My wife likes to tease me about how, when I emerge from my office upon the completion of a phone interview, I am more than a little bit prone to saying, “That went really well!” She has been known to roll her eyes and reply, “They always go really well!” Which, of course, they don’t, but her point isn’t completely invalid, either. I do have a pretty decent track record when it comes to getting really interesting stories out of the people I interview, and for whatever reason it seems like it’s getting better all the time. Mind you, I don’t expect to surpass Kelly Lynch’s story about Bill Murray calling her husband (Mitch Glazer) whenever Roadhouse is on just so he can let the poor guy know that his wife is having sex with Patrick Swayze, because that shit is gold, but damned if Dave Koz didn’t try. I mean, who could’ve imagined that a guy who makes the kind of smooth sax sounds that Koz does would have a former member of Nirvana for a godson?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It all started when I got an email about Koz’s annual Christmas tour coming back to the Ferguson Center and decided it might be fun to do a piece for the Pilot called “Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Dave Koz.” Little did I know that Koz would be so impressed with the effort I put into digging up those seven things that he’d give me an eighth thing that would blow the preceding seven out of the water with its total WTF-ness.
Oh, and don’t get huffy. I’m not cursing. In this case, the “F” stands for “Foo.”
Here’s the Pulse piece that resulted from our conversation, but if you’d like to bask in Koz’s unexpurgated responses to all eight things, then read on…
1. Koz’s first holiday album, December Makes Me Feel This Way, features a recitation of “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” by the late Phil Hartman.
“That was a very special thing. Phil was a good friend of mine. We had a very good friend in common—Carol Yumkas, who was actually his agent and a very close friend of mine—and she introduced me to him, and we spent a good amount of time together. I mean, I didn’t see him a ton. He was so busy. But he was a huge music nut. I mean, music nut. Loved music, loved the saxophone, loved jazz. So we used to get together and talk about music all the time, and he would come to my shows.
“I forget exactly how the idea came to be about him doing the ‘Night before Christmas’ thing. It was so long ago! I have a hard time remembering that, because I think it was right around the time that we started this (Christmas) tour in 1996 or something like that. But, yeah, the idea came, and he said, ‘I want to do it!’ And he came in the studio and did it, and I’m just so happy that there was something that we did together that’s there for posterity many years later.
“He was a very special man. A very complicated guy. Most comedians…I have a good number of comedian friends, and they all share some sort of special bond where the laughs are there, I think in a lot of ways, to help get them through whatever they’re getting through. It’s their own way of coping. A coping mechanism. And he was a very complicated, complex man, but also just a sweetheart. Phil was loved. I miss him a lot.”
2. Koz did time as a member of Richard Marx’s band.
“I like how you say I ‘did time,’ like I was in prison or something! Yeah, Richard was one of the most important experiences that I’ve ever had musically, because I watched him as a sideman before I became a bandleader myself, and I watched him go from completely obscurity—nobody knew who he was—to, within one year, he was playing to 10,000 seaters every single night. 20,000 seaters, even. That’s the power of a hit song. And he had so many hits back to back. And I watched him, I watched the mechanism around him, and learned so much. You know, I learned good things and I learned things that, as a leader, if I was able to get to the point where I was leading a band, I wouldn’t want to do as well. So it was kind of a good thing always. On my debut album, I did an instrumental version of ‘Endless Summer Nights,’ which was a massive hit for him, to kind of make that connection. Plus, it had a nice sax solo on the original, so it made sense.”
3. Koz was part of the house band for “The Pat Sajak Show.”
“That was a dream come true. The leader of the band was Tom Scott, who was one of my saxophone heroes growing up. I remember auditioning. I got an audition (because) he wanted to have another saxophone player standing right by him. He had a lot of pressure on him to lead the band, so he wanted to always have the saxophone be able to play. If he wasn’t able to do it, he wanted to have his guy right next to him play. I just couldn’t believe that I was able to audition for him, because here’s a guy that I grew up worshipping, and now I’m playing for him, auditioning for him to hire me. And he hired me! Which was unbelievable at the time. I couldn’t believe it. And that show, even though it was a blip on the screen, most people don’t realize it lasted for 14 months, and musically…say what you want about the show, it wasn’t so great, but the band was hot. Every single night. And two saxophones! The chance to get to play with Tom Scott and that amazing band was a tremendous learning experience and also so much fun. And being on TV every night didn’t hurt!
“Pat actually is a very funny man, extremely so, but then for some reason, when the red light went on, he became really unfunny. I mean, it was the strangest thing! We’d be hanging out backstage, laughing, he was just so funny and quick and witty and just could talk to anybody…and then something happened when that red light went on, and he just kind of shut down and was kind of bland. I think that was the main reason. But at the time…this is going back many years now, but at the time, it was sort of planned for that to be the real talk show that, when Johnny Carson went off the air, would overtake it.”
