Renowned jazz saxophonist talks about life and his latest CD
by Lawrence Ferber
On being named one of People’s ‘50 Hottest Bachelors’: ‘You know, I didn’t get one date out of that thing. The biggest gyp in the world.’
Some musicians dream of getting their tunes into a Hollywood movie. But openly gay saxophone guru Dave Koz dreamed of getting Hollywood movies into his music.
“At The Movies,” Koz’s eighth release with Capitol Records, features lushly produced, orchestra backed, saxophone-laden versions of iconic and beloved themes and songs from some of Hollywood’s most classic titles including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Pink Panther” and “Schindler’s List.”
Born and raised in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley — “I’m a valley boy,” he quips — Koz released his first solo album, “Dave Koz” in 1990 and established himself as an international, multiple Grammy-nominated smooth jazz superstar. He hosts a pair of radio programs — one nationally syndicated, the other an L.A. morning show – and a series of sea cruises for smooth jazz lovers, “Dave Koz & Friends at Sea.” In April 2004, Koz came out in the pages of The Advocate. A swinging single (People magazine dubbed him one of the “50 Hottest Bachelors”), I spoke with Koz to discuss making “At The Movies,” working with other gay artists including the late Luther Vandross, and whether the sax is a dude magnet.
What is the gayest selection on this album?
The album starts with [a sample of] Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” — it doesn’t get more gay than that. But it wasn’t so much a tip of the hat to gay fans as a tip of the hat to movie fans. I wanted this album to be about the movie experience, and before I played a note I wanted to take people right there inside the movie theater. We were able to get the rights to use a piece from the movie and that set the tone perfectly.
Why did you choose to do a sax version of the theme from “Schindler’s List?”
Well, I wanted to make the album more than just a collection of famous songs. “Schindler’s List” is by John Williams and to me he personifies movie music. He’s written scores for “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Superman,” “Jaws.” He wrote this gorgeous score for violin called “Schindler’s List” and I always wanted to do it. It was probably the most difficult to play.
How was working with guest vocalist Barry Manilow on the song “Moon River?”
Barry is one of the all-time greats! Four decades of music-making and he’s hotter than ever. We just did the “At The Movies” companion DVD where we had Barry, Johnny Mathis, Vanessa Williams and Anita Baker come in with an orchestra, do an interview piece and then sing the songs live. When Barry came, “Entertainment Tonight” did a little piece and the producers said, ‘Every time we put Barry on the show our ratings jump, like seriously jump.
Has the sax helped you get guys, or do you think you’d fare better with an electric guitar or glockenspiel?
Man, if the sax helped in any way I would be playing it nonstop 24 hours a day! I know women swoon from the sound of the sax. Does it happen for men, too? I think it does. But they may not be as vocal about it.
You were listed as one of People magazine’s “50 Hottest Bachelor”s — as was Ryan Seacrest! I’m sure he’s getting lots of women thanks to that.
You know, I didn’t get one date out of that thing. The biggest gyp in the world.
Since you’re still single, would you go out with Ryan to celebrate your mutual hot bachelor status?
Hell yeah! I love Ryan! I’m one of these Ryan supporters. I know there’s a lot of speculation about him but I do believe he’s a straight boy. We share a lot of similarities because of our radio background. We’re competitors, actually, in the morning radio shows in L.A. But I’m gonna stop [doing the morning show] because the album is going to take me on travels that will make it difficult to be in L.A. every single day.
Luther Vandross sang a track, “Can’t Let Your Go,” on your 1999 album, “The Dance.” At the time did you know he was gay — which only became public knowledge following his death in 2005 — and was that ever discussed?
A. We did share some conversation about that. But our friendship was more about music. This was a very beautiful person inside and out, such an incredible talent.
Do you wish he had come out? Could he have seen a fantastic post-out life like you have?
A. You know, it’s so hard for me to say that because everybody lives in their own reality and all I know is the reality I experienced. I would never say to anybody you must come out now. You have to be ready in your own skin. Luther was a little older than I was and came up in a very different way. I don’t know whether it was part of his reality that could have ever happened. All I know is that year I was so worried what it would do to my career and I made peace with it — “if I’m never able to go out and tour again or lose my record deal, whatever happens I’m okay because I don’t want to be a portion of a person anymore.” Ironically, it turned into the best year for me professionally, ever!
You played at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Would you like to play at the next Clinton inauguration as well?
A. (laughs) I would be very honored if she was to call on me. I would show up in a heartbeat because I’m a fan.
“At The Movies” is currently available on Capitol Records. See www.davekoz.com for more info.