Sax great Dave Koz relives classic movie moments

Published on April 4th, 2021


By Jim Dail


When it comes to movies, the music we hear in the theater can mean as much as what is happening on the screen. As a result, some of the most famous songs of all time come from movies.

“The songs and music are such a key part of any movie,” said Dave Koz who performs Saturday and Sunday as part of the 2007 Champagne Jazz Concert Series at Thornton Winery. “If you take some songs out of a movie, the movie doesn’t work.”

The saxman’s latest release, “At the Movies,” is a collection of movie songs, featuring a number of guest stars, such as Barry Manilow, Anita Baker and Johnny Mathis.

His motivation was twofold: a love of the old movie songs and his mother.

“My mom wanted me to do an album of showtunes, and I was so glad she got to hear the project in its entirety before she passed away,” he said. “She was my confidant. She had very good musical sensibilities, even to the very end. I’d play things for her first to get her raw opinions before I’d ever let anyone else hear them.”

Family has always been key for Koz when it comes to music.

“My mom forced us to play instruments and I played a lot of things, horribly I might add,” he said.

What influenced Koz to get really serious about it was his brother, or rather his brother’s monetary success through music.

“He was a few years older than me and had a band that played weddings, frat parties, things like that,” he said. “He always had money and he never had to get a real job. But he turned me down when I asked to join.”

So, his brother relented to his requests to join the band if he learned the sax, Koz began to practice relentlessly until he was good enough to join.

“They didn’t have a sax player and needed one, so that was how I got in,”he laughed. “Ever since I’ve never had a real job”.”

As it turned out, he learned an instrument that fit his musical tastes – all of them.

“I grew up listening to everything,” he said. “And the sax is one of those rare instruments that can fit in any genre. It can peacefully co-exist anywhere, but jazz is probably the natural tendency.”

For the latest album, Koz spent a lot of time thinking about the movies.

“I love the movies,” he said. “There is an infinite amount of material. When Phil Ramone and I sat down to pick the songs, we basically selected ones that we felt were necessary for the movie to work. There were a ton of them.”

The album is a collection of collaborations between Koz and numerous guests. For “Moon River,” Koz teamed up with Barry Manilow, for “A Whole New World” it was Donna Summer and Anita Baker guest-starred on “Somewhere.”

“I was interviewing Anita Baker on my radio show and I told her about the project and she asked what songs I was working on and I told her,” he said. “She just started singing ‘Somewhere’ and I thought, ‘My God this sounds great.’ But I wasn’t sure I could put her on the spot there and ask her to do it, but then I thought, ‘I’m going for it.’ She said ‘You want me to do it?’ Two weeks later she was singing it in the studio. It was like that for a lot of the artists.”

When Koz teamed up with Johnny Mathis for “The Shadow of Your Smile,” it was quite a nostalgic event.

“I grew up listening to Johnny Mathis in my household, and now he’s singing on my album,” he said. “And let me tell you, he is one of the nicest, most beautiful people I’ve met. And he still has that incredible voice.”

As Koz points out, the project is a dream come true.

“I got to work with one of the great producers of all time, Phil Ramone,” he said. “We had a full orchestra and my only aim was to show up every day and play sax with as much emotional feeling and please and pay homage to the great composers like John Williams and Henry Mancini. I got a letter from Mrs. Mancini and she said Henry would have been proud, so I feel that I got it right.”

However, that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“When you have great songs like these, it’s hard to decide how best to do them, what to make different,” he said. “Then you start to think, maybe there’s nothing that needs to be changed and they can be played the same way.”

Indeed, how else can you play “Over the Rainbow” and “The Pink Panther?”

“When people hear these songs it hits them emotionally because it stirs their memories,” he said. “It’s not just remembering the movies but who they were with, where they were. These composers were real-life poets and they captured a feeling in people.”

For the boy who learned the sax to earn a few bucks, it has worked pretty well.

“Ever since joining my brother’s band, I have never had a real job,” he said. “There is certainly hard work involved, but being up on the stage is play time for me, not work. The man upstairs has really been looking out for me.”


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