“They had great musical guests on there and some really super-questionable music where you would go, ‘What?!?’ But we just had our little cocoon. I have to say that, no matter what craziness happened from day to day…and working on a daily TV talk show was like a soap opera, where every day some other craziness would happen…but Tom and the band, we just had our little cocoon. We had our dressing room, we had our laughs, we had our music, and it was just such a great gig. I could’ve done that gig for…honestly, if it had lasted longer and never gone off the air, I would still be doing it. It was so much fun, and it paid really great money. So when it got cancelled, I was a little bit bummed, obviously. But at the same time, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, because very soon after, my first album came out, and it allowed me the freedom to go and travel and get that off the ground…and here we are 22 years later, still doing it!”
4. Koz teamed up with hometown hero Clarence Clemons on Koz’s 1993 album, Lucky Man.
“Oh, man, yeah, that was a wonderful experience, working with Clarence. That was a song called ‘Saxman,’ and there were four saxophone players on the track, including myself, each of whom were from different worlds of saxophone. (Others on the track include Maceo Parker and Stephen Kupka.) But Clarence…I always loved the way the guy played the saxophone. Interesting thing about him, and this is a little bit more technical, but he used a very soft reed and was able to get this huge sound of a tenor sax by using a reed that I couldn’t even play on. I mean, frankly, I couldn’t even make a sound out of his horn. I tried it one time, too. He let me try it, and I couldn’t do it. But that worked for him, and…I miss him too. So much.
“He was such a generous guy. We became friends. I called him, we didn’t know each other, and this was the first thing we did together, and he came and did a great job, and then we became kind of friendly. And I was telling him that I was going to spend a little bit of time…like, a few days holiday…up in northern California, and at the time he lived in Marin County. And he said, ‘Listen, I have my house up there, I’m on the road with Bruce (Springsteen), so why don’t you stay in my house?’ I’m, like, ‘I’m not gonna stay in your house, Clarence.’ And he basically insisted that I stay in his house. So…I don’t know if you know or if you’ve ever seen me, but I’m not exactly a large person. I’m 5’6” on a good day and kind of slim. And I did end up staying in his house, and it was almost like…it was the funniest thing. I was, like, living in a giant’s place. His bed was the largest bed I’ve ever seen. I mean, I looked like a fricking dog sleeping in it! And every doorway, and the shower…his shower was massive! It’s just a memory that I will always keep with me: I stayed a couple of nights in Clarence Clemons’ house. I normally feel kind of small, but this one really made me feel small!”
5. In the process of pulling together his 1999 album, The Dance, Koz was accorded the relatively rare honor of co-writing a song with Burt Bacharach (“Don’t Give Up”).
“That was a really exciting thing, too. Burt, who I was introduced to by a friend of mine, was such a wonderful supporter of mine, and I remember going over to his house and writing this song. We did it in a few hours. First of all, he was…I’m not sure exactly how old he is, but he’s in his eighties. He’s probably in the back half of his eighties. And every hour, someone would bring in this special drink. It had a weird color to it, a kind of greenish color. I begged him to tell me what it was, because I’m convinced it was the elixir of life that kept him going.
“Also, the funny thing about Burt, too… Here is a guy who’s written so much iconic music of the 20th century, and I had so many questions for him, about this song and that song, how why he wrote this melody and those chords. And I tried to ask him over and over repeatedly that day, but his standard answer to me was that he said, ‘I don’t live in the past, I move forward. Today is about you. Today is about writing a new song with Dave Koz. What are we gonna do? What kind of magic are we gonna create?’ And I learned a great lesson that day from him, which was that you can never really rest on your laurels, especially if you’re always wanting to push the envelope. Here he is in his mid-eighties, writing new music and constantly doing things. He was a great mentor for me, a great example of never being completely satisfied. It’s the best way to life your life.
6. In 2007, Koz was invited to add his saxophone to a new recording of “Just in Time,” featuring a vocal track from the late Dean Martin.
“Boy, you’ve done some good research! Capitol Records, who owns a lot of the Dean Martin masters, did an album called Forever Cool, where they put the existing vocals from Dean with new arrangements of the songs he sang and invited guest artists in. I was on Capitol for over 20 years, believe it or not, and the person who was doing the A&R for that project thought it would be a cool idea to do a duet with Dean and the sax. It was an incredible experience, because we were at Capitol, in the same studio where the originals were recorded. I had a killer big band that I was in the room with, and I had Dean in my earphone, singing. So it almost felt as if…and it’s often this way if you’re doing a live recording, where you can see some of the musicians but you can’t necessarily see everybody…it almost felt as if Dean was in the local booth. I couldn’t see him, but he was there, alive, and I was playing along with him. It was pretty magical. It was one of the best musical experiences in the studio that I’ve ever had. It certainly wasn’t the first time something like that had been done –it’s been done with Frank Sinatra and a bunch of other stuff – and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m gonna reserve judgment, because I’m not sure whether people say this one worked or didn’t. All I can tell you is that it was a lot of fun. And that’s what music is supposed to be.”
