The Man With the (Funny Looking) Horn : Dave Koz Says His Saxophone Takes People Where They Haven't Been Before--but Does His Music?

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If you happened to catch Dave Koz on the Tonight Show on Thursday, you well may have done a double take when you saw his alto saxophone.

It sure was one-of-a-kind: It was designed by artist-songwriter Alle Willis and had all sorts of things attached to it--a foam face covered the bell, a photograph of a Marilyn Monroe-like blonde was affixed to a piece of green plastic that protruded from one of the keys, and knobs from TVs and stoves were extended on a variety of colored wires.

After Koz used it to play "Nothing but the Radio on," the current single from his debut Capitol/Manhattan release "Dave Koz," Jay Leno asked him why he was playing such an, uh, unusual-looking instrument.

"The trouble with saxophones," Koz replied, "is that they all look alike."

Uh, Dave, whatever happened to music for music's sake?

"I still have my other horns," Koz said by way of an answer earlier this week. "That horn is something I might play one song a show. When I play live, the most important thing (is) that people come to hear the music. I wouldn't want to sacrifice that in any way.

"But I'm always trying to grow as a person," continued Koz, 28, who will play the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano tonight with singer Phil Perry. "I consider myself a musician, but I'd like to be thought of as more than that. I'm not a performance artist, but I'm interested in art, I enjoy galleries and museums, and I thought this might be a way to get involved, a way to connect the art community with the music community.

"It's more than 'this is just a crazy-looking saxophone.' It's about going beyond the boundaries, about taking the instrument to a place it's never been before. I went on national TV with this thing that looks absolutely crazy, and I got a lot of response. People either like it or not, but they're responding, and that's what art is about."

Koz mentioned Charlie Parker as one of his influences. What does he think Parker would have said about that horn?

"He was a pioneer of music, and I think he would have appreciated it for what it was, because it was different," Koz replied.

And what about Koz? Is he a musical pioneer? Some listeners might find it tough to distinguish his pop/R&B-with-a-splash-of-jazz; approach from, say, that of Kenny G or David Sanborn. Koz, though, begs to differ.

"No artist wants to clone another artist, and I had no intention of making a record close to what Sanborn or G might do. We all try to carve our own niche," said Koz, who is a native of Tarzana. Still, he does say he owes debts of gratitude to G and Sanborn. For one thing, he lists Sanborn as an influence, along with the Crusaders, Larry Carlton and the Tower of Power horn section. Beyond that, Sanborn and G "showed people there was a new and viable form of instrumental music, and their success has opened the door for me."

So what is it that makes Dave Koz Dave Koz?

"If there's one aspect of my playing that stands out," he said, "it's that I go after whatever I'm playing in a very aggressive manner. I always strive to put a lot of passion and intensity into the music I make, while never sacrificing the melody. Music with great melodies, that's what I respond to. It's music which, when people hear it, hopefully cuts right through and makes them react."

He cited "Castle of Dreams," the first single from his debut album, as a song that exemplifies this approach. Of that number, co-written with his brother Jeff Koz, he said, "It's a song, not a groove, not necessarily something where I play the head, then solo, then play the head again. It's a song that hopefully people will remember, that I can put a lot of passion and intensity into. It typifies me."

Koz, whose career has included tours with Jeff Lorber and Richard Marx and also 14 months as part of Tom Scott's band on the now-defunct "Pat Sajak Show," has been touring for six months with Perry, who is known for a decade's worth of appearances with guitarist Lee Ritenour. In the Koz-Perry shows, each does a set, and then they join together for several tunes including "Nothing but the Radio on."

If you'd ever want to find a Koz booster, it's Perry, who calls him "a very thoughtful cat, and he always brings all of himself to the gig. He plays like a madman in public. He steps on that stage and becomes a giant. I think I'm a better musician for having worked with him. I know I'm a better person."

Perry said he has seen audiences affected by the chemistry he and Koz have. "I think they come expecting to hear music and they leave having felt it. I think they come to be entertained, but I think they leave being emotionally carried to somewhere else and then brought back. It's kind of a spiritual thing."

Koz is nearly as ebullient in his affection for Perry: "Phil's been an an absolute pleasure, so much fun, and not just musically. He's very inspiring."

Koz also said he loves touring in general. "Getting a chance to play my music live is really fulfilling," he said. "In the studio, I tend to be a bit critical, but on stage, you just go out and you do it, and hopefully it sounds great."

And if not, well, there's always that horn.

* Dave Koz and Phil Perry play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets $19.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.

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