Just Koz

His unique sound ‘found’ him
and he’s not letting go

By Tim Ryan

Fusion really isn't new or even alien to jazz roots. There's been jazz and Latin, jazz and blues, jazz and funk and now jazz and rock 'n' roll.

Many of today's younger jazz musicians grew up on rock 'n' roll and couldn't help but respond using many of rock's tools.

But fusing did create uncertainty about just where jazz ends and the improviser's output becomes something else. Consider the numerous recorded appearances of David Sanborn, Brecker Brothers and sax man Dave Koz, who all play jazz yet often work in the service of others who would never be considered jazz musicians.

"No, it isn't easy or safe to head in a new direction, though it is definitely exciting," Dave Koz says in a telephone interview from his home in Marin County, Calif.

As such, his third and latest album, "Off the Beaten Path," takes Koz's music and his sax to uncharted places.

"This is a new sound; new to me and to the listener, but it isn't change for the sake of change or jumping on any kind of bandwagon," he said. "This sound found me."

The "sound" focuses on a live sound, replacing drum machines and synthesizers with live musicians.

"I'm going back to the genuine roots of the instruments for a more organic sound. We've got guitar, mandolin, accordion, harmonica ... not instruments one generally associates with the sax. It's a less crowded sound, and the sax is featured in its full glory - the sound is real, intimate and immediate."

Koz, who will perform here tomorrow at the Waikiki Shell, started playing sax in junior high school. After graduation from UCLA, he played his first professional gig with Bobby Caldwell, then with Jeff Lorber who helped write "Off the Beaten Path."

Caldwell and Lorber urged Koz to parlay his session and support musician roles into a solo career.

In 1990 Koz recorded a self-titled release that spent 25 weeks on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart and produced Koz's first No. 1 album, "Castle of Dreams." Three years later he released "Lucky Man," which spent two years on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart and sold more than 650,000 CDs and cassettes, giving Koz his first gold record and a 132-show tour.

The successes motivated Koz to work harder and take chances, not rest on his laurels and play it safe. And "Off the Beaten Path" began as a personal journal for Koz who in 1994 decided to leave the city of his birth, Los Angeles, for Northern California to "refill the creative well."

"For two years I've felt like a real human sponge, absorbing every new experience," he said. "The change in my music is directly related to leaving Los Angeles.

In Marin he began listening to music of Joni Mitchell, Indigo Girls, Elvis Costello, Squeeze and Crowded House. Koz's goal was to mix a sax with that type of music rather than keep using synthesizers and drum machines.

So in recording he surrounded himself with musicians who shared the same vision: "a loose, live, in the moment" recording experience.

Koz believes his fans will stay with him through his new musical adventure."It's always a fine line when you do this; you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you don't change, some fans wonder why they should buy the new album. And if you do change some fans are disappointed that the sound is different."

The album also features the singing of former Fleetwood Mac member Stevie Nicks.

"When I wrote this song it just screamed out for her voice," Koz said. "When she came in to record it turned into a real rock 'n' roll thing."

Nicks arrived four hours late, then the group had "lots of wine" before starting at midnight, which marked Koz's 33rd birthday.

"Stevie snuck out and got me a cake then sang 'Happy Birthday.' Man, that was a very, very different birthday for me, but it sort of fell in line with all the other changes happening in my life."

For the Koz

What: Dave Koz
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Waikiki Shell
Cost: $15, $20, $25
Tickets: Available at Blaisdell box office; Connection outlets; by phone at 545-4000

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