Dave Koz leans on the jazz community for his new holiday album and annual tour
Since 1997, Dave Koz has been doing an annual tour performing holiday music with his musical friends including David Benoit, Peter White and Rick Braun. This year’s tour kicks off November 25 in Atlanta and runs through December 23 (tour dates below). In addition, Koz recently released his eighth holiday music album, Christmas Ballads, featuring a mix of classics, old and new.
Koz talked with WBGO’s Pat Prescott about how the tour started, as well as about his new album and his annual Dave Koz & Friends Cruise.
Watch their conversation here:
Pat Prescott: Well, this is going to be a treat. I get a chance to talk to a longtime friend about something that I love and that is the Dave Koz and Christmas tour, which is getting started. Not only is that happening, but Dave also has a brand new Christmas record. We're going to talk about that as well. It is good to see you, my friend.
Dave Koz: How are you, my dear?
I'm doing so good and I'm so excited that you have joined the WBGO family. It's kind of like full circle since, full disclosure, Dave and I co-hosted a morning show on 94.7 The Wave in Los Angeles for six amazing years. And he is a lifelong friend, somebody that I just love and respect so much and somebody who brings so much joy to us during the holidays every year. How many years is it now? Is this your 25th year?
Well, this is a big one for us—a 25-year anniversary of the Christmas tour that started in 1997. Actually the genesis of the tour was because of David Benoit, our mutual friend. In 1997, both David and I lost a parent. I happened to be interviewing him for the same radio show that's now on WBGO and we were just sort of consoling each other about that loss. He lost his mom. I lost my dad. He just said, out of the blue, “Maybe we should go and do some Christmas shows and we can kind of work through our emotions with music.” That's what musicians do and it's a beautiful vehicle to be able to have that. So that was the beginning of our Christmas tour in 1997, never thinking in a million years that we would be here 25 years later. But it's been a wild, wonderful ride and I'm just so happy that we got to this place. We have a really wonderful tour to celebrate the big anniversary.
Tell us a little bit about the lineup for this tour.
For the 25th anniversary and the album Christmas Ballads, we wanted to reunite the original cast members of our tour, including David Benoit. Peter White is there as well on every track. He came in the second or third year. The third year Rick Braun came along on the tour. Reuniting with these guys for our big anniversary was so special in the studio. David couldn't do the tour, so Keiko Matsui will be doing the piano duties. It’ll be Keiko, Rick Braun, Peter White, myself, and an incredible young vocalist who has taken the world by storm over the last couple of years. And that is Rebecca Jade. The five of us in our wonderful band will be traveling around. It’ll be great to also play the new music from this Christmas Ballads project too.
You know over the years, we have nicknamed your tour as the Pat Prescott Friends and Family for Dave Koz, because across the country my friends and my whole family all love to come to your show. And they do it every year. My 96-year-old mom is probably your biggest fan. One of the few places she does go anymore.
I remember last year I made a big fuss out of her. She was in the front row in Newport News. Just seeing her there and just feeling her energy because you know I love her. She is the original Pat Prescott actually.
Yes she is. Or O.P.P, as we like to call her.
But I love seeing your family and I love seeing all the families. The interesting thing is that we've been doing this for so long that people come and I see them and then they bring their kids. And then the kids grow up in front of us and then they bring their kids. You get three generations of families coming to this show, and that's what happens when you do it for as long as we've done it. I'm very grateful and very excited to be able to continue the process.
It is a family affair for sure. And in celebration of this 25th anniversary, you have made another Christmas record. How many is that?
I know what you're saying, Pat. How many Christmas records can one person have? Especially a Jewish boy.
A Jewish boy from the Valley.
