fully and be completely 100% who I am. I was like, "You know what? I've achieved a lot of success, I've had wonderful experiences, I know who I am. If for whatever reason showing up fully at this point in my life ends my career, I'm OK with that."

Exactly the opposite happened. As soon as I came out, I knew I had made the right decision. That summer I had the most record sales I ever had. There was the best attendance at my concerts, I was written up in People magazine. A sign saying, showing up fully and being truthful to who you are — you can never go wrong with that.

Yet there are so many people in the entertainment industry who are still hurting in the closet and appear unable or unwilling to take that leap of faith and be their authentic self.

It's a very personal thing, and I would never say to anybody that "you must do this." The reason why it worked for me is because I was ready. Believe me, I wasn't a spring chicken; I was over 40 years old, it took me 40 years to get to that point where I could do it. Everybody's journey is different. Even though there's been so much more acceptance of the gay lifestyle in the media, still 98 or 99% of the images we see in any given day are geared toward a life that we're not living.

Any words of wisdom to those gay men and women who are still in the closet and wondering, maybe agonizing, what they should do about their feelings?

Well, a new year is coming, and one comes around every year. It gives us all an opportunity to approach our lives with a renewed spirit. One thing I've found from my journey is that you can never go wrong with the truth. The truth is so liberating, and always provides the people who use it with an authentic power. What has helped me get through the tough times is showing up, fully and completely as who I am.

I've got to ask you, what was it like to be named one of People's "50 Hottest Bachelors?"

It would have felt a lot better if I could have gotten a date out of it!

Get out of here. Not one date?

Not even one!

Dave Koz at the Movies releases Jan 30, 2007, from Capitol/EMI Records.