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An interview with Dave Koz - pioneer pushing boundaries while caring for others

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I recently had the honor and privilege of chatting with multi-GRAMMY Award nominated smooth jazz pioneer, Dave Koz, via telephone, a couple of days before his Dave Koz and Friends Christmas tour-stop at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana on Friday, December 13th, 2013 [see Dave Koz and Friends Christmas review here]. Koz, modest about his talent, has inspired others to achieve an impressive excellence through his collaborations, and in turn has himself soared to remarkable heights as a solo artist. He continues to push personal boundaries through his music and through his tireless charitable contributions.

William Kelly Milionis: Dave, thanks for the interview opportunity. How are you?
Dave Koz: Very good, thank you. A little chilly for my bones but other than that...good!
Kelly: I'm sure you are cold. You are up in Tonawanda, New York.
Dave: Yeah, just outside of Buffalo, it's a little cold. I'm from California. But, it does help the music I've noticed. It really does. Colder weather really makes the music sound more, well, for lack of a better word, more Christmassy [laughing].

Kelly: Thank you again for this interview opportunity. Your Dave Koz and Friends annual Christmas show will be visiting Carmel, Indiana in a few days, certainly a spectacular event with Jonathan Butler, Keiko Matsui and new addition Oleta Adams. Tell me a bit more about the show...
Dave: It is a very special show, actually. There is a really fun and very heartfelt lineup of talent, made up of people that I know very well. Some people, like Jonathan [Butler] have come and done the tour for many years. Actually, it's our 16th annual if you can believe that...for a nice Jewish boy too, it's hard to believe it's been 16 years of Christmas tours [laughing]. I love the music of it and that's where it all started. I love the music and the way it makes me feel, and the way it makes all of us on stage feel, seeing how these songs connect with people over long periods of time. In Carmel, it's a brand new market for us for the Christmas show. Although, I have been there and played the Palladium, it's a beautiful theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts, but it's obviously the first time that we're playing there with our Christmas show. I've seen it all these years, going back to many of the same places and watching the people grow up, seeing them once a year at our concerts, the fact is it becomes sort of an annual tradition, it's wonderful. Jonathan Butler, who's like my brother from another mother, has done many tours with us; probably six or seven over the years. Keiko [Matsui] did one with us about five years ago, but then Oleta Adams is brand new. We've known each other for a very long time, but we've never actually worked together until now. It's really a pleasure to share a stage with all these great artists and build a show from the ground up together, that is really truly collaborative and is really a celebration of the season. We're all helping each other out and supporting each other and we all have a chance to do our own thing as well. It's a very high energy, very impactful, very audience participatory type of experience. The basic feeling of it is almost like you've been invited to one of your great friends living room for a holiday party and you have great music. That is the feeling we're trying to convey with this tour.

Kelly: Your shows are always fresh, whether it's 16 years of Christmas concerts or many years of non-holiday shows, and that speaks volumes of your remarkable talent and those whom you collaborate with. Congratulations on your recent GRAMMY Award nomination; Best Pop Instrumental Album for Summer Horns.
Dave: [thrilled chuckle] Yeah, that's a pretty good thing. It was very nice last Friday night when we got off stage, we were all in Cleveland and we were all very happy. I got on the phone with Mindi [Abair] Gerald [Albright] and Richard [Elliot] and that's really been a nice thing. I've, thankfully, been nominated a bunch of times but never really won one. But for Mindi Abair, it is her first nomination so I was excited for her. She was so excited...oh my God, she's like on cloud nine. And Richard Elliot too, it's his first nomination. Gerald and I have been nominated before. One of the things that is a very natural thing for me is collaboration. I just love making music with other people. You talk about keeping things fresh and doing things that are different, I think if it was just me, I'm not sure that I am that creative enough on my own to mix it up enough to keep an audience engaged. It's inspiring to work with other artists who can push and pull me into new directions just by the nature of the fact you have to work together to come up with a common ground. I've done things, recorded wise and live wise, that I would have never done, would never even thought of if it was just me. So I am very grateful for my collaborators, for the amount that I have learned from them, and the things they have helped me achieve in my life. Our cruises [Dave Koz & Friends at Sea] are a classic example of that. We do a cruise a year where we put forty artists together, sometimes even more than that. Last September we probably had close to fifty different artists and musicians and that is just one big happy family of collaborators; everybody just marinating in the music for a week. The audience, guests, everybody has a backstage pass to it so you're all watching it unfold. Of course, there is a ton of stuff planned, the program and everyone expects the CDs from the particular shows. But, all the things are completely spontaneous. Two artists kind of decided to make music together in a little lounge unannounced and you just happen to find it, and late night jam sessions that nobody can possibly predict what is going to happen, these are the things that people will remember for the rest of their lives; myself included.

Kelly: You are an individual with a great heart. Your charitable work benefits the Starlight Children's Foundation. Will you be visiting a recipient hospital in Indianapolis?
Dave: Sadly, we won't have time to visit the hospitals in Indianapolis or the hospital that is going to get the donation. What happened is, we had a silent auction on board the cruise for Starlight and when all was said and done, even after all of the credit card fees and everything we had to pay, we raised $100,000 dollars which was really remarkable. I couldn't believe one day.
Kelly: Congratulations!
Dave: We decided the best way to do it is to divide the funds up to the twenty cities we visit on this Christmas tour. In the spirit of giving, a $5,000 dollar donation went to a local hospital in each of the cities we do our show in. Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent in Indianapolis received a $5,000 dollar donation in the form of three iPad tablets kids could use and $500 of a Wish List grant that the hospital could use for whatever they need for the kids; like puzzles or playdough or dolls or whatever is necessary, and toys. So, this is a way that we can make an actual impact in each city that we go to around this time of year which is really kind of nice and it seems to be received very well by our audience. People can continue with our text to give campaign by texting the word LIGHT to 80000 and it automatically sends a $10 dollar donation to that same hospital in each of the cities we are playing. So we're trying to raise more monies for the local hospitals, especially this time when we're so grateful to be with our family and friends at home for the holidays. And you think about so many people that are not as fortunate, kids that are in the hospital for long periods of time, whether they be cancer victims, or burn victims or what have you, they are separated from their families and being in a very strange place especially at the holidays, Starlight is one of the big organizations that comes in and helps make that experience just a little bit more bearable for the kids and their families.

Kelly: Is there a moment within your Christmas show that is particularly special to you? I'm certain there are many great moments, but does one truly stand out for you?
Dave: Actually, there are a lot of those points...really [chuckling]
Kelly: I understand that...
Dave: but, I think there seems to be a point in the show where there is an emotional climax and it's when Jonathan sings O Holy Night. There's something about that song that's very special obviously. But, it's almost like you're transported when he sings that. It's a very intimate moment in the show. It's almost like the theater or venue turns into a place of worship and it's non-denominational. It's not Christian, it's not Jewish, it's not whatever and that song never fails to get a standing ovation. I mean, you jump up at the end of it. And that's the power and the beauty of the specialness and quality of Jonathan Butler, who is such an emotional artist and his ability to communicate a message through music. It's very powerful. And, I've heard that song. I've heard him do it so many times. I mean, I can't even count how many times I've heard him and every night it does the same to me.

Kelly: When you're talking about specialness, it really begins with you. You touch so many lives in a positive manner. You continue to achieve impressive and notable results in your solo career and those with whom you collaborate. You are a consummate professional who has a sincere love of your profession and a complete dedication to and passion for your craft. Enjoy your holiday.
Dave: Thank you so much Kelly for doing this interview. Thank you for being so supportive of my career.


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