Saxman Dave Koz sees happiness in most things – including music

Published on March 24th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Saxman Dave Koz is taking a trip down memory lane, and everywhere he looks he finds another reason to be happy.

“We’ve had a fantastic time in the last year,” said Koz who will perform with Brian Culbertson at Thornton Winery on Saturday and Sunday as part of the 2009 Champagne Jazz Concert Series. “One of the great highpoints is being able to travel to other countries and getting to share my music with other cultures.”


If Koz had any worries about the acceptance of his music, those fears were dashed quickly when he played places in Africa and Europe.

“People knew us,” he said. “There were people there to greet us when we stepped off the plane. We were 8,000 miles away from home but they knew us.”

He’s come a long way since nagging his brother to let him play in the band.

“He turned me down when I asked to join,” he said. “But he felt his band eventually needed a sax player, and he said I could join if I learned the sax. It paid off.”

Now, he’s had a two-decade career with numerous Grammy awards and hit singles and CDs, and Koz shows no signs of slowing down.

“Passion fuels me in so many ways,” he said. “I love to come up with new things and you have to keep going because everything around you will change. I learned from my parents that there will always be roadblocks in your path and you have to keep setting your own standards of excellence.”

Part of that is trying to keep things interesting out on tour.

“I do two big tours a year and I keep asking myself why I keep doing that to myself,” he said. “So I have to come up with new things to keep it interesting, especially for the group. If it was the same exact thing every year, that would not be a good thing.”

This time around he will be performing with Brian Culbertson, a perennial favorite at Thornton. Joining the duo for a few shows, including Thornton, will be Peabo Bryson.

“The tours are influenced by who is out there on the tour with me,” he said. “Brian and I will not leave the stage and we are using the same band so this is a dual show. There is a lot of positive energy out there when we perform so hopefully the audience picks up on that. So far they have.”

Koz points out that the shows work so well because there is a true sense of friendship, respect and loyalty.

“It helps so much that there is a trust factor and you know that if you stepped off a ledge that your fellow musician will go off it with you,” he said. “It’s like he’s got your back. During one show, I was supposed to do something and Brian stepped up to the mic to make a comment, which was his way of saying ‘I got your back.”

Of course, most people who are familiar with the Culbertson shows also know that he usually travels and performs with someone who is pretty loyal – his father.

“I tried to get his dad to perform with us but this time around he wants to be in the audience so he can see the show,” said Koz.

 One thing that has helped Koz through the years is not only his energy and passion, but his ability to see things and learn, such as during his days of playing with scores of artists in numerous genres.

“I could give you a list of 100 different people I learned from and I got a little from a lot of each of them,” he said. “For example, I learned a lot about being in the studio with Luther Vandross and how much of a rock star Rod Stewart really was. It’s an amalgam of all those people I played with that has helped shape me.”

He has become not only a successful musician but a favorite at jazz shows and locales around the world. Not bad for a guy who earned a B.A. in mass communications from UCLA. In his own words, the degree probably didn’t help him that much with his career, but being well-rounded did.

“I think it made me a little bit more of a person to have a lot of different areas that I learned about and studies,” he said. “I think the entertainment side of it comes naturally to people.”

For that, he gives credit to his father.

“My dad was a natural talker,” he said. “He was a Toastmaster and could get up in front of people with nothing prepared and was always able to corral the attention of the crowd.”

He also points out that some of the artists he loved growing up also played a role.

“I learned from groups like Earth, Wind and Fire that you when you saw them live you were going to be entertained from the first note,” he said. “The lights, witty banter and the music inspired me.”

So, the show is more than just recreated what’s on the album.

“For me it’s a responsibility that I take seriously,” he said. “Time is the most important thing to people who come to the show and I need to make the most of the time I am out there performing.”



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