7. Although Koz’s 2012 Christmas tour marks the first time he’s performed live with Javier Colon, last year’s winner of NBC’s The Voice, the two first recorded together almost a decade ago.
“Javier is…wow, he’s an unbelievable singer. And I’ve known him for a long, long time. We were both labelmates for Capitol for a number of years. He sang on an album of mine called Saxophonic. This is going back probably almost ten years now, so we’ve known each other a good chunk of time. Then one day I was flipping channels one day at home and I saw him on a TV show, and I was, like, ‘What the hell…?’
“I love the story of Javier, because…it’s great that he’s on a Christmas tour, because his is a story that we can all learn something from. He was kicking around, doing music and releasing albums, but it just wasn’t connecting for some reason. It just wasn’t happening. He’s got a beautiful wife, a couple of kids, but he was kind of down and out, and he was saying, ‘I think I’m just gonna quit music and get a real job, ‘cause I’ve got a family to support.’ And his brother came to him and said, ‘There’s this brand new show called ‘The Voice,’ you owe it to yourself and your family to give this one more shot.’ And he needed some convincing to get there, but he did get there, and he ended up winning, which was pretty unbelievable…but not a surprise, knowing how great a singer that guy is.
So many years later, we got back in touch with each other, and I asked him, ‘What do you think about coming and singing with us on the Christmas tour?’ And he loved the idea. So we have a bonafide TV star with us! We never toured together, we never did anything except for maybe…you know, other than the studio, I don’t think we ever did anything. So this is a first for us, and it’s pretty special.
“We’ve got a pretty unbelievable lineup on this show. We’ve got David Benoit, who brings not only his own music but all the Peanuts Christmas music along with him. He’s the guy who’s carrying on the mantle for that. Sheila E, who brings all the fire at Christmas, is rockin’ it. And we’re introducing a young singer by the name of Margo Rey, who’s got a big Christmas hit on her hands right now called ‘This Holiday Night.’ So it’s a very nice show.”
8. Koz is Dave Grohl’s godfather. Wait, what?!?
“By the way, can I give you a little scoop about things you might not know? I don’t know that it’s ever been in print, and the only reason I’m bringing it up to you is because there’s a very large connection to Virginia. I’ve really never talked about this publicly—as you can tell, because you don’t already know it!—but…Dave Grohl, a Virginian, is my godson. If you look at any pictures online of the day I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you’ll see pictures of him, and people have said, ‘What the hell is Dave Grohl doing with Dave Koz at his star ceremony? That doesn’t make any sense at all!’ Well, that’s why!
“Actually, the same person introduced me to Dave that introduced me to Phil Hartman—Carol Yumkas—and she had a party, and there was Dave and Jordyn, his wife, and we just got started talking. I don’t know if you’ve ever met him, but he is one of the most beautiful human beings. I mean, I’m just so proud of him. He’s such a rock god, but he’s also just a really wonderful person. So we started talking, and Jordyn was pregnant with their first child, and I asked, ‘Does the baby have a godfather?’ And Dave was, like, ‘Well, what is a godfather? I didn’t grow up having godparents. Tell me what it is.’ And, you know, I just shared a little bit, and then they went off talking to other people—it was a small little dinner party—and then they came back to me about an hour later, and he said, ‘Look, I’ve talked it over with Jordyn, and we’re gonna not have godparents for our kids. We made that decision. But…I don’t have a godfather. Would you consider being the godfather to me?’ And I could tell that he was serious, but I didn’t know him well enough to know if he was joking. I said, ‘Well, Dave, this is a serious commitment. If we make this commitment tonight, that means you’ve got to come to my stuff, I’ve got to come to your stuff, we’ve got to be in each other’s lives. This isn’t some sort of symbolic thing. This is real.’ And he said, ‘No, I’m in. I’m in!’ So we had a big hug and a kiss, and from that night on, we’ve been in each other’s lives.
“It’s the funniest thing. But if you were to ask him, if you were on the phone with him and ask him without prompting for the name of his godfather, he would say, ‘Dave Koz.’ And it’s extra funny because…this story wouldn’t be that alarming if our music wasn’t so completely different. But there’s your scoop!”