Photo: Antonio Dixon
Exclusive: Dave Koz Celebrates Sizzling Horns From Duke Ellington To Jay-Z
As a kid growing up in Tarzana, Calif., he wanted to be a musician, but since his brother already was good on guitar, Dave Koz became a drummer. "And, unfortunately, not a good one," he says, laughing during a recent interview at the Recording Academy headquarters. "Drums were not for me. But the thing I loved most was horn sections. To me, nothing sounded better. So suddenly the sax came into my life."
Back then, only one band really mattered to him. Tower of Power. "I loved them," he says. "That horn section, wow. First record I ever bought was Tower of Power, Back To Oakland. And then I saw them live. And normally the horns are off to the side or in the back, but in Tower of Power, the horns were at the front of the stage. I liked that."
Asked what it was about horn sections that so thrilled him, he says, "The sizzle. It’s about that excitement that comes from great horn playing and great horn charts. It’s about funkiness, about musicians playing together. There is no way a synthesizer is ever going to give you that energy."
That energy sizzled all through his 2013 GRAMMY-nominated album Summer Horns, an homage to great horn sections, for which he assembled his own dream section and cut many of his favorite horn-powered tunes. That band toured during the summer of 2013 to sold-out crowds around the country, and the show was as fun for the band as it was for the audiences. Ever since he’s hoped to do a sequel.
Now, five years later, comes Summer Horns II From A To Z, featuring Koz on soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, along with Gerald Albright on alto sax, Richard Elliot on tenor, Aubrey Logan on trombone and vocals, and Rick Braun, who both produced and played trumpet. To write the charts, he got the best arrangers, including Tom Scott and Gordon Goodwin.
"This is a very special grouping of people," he says. "Friendship is the bedrock. And trust. I know if Rick is going to take the trumpet solo, or Aubrey’s gonna do it, I have no worries."
Indeed, seeing Logan, who is not only the sole woman of the group but is also several decades younger than everyone else, both playing and singing like a seasoned pro, is powerful.
"Yeah, Aubrey can really play," he says. "And then when she turns around and sings, it’s spectacular. Also, she adds some youth and vitality. Otherwise it would be just four old guys with their horns."
That vitality also sings through the range of the song choice, from Michael Jackson’s beautiful love song for nature, "The Earth Song," to Paul Simon’s "Late In The Evening" (chosen for its famously infectious horn part).
"This is a celebration of horn sections," he says, "to show the breadth of what horns can do and have done." Compiling a wish list of more than 100 songs for the album, he included standards such as "Take The A Train," the Duke Ellington classic written by Billy Strayhorn. "We thought it would be fun to modernize it," he says, which led to its merger with a new classic, Jay-Z’s "Roc Boys." "To be able to take those two songs from different generations, and make them work together, that was fun. And it delivered the message: that horns have been sizzling in songs for years!"
"Music can access part of the soul than nothing else can access. To this day, I’m humbled by the power of music, and the joy it brings." – Dave Koz
Whether brand new or classic, the energy created when Koz and his horns play live, is undeniably exultant. It’s a joy that only come when musicians, each brimming with serious artistry developed through years of work, play together live. "There are no shortcuts for that," Koz says.
Music like this, he says, "means more than ever, because it is real. With what’s going on in the world, coming to a concert to be taken away by music is something people need more than ever. Most musicianship goes right over people’s heads. What everybody responds to is the energy. And when our energy is this vital, it’s joyful; you’re going to have a good time."