By Jeff Maisey
Grammy-winning smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz is no stranger to Hampton Roads. For a decade and counting, Koz & Friends have performed their annual Christmas show at the Ferguson Center in Newport News.
On Saturday, August 19, Koz returns to the region as the headlining act of the 39th Annual Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival, a two-day festival featuring world-class smooth jazz artists.
Joining Koz on stage will be Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer and saxman Eric Darius. Dulfer is known for both her solo recordings as well as her studio and/or live performances with Prince, Dave Stewart, Beyonce, Lionel Richie, Pink Floyd, and Van Morrison.
Eric Darius has performed in Norfolk in the recent past as a solo artist. His new album, “Unleashed,” is on the streets. He’s performed with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Carlos Santana, Babyface, and others.
Dave Koz calls this dynamic billing “Summer Horns,” and he’s released a pair of albums under this theme (though not with this lineup), each going to #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz album chart.
The “Summer Horns” albums each primarily feature cover songs rearranged into an instrumental smooth jazz format. Summer is a fun time and that’s what these tunes are designed to communicate and connect with listeners.
In a recent phone conversation with Dave Koz, we discussed many of these songs and why he loves the melody, composition, and vibe.
“Taking these classic songs and doing new arrangements is a bit of a high-wire act because the songs in their original form are perfect,” said Koz. “You have to take it to another place; you have to make it unique in your own style. That’s really the challenge in doing covers. The key is have great arrangers, which we did on all the ‘Summer Horns’ projects.”
Regarding Sly & The Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Koz shared this thought: “As I became friends with Larry Graham, the bass player and an original member, hearing the story of how those songs came together was infinitely inspiring to me.”
One of the most streamed songs on Spotify from “Summer Horns” is The Crusaders’ “Keep That Same Old Feeling.” In some ways, The Crusaders were the precursor to smooth jazz, blending funk, jazz, and pop music.
“I was a huge fan of The Crusaders and Joe Sample, specifically,” Koz shared. “The melodies were so strong as were the vibe and the groove.
“And you’re right, The Crusaders were a huge brick in the laying of the groundwork for what would become smooth jazz.
“I always loved that particular song. There are probably Crusaders songs that are way more popular, but that one, to me, has the pump to it.”
Dave Koz & Friends have also delved into pop music, recording and performing Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.” Koz recalls the impression the music of Chicago — dominated by horns — made on him as a young listener.
“I have an older brother and sister,” said Koz. “In our house, my parents were listening to the singers, the crooners — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and that kind of stuff. My brother was listening to progressive rock — Jefferson Airplane, Genesis. And my sister was listening to Chicago.
“I remember going into her room and checking out Chicago. It was just a revelation: pop songs with amazing melodies, great singing, and that horn section behind everything. The combination of elements in that band was a musical turn-on. And this was before I took-up the saxophone, when I was 11 or 12.”
In addition to cover songs, Dave Koz & Friends will perform key songs from each of their solo careers. This will likely include Koz’s “Summertime in New York City.”
“That song was one of the big hits from the album ‘A New Day,’ for me,” said Koz. “That song was written as a love note from me because New York City is a place I love. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but I’ve always had a soft spot for New York.”
WANT TO GO?
39th Annual Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival
Town Point Park, Norfolk
Friday, August 18
5:30 PM: Kim Waters & Kayla Waters
7:30 PM: Keiko Matsui
9:30 PM: Gerald Albright
Saturday, August 19
5:30 PM: Kandace Springs
7:30 PM: Jazz Funk Soul featuring Jeff Lorber, Everette Harp & Paul Jackson
9:30 PM: Dave Koz & Friends