We all know that Barry Manilow writes the songs that make the whole world sing and the young girls cry, but nine-time Grammy nominated saxophonist Dave Koz hasn’t had an issue mesmerizing audience members these 20-plus years either. They'll stop together in Indy on Wednesday, but before their stage time at Bankers Life, we grabbed time on the phone with Koz to talk hair dye and great Indy venues.
NUVO: Tell me a little bit more about your new album Collaborations, and what the process was like putting that together?
Dave Koz: Well, it was to celebrate a 25th anniversary milestone because 1990 was when my first record came out. We wanted to do something that addressed that and celebrated that so we looked at over the years what’s been the thread that has been running through most of my music, and that has been collaborations. It’s really when I’m most happy is when I’m working with other artists. Whether it’s song writing, or other artists in the studio. I think if left to my own devices, if I was left alone to do things I would probably just do the same thing over and over, so collaborations ensure that, at least for me, it gives me a chance to grow and to step out of my own comfort zone.
We put together an album that had a bunch of these duets with people like Stevie Wonder and Barry Manilow, and Michael McDonald and Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks, and a bunch of other people. And then we recorded three new songs to hopefully point to the future, so that was what that album was all about.
NUVO: I know that you’ve been to Indianapolis a few times. What’s your touring experience been like when you’ve travelled to Indy?
Koz: Well, this goes way back. I’ve been coming there since the very beginning of my career, well actually before that because I would come to Indianapolis with people I’d worked with before, before I became a soloist, specifically Jeff Lorber and Richard Marx. I’ve always loved that city. A place that we played for many years is this place called the Indiana Roof Ballroom. Kind of a legendary place. … We played there for so many years, and a lot of different venues as well. But for the last three or four years, we’ve been doing our Christmas show in Carmel at that beautiful Palladium. That is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever played at in the world. It’s an incredible thing to have in anybody’s city. You walk in there, and it’s state of the art. It rivals any concert house that I’ve been to in the world.
NUVO: How were you first exposed to Barry Manilow and his music?
Koz: My parents. My mom was a huge fan of Barry’s. I grew up in California, in Los Angeles. So, my mom would have his music playing, and this was kind of the time period that I was, I was born in 1963, so in the '70s, late '70s I was in my teens. You know? Thirteen, 14, 15. That’s when you’re really in the prime of discovering music, and so I just heard his voice wafting through our house. My mom was a song writer, never professionally, but she appreciated the artists that really were great songwriters themselves, and certainly Barry is one of those guys. So, that was my first exposure to him having never in a million years thinking that we’d become friends, and we’d be on the road together. All of this has been such a great, wonderful surprise.
I met him about 15 years ago when he asked to me to play on one of his albums. I did that, and that was the beginning of a great friendship and a great musical alliance. Two years ago almost, he invited me to open his shows in England, and I had never been his opening act. I played in his shows a number of times, and he had been a guest on an album of mine. When I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he was the guy who inducted me because he’s got one. We were really in each other’s orbit, but we were never on the road together like this. So, I jumped at the chance and that was the beginning, and we’ve been on this tour pretty much ever since. It’s coming up on two years now.
NUVO: What’s it like touring with Barry, and being with him, considering you had such an admiration for him when you were younger?
Koz: It’s like the ultimate master class, as I would call it. Who gets a chance to be that close to one of their musical mentors on a daily basis? I see him everyday, we travel together, he’s been kind enough to invite me to travel in his circle, which is really really nice. And I get a chance to get into the mind of a genius every single day and watch how he works. This is a man who’s been at the top of his game for 40 years and singing better than ever. He takes the stage in these arenas in every town and there’s like 10,000 people a night or more! So they’re packed packed with fans, and he’s sounding great, the band is unbelievable, the songs are hit after hit after hit, and I sit there and just marvel at it all going, “How did this happen?”
I spend the time looking at it trying to figure out the lessons that I could take from this, this experience, of which there have been many many many. Innumerable lessons learned just form being on the road with him. I’m very grateful and proud to have the opportunity. My band and I, we just go out there with one purpose every night—we get thirty minutes to make our case. My goal is to make sure that these people are in a great mood for when he takes the stage. I know that they’re not there for us, but hopefully they have a good enough time and let their guard down a little bit and we can get them in a great space for when their favorite artist takes the stage a few moments later.
NUVO: Who were some of your jazz inspirations when you were learning your instrument and growing up?
