Dave Koz brings jazz to the holidays

Dave Koz brings jazz to the holidays
Dave Koz will jazz up the holidays when he performs at the Balboa Theatre Dec. 23. Photo by Bryan Sheffield

On paper, Dave Koz’s new holiday release, “The 25th of December,” would have seemed like one of his more challenging albums to complete.

After all, it involved 10 well-known guest vocals (plus a pair of guest instrumentalists), a situation that could have made scheduling recording sessions tricky.

Plus, Koz was looking for fresh interpretations of holiday songs, performed with the energy and emotion they deserved.

The ambition of the album didn’t translate into struggles, though.

“There have been projects I’ve done in the past that are work projects, that take forever to kind of get going or there are snags all the way,” saxophonist Koz said in an early November phone interview.

“This one was just boom, made a call, (the artist said) yes, make the plan to record, which song? Great, let’s do it. Which key? Great, boom, boom, boom, boom. It all just happened, and before we turned around it was done, done in six weeks — and with all these incredibly, I mean, stellar artists.”

Koz indeed had big names joining him on the album, including vocalists

Johnny Mathis, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, Richard Marx and India.Arie.

Together with his guests, Koz came up with something he had never done before — a vocal-oriented album.

“I like new challenges,” Koz said. “I don’t ever like to repeat. I get bored. I’m ADD, maybe ADDDD. And I like creating something new. So if I was going to make a new Christmas album, a holiday album, I just did not want to repeat myself. So I had never made a Christmas duets album, and over the years, I’ve been able to, I guess, make some friendships that have really been very special, and I called upon those friendships to create this album together with people that I love and people whose talent I truly respect and admire.”

The enthusiasm Koz shows in discussing “The 25th of December” makes it clear that this was one of his more satisfying projects. Of course, his career is filled with far more successes than setbacks.

After debuting on Capitol Records with a 1990 self-titled album, Koz quickly rose to the front ranks of the smooth jazz scene with a largely instrumental sound that combined a strong element of pop melodicism with jazz and R&B.

His second CD, 1993’s “Lucky Man,” and 1999’s “The Dance,” each stayed

on the “Billboard” chart for more than 100 weeks, with the latter CD topping 500,000 in sales — a huge number within the jazz field. His second decade included such hits as his 2003 CD, “Saxophonic,” which featured two hit singles, “Honey-Dipped,” and “All I See Is You,” and 2010’s “Hello Tomorrow,” a chart-topping album that added two number one jazz singles to his catalog, “Put the Top Down” and “Anything’s Possible.”

Now comes “The 25th December,” which quickly topped “Billboard” magazine’s Contemporary Jazz album chart upon its release.

The big-event song on the album has to be the cover of the Beatles

“All You Need Is Love.” The first single from the album, the song started as a showpiece for Stevie Wonder.

“It’s like this is the guy who is the walking epitome in this world of love, to me,” Koz said of Wonder. “To hear him do that, it was like, honestly I had to punch myself. I watched it happen and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He came to the studio with such passion to create something very special. He wasn’t just phoning it in. He went over and over and over it and just was not happy with it. And of course, the first thing that he did, which is what we used, was perfect.”

Wonder is still a primary voice, but it evolved into a song where most of the other singers on the album also contributed vocals to this jazzed up, slightly slowed down version of the Beatles hit.

Koz said it’s likely “All You Need Is Love” will be featured during the encore each night on this year’s Dave Koz & Friends: A Smooth Jazz Christmas tour.

Joining the saxophonist for this year’s edition of the tour will be Jonathan Butler Maysa (an R&B/gospel powerhouse best known for her work with the group Incognito) and Christopher Cross, a singer Koz had attempted to get on the tour multiple times, only to be thwarted by scheduling issues.

This season’s show, Koz said, will be heavy on material from “The 25th of December,” but will also include non-holiday selections from each of the artists’ repertoires.

“This show is about collaboration. It’s about family. It’s about helping friends out.” Koz said.

“There are times when Jonathan and I will be doing songs, just the two of us. There’s going to be duets for Jonathan and Maysa to do. Of course, Christopher Cross is going to be singing his hits. He’s got a Christmas album as well that he’s very excited about doing music from. So I think you’ll see a lot of different combinations.

“That’s really what these shows tend to be, is combinations of artists.”

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