I think this is number eight. We thought that with a 25th anniversary celebration to record some new music was apropos. The challenge of course was, “How do we do new music when I've had seven albums already of Christmas music?” But the amazing thing is that there's so much Christmas repertoire. There are thousands of songs to choose from, and of course you have to use a particular lens to choose the songs because especially with instrumentalists, you need great melodies. But there are so many great melodies that we have not recorded. And all of the 10 songs on this album, that was produced by Philippe Saisse, the great producer, arranger, and keyboardist, are brand new to us. We've never recorded them. It's really a fresh album. It's all ballads. It really reflects that time of the holidays when after the guests have left and you've put away all the stuff and you're quiet and you got the fire going, and, and maybe a nice drink and maybe a special somebody right there. It’s that moment of the holidays that this album was designed to complement.
Tell us some of the selections that are on it and the ones that you like the most.
I love the opening track, “The Christmas Waltz,” made famous by Frank Sinatra. I've always loved that song, but never recorded it. I've always loved the song “Ave Maria.” That's a melody that carries so much weight for so many people. We did a version of that. Philippe brought in a song called “Petit Papa Noel,” which is a French Christmas song about Santa Claus that I had never heard, and there was only one other American that ever recorded that song. But it's very famous in France and I really love that.
There’s a Carpenters song called “Merry Christmas Darling,” which I've always loved. Karen Carpenter is a hero of mine and The Carpenters in general. I played that one on soprano sax, and it was haunting because it felt like Karen Carpenter was in the room helping me create that saxophone track. It was just such an out-of-body experience. I loved it. Another standout for me is Rebecca sings a John Lennon medley of two songs, “Happy Christmas, War Is Over” and “Imagine.” Putting those two songs together was a real interesting challenge for Philippe, the arranger, because I'd never heard of medley of those two songs. One is anti-war and the other is pro-peace. Given the way the world is right now, it seemed to be a very fitting and very apropos track for this album.
At times like these, we need this music, we need this concert more than ever. One of the things that I've always loved about your Christmas show is how it does bring so many people together, different races, different backgrounds. It's pretty amazing to watch and people come, as you mentioned, year after year after year, never get tired of it.
What you just described is really our family, our jazz community that is so supportive. When I first started doing this, and this is going back over 30 years now, I would've never thought that we would be able to sustain a career this long. It's just an odd thing that things last this long, but I think if you continue to put out good creative stuff that challenges yourself and your audience that you can keep doing it and the audience will be right there. I feel really grateful most importantly for this group of people, this fan base that truly is right there for you. It’s very wide inclusive and I think our format of music, our genre is a big tent thing. Everybody's welcome. Everybody is bound by their shared love of the music and supporting each other. It’s a very interesting organism. The radio stations, the fans, the hosts, the musicians, the backup musicians, the artists, the promoters…everybody's in it for the right reason, and that is to keep it together and against all odds. That's exactly what we've done.
What it has become too is a beautiful production. Your production team is incredible. Some of the effects that you've done with staging. At the same time that it is a professional show, it also is like these musicians have come into my living room. There's an intimacy that comes along with it as well that you kind of have to experience it to even understand.
What you just said is probably the best compliment that I could get, about production values, but also making sure that we have something that connects with people on an emotional level. The music is the driver. Christmas music and holiday music in general, it's not songs, it's not notes, it's not chops. It's really about playing these songs and there's so much meat on the bone that you get a chance to take these songs and you can push and pull them into so many different directions. It's really a challenge every year. And it's also really fun.
You were talking about interpreting these songs, and I think it's why jazz is the best music to hear during the holidays because how many songs do we really have that are gonna get played a lot during these holidays? But when it's jazz, every interpretation is different. The instrumentation can be different. There are so many things you can do with it and I've heard some really brilliant arrangements of this music across the spectrum from straight ahead jazz artists to contemporary jazz artists as well.
When we were talking about David Benoit, his mentor and hero Vince Guaraldi in the ‘60s brought piano jazz music to kids and introduced that sound to a whole generation. Now all the Peanuts cartoons and the television specials are still as popular as ever. Jazz music was attached to that at a very base level. I think that it was so daring to do that. Can you imagine any other music doing that?