Koz: Well, I had a lot of different inspirations on the saxophone. Probably the number one for me was a guy named David Sanborn. He’s very much active. In fact, he was like my sax idol. So much so that he could probably get away with having a restraining order put on me. He hasn’t done that, thankfully. David Sanborn was this bridge, he was a guy who took the saxophone from more of a traditional jazz idiom and brought it into a more pop idiom. Not just with his own records, but with people like James Taylor and Carly Simon. He played with so many different people during that time, during that heyday of the '70s and '80s. So, cut to this summer, David Sanborn, this is a very exciting thing for me, David and I are going to be doing our first tour together this summer. I don’t know if we’ll be coming to Indianapolis — I sure hope so. But, for me, as an artist, to be able to do a tour with someone who I grew up worshiping — I’m terribly nervous about it, but also incredibly excited about it. It’s going to be a really fun experience. So, Sandborn would be one.
Another one would be Tom Scott. But I love artists like Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, I listen to a lot of Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire and Power of Power. The bands that had horn sections were a big thing for me. And then I would listen to the pop stuff that my sister was listening to and the progressive rock my brother was listening to, and my mom and dad had a lot of the singers and song writers- Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. So, it’s like an amalgam of all of that stuff into what made me the musician I am.
NUVO: How do you prepare yourself for a tour?
Koz: Before I go on tour, I have to get my hair dyed. That’s one very important thing. I’m 100 percent grey and not man enough to admit it yet. See? I’m telling you that, so that means I’m getting more comfortable with the fact that I’m grey. I’ve been grey since I was thirty, so that’s over 20 years of hair dye. Oh my god.
I’m a slave to fashion. I’m a horrible packer. I spend my life on the road and travel for a living, and I never mastered the skill of how to pack a suitcase, or how to pack just enough. I always invariably pack twice as much as I need or more. Literally speaking, I’ve been doing this for so long that I kind of have one bag not “packed” per se, but that’s kind of out in my closet. It’s never put the suitcases away and don’t take them out for six months. That never happens. In fact, I can’t remember being home for more than a month before doing some sort of trip. When I’m away, I always long to be home, and when I’m home about two weeks in I’m like, “I gotta get out of here.” It’s just what happens with me. I guess I’m a rolling stone, if you will.
NUVO: I’m really fascinated by how you maintain such high energy levels and enthusiasm during your performances. I noticed that you’re running around on stage, and you go in the audience, and then you’re not in the audience. How do you maintain such high energy levels and stay so enthusiastic through all of it?
Koz: Not to sound cliché, but this is actually the truth. I could be as tired, like operating on fumes, three hours of sleep and sitting back stage a half hour before the show and be completely dead tired. I mean, “I can’t do this. I need to go to sleep. I can’t do a show right now.” And then, all of a sudden, something happens when the lights go down and you cross that threshold where now you’re on stage. The audience is really there for you and really excited to see you. It’s like the biggest jolt of energy you can find. It’s like somebody putting a plug into you. All of a sudden you get this incredible energy, and that’s what really does drive me.
Also, I do love what I do. I love performing, I love making people, hopefully, happy, and taking their minds off of their problems even if it’s for an hour or hour and a half. I love that aspect of it. It never surprises me that, and I’m always surprisingly happy that that tank of energy is there. I really don’t think it’s me. It’s tapping into the energy of others and sometimes tapping into the energy that the universe gives you to do good work.
NUVO: How do you manage to balance your radio show, and your wine business, and your music career? Are there some things that you devote more of your time to than others?
Koz: I think that it boils down to having great people. In each of those individual things, whether it’s our cruise I host, radio, or wine stuff, or touring, each one of those projects has somebody who is in charge of that area. So I’m able to have total trust in those people. I’m able to jump into whatever it is, and jump right out, and know that while I’m not focused one hundred percent on it, it’s still being taken care of in the way that I would want to. I get a chance to work with great people. I’m very fortunate and blessed to have unbelievable people in my life that care as much as I do about the things that are important to me.
We’ve raised, through the wine and the cruises — we have a silent auction on our cruise — every year we’ve raised probably close to, over the last maybe ten years, at least half a million dollars for Starlight Children’s Foundation, which is the charity that I’ve worked with closely for about twenty years. It helps kids that are in the hospital for long periods time, so that’s a good feeling. The wine raises money for that, and we have a lot of other programs that we do that raise money for Starlight, so at the end of the day and look at a number like that and realize that that’s changed a lot of these kids lives… it’s something to make you feel good.
If you go:
Barry Manilow and Dave Koz
Bankers Life, 125 S. Pennsylvania St.
Wednesday, March 30
7:30 p.m., prices vary, all-ages