The out saxophonist plays the Wortham Center on August 29.
By Lucy Doyle
For the past 25 years, smooth-jazz saxophonist Dave Koz has been an unstoppable force in the music industry, in TV and radio, in philanthropy, and even in the kitchen… and he shows no signs of slowing down. This Saturday, August 29, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, and Kenny Lattimore will be performing at the Wortham Center in Houston. Even if smooth jazz is not your cup of tea, Koz’s cup runneth over with the accolades and accomplishments he has seen in his years of service to the music industry. He may even share more likeness to Nick Offerman’s saxophone-wielding alter ego Duke Silver from Parks and Recreation than he realizes, having been voted into the hottest bachelors by People magazine. I was able to catch Koz on his way to Texas to ask the jetsetting saxist a few questions about food, performing, and breaking down the walls to come out publicly.
Lucy Doyle: With your years of experience hosting radio shows, you seem to have successfully married your interests of musical camaraderie from collaborative jazz, and your background in mass communications (having received your degree from UCLA). When you first started hosting The Dave Koz Radio Show, how did this mode of performance compare to performing on stage?
Dave Koz: What a great question. The radio thing was a complete fluke, I had no experience at all! A friend of mine said, “You could be a radio host, have your own show.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” You should have heard some of those early ones—they were bad. Some amazing teachers and coaches helped me find my voice, but I found early on—and this is the same for performance—you have to be authentic. You can’t “put on” your voice. I thought, well this is radio, I have to use a certain voice—but that’s not you. You have to talk to the one person, the one person you think is listening, and it’s the same with music. For the listener who’s listening to music, it’s a personal, one-on-one experience. I enjoy doing both—they complement each other well.
You seem to have a history with food. Between bandleading on The Emeril Lagasse Show to opening your own restaurant and live music venue in Beverly Hills, Spaghettini. Do you see a connection between jazz and food?
Ah, yes. Scott Howard—our chef—this guy is like a jazz musician. He’s constantly improvising in the kitchen. “What happens if I put this in here?” He and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. That’s one of the main reasons the concept is working: it’s a full experience. You come into the restaurant and have a cocktail, eat wonderfully, and later in the evening you have a music course. First course, second, third, then fourth is the music course. The great irony is that I can’t cook. I have zero talent in that field. I love to eat, I love the idea of creativity in the kitchen. I’m inspired by it. Talking about what inspires music, I’ve gone out to eat before and been so overwhelmed by the dish that’s served to me, that is enough to inspire a song.
It’s been over 10 years now since you came out publicly in The Advocate. Do you still find difficulty balancing celebrity with your sexuality? Do you think it would have been easier to come out in 2015, or was it the right time for you then?
I think with every passing year, it becomes easier and easier for people to be themselves. I’m not talking about sexuality alone—hopefully our civilization is evolving so people can be themselves, their full selves. I didn’t expect to come out in 2004. It just came about. I don’t consider myself a trailblazer, I’m a saxophone player. It sort of came up as a wellspring inside myself, “This is happening.” I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I didn’t want to continue playing without a full deck. I wanted to fully engage in my life. And that not being done, not being out, was not going to happen. It was this wall for so many years that I felt like I’d never be able to get it out—then someone got it out, broke the wall.
Everything was of my own making, and I just feel relief now. Since that day, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences. Nothing changed, except for me—I can feel like a whole person for the first time in my whole life. It’s very inspiring to see people nowadays have so much more, so many more tools to say, “Hey, I’m okay.” My generation didn’t have as many, and the generation before me didn’t have as many as I had. And when you have the Supreme Court rule for every state that you’re alright, you’re okay—it’s inspiring. It’s a very big deal.
For the past two decades, you’ve been an active philanthropist. How did you first get involved with the Starlight Children’s Foundation?
There was a woman who started that, Emma Sam. She was on a soap opera called General Hospital. My brother and I wrote the song for it. She came up to us at a party, she was really fun, and she started talking to us about her project. A lot of people in Hollywood will give out their numbers and never call, but the very next day she called, “Hey, it’s Emma.” She wanted me to come play for the kids at a hospital. It’s been 20 years now, and I’m a Global Ambassador for them. These are kids who are hospitalized for long periods of time for cancer, leukemia, burns. These are kids who want to be kids but can’t have that experience because they’re in the hospital. Starlight helps these kids and their families return to normalcy in an abnormal situation. It’s an amazing organization, and they do great work.
What has been your impression of Texas from performing across the world and making frequent stops in the Lone Star State?
[Laughs] What I’d say is, “go big.” Texas is a “go big” state. I think you have to come to it with the right attitude. I’m on the way to Austin today, and we have Austin, Houston, and Dallas this weekend. I love that. We’re traveling by bus through the state, which is fun. I love stopping at truck stops! I’m a California boy, born and raised. I love my state, still live here. But I love traveling through the country. I love traveling through the three cities, each with different flavors and attitudes. But they’re all in the same state, and it’s incredible.
What: A Night of Jazz: Dave Koz, Rick Braun, and Kenny Lattimore Live
When: Saturday, August 29, 8 p.m.
Where: Wortham Center/Brown Theater, 501 Texas Ave.