Daring but enduring. And we love it every year when we get a chance to hear it. I think a big part of what makes it all so special and it's what I see really as a thread through your whole career, is that you so generously share the stage with your fellow musicians and that you introduce us to incredible people like Rebecca Jade and so many more. It's a very cool thing to bring a whole bunch of people along to the party.
You were just at the Catalina Jazz Trax Festival. I didn't plan on all that stuff happening, but everybody was just sort of there and I was like, “Can you come and play this song?” That’s a comment on the community again. Eric Darius happened to be there. I was like, “Eric, come and play this duet with me.” And he was like, “Great.” And then it happened with Rebecca and Chris and Oli Silk who came and played. That's our community. We lean on each other and I would do it for them as well. It's just a prideful moment for our community. I believe that the fans really feel the comradery and the sense of community, and they're a big part of it.
How great to have your radio show on WBGO? How excited are you about that?
I'm very excited about it because the radio show's been in existence for almost 30 years old now and to get on such a heritage radio station like WBGO is a dream come true, to have this show heard in the New York City metropolitan area. I'm beyond thrilled. And even though we're not doing the shows together, we're still on the same station, which is a nice thing to have happen again after so many years.
It is really a beautiful, beautiful thing and we will be seeing each other again in May on the Dave Koz and Friends at Sea Cruise going to the Mediterranean for the very first time doing three cruises back to back. We are so looking forward to that. It's an experience I think that everybody needs to have. Kind of like with the Christmas tour, it's really hard to explain. You kind of have to do it to really get it, right.
I've been very fortunate and very blessed. It's been since 2005 that I've been hosting cruises. I went into it reluctantly because I was thinking “cruises” doesn’t sound very, I don’t know, cool. A general cruise where everybody's just taking a cruise doesn't have the same energy. But when the full ship is filled with fans of the music, there's something that takes over. An energy that takes over a community…that takes over when everybody shows up with their best selves. Even though we've got all different racial and religious groups, gays, straight, young, old, Republican, democrat, everybody's there, but everybody is supportive. I don't know how it happens, but it is everybody moving in the same direction for one week.
I don't know how it happens, but I'm just glad it happens. And I'm really glad that the Christmas tour is happening too. It's kicking off this year in Atlanta at Cobb Energy Performance Arena. That first show is on November 25th. To get the full schedule and to find out all things Koz including the cruise, the radio show and the new music, you can visit davekoz.com.
I love you, Pat Prescott so much. It's great to see you as always. Thank you so much to you and WBGO for all the support. I wish everybody a very happy and safe holiday season ahead. The new year is right around the corner. There's always a chance for us to reset our lives. I hope for everybody to have a beautiful New Year as well in 2023. We all need it. We're all going through crazy stuff. This is a very powerful time in all of our lives, but we can get through it by leaning on each other.
This interview transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
11/25 - Atlanta GA @ Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
11/26 - Sarasota FL @ Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
11/27 - Naples FL @ Hayes Hall Artis - Naples
11/29 - Melbourne FL @ King Center For The Performing Arts
11/30 - Clearwater FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
12/1 - Jacksonville FL @ Florida Theatre
12/2 - Raleigh NC @ Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
12/3 - Newport News VA @ Ferguson Center For The Arts
12/4 - Huntington WV @ Keith Albee PAC
12/5 - Tysons Corner VA @ Capital One Hall
12/7 - Detroit MI @ Music Hall Center For The Performing Arts
12/8 - Chicago IL @ Chicago Theatre
12/9 - Carmel IN @ The Palladium at The Center for The Performing Arts
12/10 - Columbus OH @ Palace Theatre
12/11 - Cleveland OH @ Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square
12/13 - El Paso TX @ The Plaza Theatre
12/14 - Mesa AZ @ Mesa Arts Center - Ikeda Theatre
12/15 – San Diego CA @ Balboa Theatre
12/16 - Cerritos CA @ Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
12/17 - Cerritos CA @ Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
12/19 - Palm Desert CA @ McCallum Theatre
12/21 - Santa Rosa CA @ Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
12/22 - San Jose CA @ San Jose Civic
12/23 - Modesto CA @ Gallo Center for the Arts