Busy and Loving It : Music: Saxophonist Dave Koz, who will play at Humphrey’s and in Temecula, isn’t stressed by his budding stardom.
Saxophonist Dave Koz’s self-titled debut recording has sold 300,000 copies in two years, but Koz says he isn’t freaked by the fantastic arc of his career. Instead of becoming stressed by his relentless schedule, Koz, who plays Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay tonight and Culbertson Winery in Temecula on Sunday afternoon, says he enjoys the perks of budding stardom.
Such as his standing weekly Thursday night guest spot on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” which has helped keep sales of Koz’s only album humming along at 1,500 copies a week.
Or the name talent he has been able to lure to work on his second release, due out early next year. Among the heavies are producer Dennis Lambert (Commodores, Natalie Cole, Smokey Robinson), guitarist Robben Ford and Santana organist Chester Thompson.
Yet another fringe benefit was his appearance last May on the television soap “General Hospital,” where he performed his hit “Emily” at a mythical club called The Outback.
“There’s definitely pressure involved in doing what I do, but most of it I kind of put on myself,” Koz said earlier this week in a phone interview from a studio in the San Fernando Valley, where he was working on his second album. “I want to make sure that this next recording is the best that I can possibly do, so of course I overwrote. I must have written over 20 songs and picked the best 12.”
Fans are starved for more from Koz, whose music is an engaging blend of rock, R & B and funk, with distant jazz influences. Two years between releases is an eternity by music industry standards.
“I would have loved to have a recording out sooner, but I was really busy,” Koz said. “I didn’t have any time to write new songs until last January. I spent 1990 and 1991 on the road, here and abroad. I wasn’t expecting to be that busy, and I was really pleased and surprised.”
As a result of taking so long to get to a new recording, Koz has been able to test much of the new music on the road.
“Artists are rarely given a chance to test out material before a live audience before cutting it,” Koz said. “Really what I was after was trying to see whether I could gauge from the audience response whether the songs will be good on the album.
“So often you record, then you get a band together for the road, rehearse and come up with new, unusual things to do with the songs. Then you think, ‘Damn, I wish I thought of that for the record!’ ”
Koz and his touring band will perform much of the new material this weekend.
“We learned four of the new songs,” he said. “This music is shaping up with a live approach, real high-energy and fun.
“The track I’m working on now is a fun song, a party-type tune that’s a celebration of the old sax records from the ‘60s and ‘70s--Junior Walker, Big Jay McNeely, those great recordings you put on to feel good.
“I wrote it with Ailee Willis (who wrote hits for Earth Wind & Fire and ‘Neutron Dance’ for the Pointer Sisters). We were sitting around one day, talking about the basic feeling in this country that things are tough out there, a lot of people are having problems, but you still have to remember to have a good time. We started playing around with blues, and it reminded us of those old sax records, how great those made you feel.”
Koz got three of his all-time favorite sax players to play on the song: Maceo Parker (James Brown), Clarence Clemmons (Bruce Springsteen) and Doc Kupka (Tower of Power). Booker T. Jones added Hammond B-3 organ, and former San Diegan Nathan East put down bass lines.
As usual, Koz plays several types of saxes on his new recording. He doesn’t agree with other saxophonists who swear that it is tough enough just to master one.
“I never was really fond of sticking to one instrument,” he said. “I love the different characters of saxophones--sweet and beautiful on soprano, switching to tenor and being as raunchy and rock and roll as possible. Alto was my first sax, so I guess I’m most comfortable with it. I’ve also had a chance to dust off my baritone (on the new recording) for a couple tunes.”
Koz was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley and still lives there. After graduating from UCLA, where he majored in mass communications and minored in Charlie Parker, Phil Woods and Sonny Rollins, Koz made his recording debut on the Commodores’ 1985 album, “United.”
He started to get a lot of attention in 1989 when he backed singer Bobby Caldwell, both in the studio and live. Also during the late 1980s, he got to know fusion pioneer Jeff Lorber. The two formed a bond that has been a primary force in Koz’s development.
Lorber co-produced Koz’s debut and co-wrote several songs with Koz. He also co-wrote and is co-producing four songs for the new Koz album.
While touring with Lorber during the mid-1980s, Koz discovered his charismatic abilities as an entertainer, which had been beaten back by a childhood drama teacher who suggested that Koz try something besides acting--maybe sports.
During a show at the Hollywood Bowl, Koz ran out into the audience with his wireless electric sax, and has since made such forays a highlight of his own shows.
By music industry standards, Koz has enjoyed a stellar career launch, but he recently had a chance to experience what real stardom is all about.
Koz was at a family birthday dinner earlier this summer in a Los Angeles restaurant when Arsenio Hall himself walked in with his date and bodyguard. At the time, Koz had already done a few guest appearances on Hall’s show.
“As big celebrities do, he kind of walked through with blinders on. I saw him and decided I would go say hello. They were in a private room, so I said hi to his bodyguard.
“Then, as he was leaving, my brother-in-law saw him and said, ‘Go say hi.’
“I went up and reached out to touch him on the shoulder, but his bodyguard put his hand between us, and he was out the door.
“My whole family was watching. When I got back to the table, my brother-in-law said, ‘Yeah, Dave, real tight with Arsenio.’ ”
But there was a happy ending. Hall’s bodyguard must have passed on the hello from Koz.
“A minute later Arsenio came back in and came over to the table and met the whole family. He was super cool.”
Hall invited Koz to be a regular guest on the talk show, and Koz says he will continue with weekly appearances at least through December.
Hall is not the only one taken with Koz’s musicianship.
Koz was invited to play sax on an extended remix of U2’s “When Love Comes to Town,” which also features B. B. King on guitar. And Koz contributed several sax parts to the sound track of the movie “Folks,” starring Tom Selleck, released earlier this year.
“It’s a story about a father and son,” Koz said. “The soprano sax was the musical equivalent of the father, the alto was the son. The music (by Michel Columbier) was so incredibly cool, it had dialogues in and of itself.”
Koz, a sort of thinking person’s Kenny G, knows fame can be fleeting, and that’s what fuels his work ethic.
“My biggest fear is to be a flash in the pan,” he said. “I would love to make records, to have musical experiences with other people, to grow that way, to write for films and television, produce other artists, keep a whole musical network growing. That’s my goal, not to sell a million records.”
* Dave Koz plays at 7 and 9 tonight at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay. Tickets are $20. He also appears Sunday afternoon at 4 at Culbertson Winery in Temecula. Tickets are $30.