You can almost consider Dave Koz the last (smooth jazz) man standing.
To be sure, the genre does not want for artists or an audience despite having disappeared a few years back from the public airwaves. A decade ago, every major city (and some minor ones) boasted an FM station dedicated to filling local homes and cars with the dulcet sounds of Kenny G, Peter White, Craig Chaquico, the Rippingtons and the like. Those artists persevere – the genre remains particularly popular in Southern California – but fans new and old now must hunt out their sound on the internet.
Koz at 50 remains the genre’s most visible star. That is due at least in part to the fact that he has long been in the forefront of devising innovative ways to market his music and smooth jazz in general. The Encino native is in his 18th year of hosting a syndicated radio show; pioneered that whole jazz-cruise concept with Dave Koz and Friends at Sea; maximizes his social networking profile through websites, Twitter and the like; runs his own label, Rendezvous; and specializes in gathering other smooth jazz performers for all-star tours, such as this year’s Summer Horns show.
Indeed, the granddaddy of smooth jazz package tours is the saxophonist’s Dave Koz and Friends Christmas show. The 2013 edition features Oleta Adams, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui and concludes its national run Sunday at the Warfield.
I interviewed Koz a few years back about the concept’s origins and the annual challenge of effectively presenting the Christmas tour’s rotating cast of performers.
Question: With the Smooth Jazz Christmas tour, remind us how the project got started.
Koz: It was the spring of 1997 and I was interviewing David Benoit for my radio program. He had just lost his mom a couple months before and I had just lost my dad. We were commiserating about how the year of “firsts” that lay ahead was going to be a challenge, especially the holidays. Then David just blurted it out, “Why don’t we go out and do some shows and work through it that way?”
That was it. We called Brenda Russell that first year to join us. We did about six to seven shows and trudged through it. It wasn’t that well-attended but, amazingly, the promoters loved the show and asked us to do it again the following year. That’s when Peter White joined us. A year later, Rick Braun came aboard and it just took off from there.
Question: What is the rehearsal process like for these tours? I imagine there must be some give and take over the evening's structure.
Koz: It’s a delicate balance – you have (numerous) artists, each with a repertoire large enough to do a two-hour show on their own. And now all have to fit in to one show and everyone has to feel like they’re being heard. But I’ve been doing these collaborative shows for years now, and I’ve figured out how to do that and hopefully not overwhelm the audience in the process. Plus, we’re all great friends and supporters of each other.
So, while we’re working the show out, there are great ideas from everyone on how to best put the show together. In the end, we all agree; we all want the same thing – whatever makes for the best SHOW, wins. And there is such a massive amount of great holiday music to weed through. That plus the hits from the artists that our audience wants to hear. It’s a puzzle for sure but, somehow, year after year we find that balance – thankfully!
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