Legendary Jazz Saxophonist Dave Koz Presents Best Unsung at the Dorians TV Toast 2020 on Revry
A New Day
Throughout his decades long, multi-faceted career as one of contemporary jazz’s premiere showmen, recording artists, cruise hosts and all-around entrepreneurs, Dave Koz has adhered to a mantra of rarely looking back and always navigating forward towards fresh horizons. Once he wrapped his 22nd annual Dave Koz and Friends Christmas tour at the end of last year, the nine-time Grammy nominated saxophonist knew 2020 was going to be a pivotal year of reflection and celebration, marking an incredible three decades since the release of his genre-defining self-titled debut album.
Feeling flush with a burst of creativity in the months before COVID-19 changed our lives, and realizing he had a lot more to say musically, he put aside all thoughts of releasing a nostalgic retrospective or another all-star Summer Horns or holiday project. Instead, working digitally and with social distance protocols in place, he embarked on A New Day, one of the most purposeful, empowering and exhilarating albums of his career.
Set to drop exactly 30 years and one day after the release of Dave Koz, it’s a deeply comforting yet forward-thinking 11-track collection (with one bonus track on the physical CD) that marks his 20th album overall – and first full set of original material in 10 years (since Hello Tomorrow in 2010). If it were written, produced and released in so called “normal times,” fans could focus solely on the extraordinary interactions between Dave and his incredible roster of guests, including Brian McKnight, Bob James, Marc Antoine, Rick Braun, Paul Jackson Jr., Jeff Lorber and several longtime “wish-listers” he had not previously recorded with – his all-time saxophone hero David Sanborn, legendary Earth, Wind & Fire percussionist Ralph Johnson, neo-soul great Meshell Ndegeocello, saxophone and flute player David Mann and R&B singer Antwaun Stanley (of funk band Vulfpeck).
Yet they’re not the biggest part of the story. From his gold-selling Lucky Man (1993) and The Dance (1999) to the Phil Ramone-helmed At the Movies (2007) and the two Summer Horns extravaganzas this past decade, Koz has mastered large-scale productions throughout his career. Yet to create such a bold, expansive project like A New Day while every participating musician and producer was essentially in quarantine, speaks powerfully to the musical and human spirit of all involved, and the sense of purpose each collaborator brought to the party. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with our health, the economy, and our day to day lives – but as Koz and friends prove over and over again, it can’t stop the flow of determination and creativity, specifically as it’s meant to help us wade through this extremely intense period.
“When the pandemic hit, I was already in the space to be creative and it immediately pushed me into that zone where I found myself turning to music for comfort,” Dave says. “I instinctively thought, I’m in a position to do that for others. It boils down to this – we all just need a hug. I wanted to provide that hug of a musical kind to people who have looked to my music as a source of joy and a way to feel better. I wanted these new songs to convey the sense that we’re all in this together and it’s hard, but we are going to be okay.
“Even as we were making very universal thematic statements about this unusual moment in history,” he adds, “I realized that A New Day is also a very personal statement about where I am in my life. There’s a full-circle poeticism about looking back at a career I could never have expected when I recorded my first album. I’ve been doing this a long time but I still feel I have something meaningful to express and still feel extremely passionate about playing the saxophone. This led me to write songs that will hopefully help people through these difficult times and provide some inspiration. Whether we’re ready for it or not, this is a new day for human beings on this planet.”
Key tracks include the buoyant and bright, playfully grooving anthem “Summertime in NYC,” a tribute to the city and the resilience of its people featuring infectious vocals by Brian McKnight; the silky and romantic, mid-tempo and electronica-tinged tenor gem “The Closer We Get”; and the tight, percussive brass-heavy funk jam “Dr. Norm,” an ode to Dave’s late father, Dr. Norman Koz and the new cannabis-based apothecary cookie and edibles company (also called Dr. Norm’s) created by the saxophonist’s sister Roberta Koz Wilson, brother Jeff Koz and Dave to honor their dad and late mother Audrey, whose recipes they use. In addition, Koz and Ndegeocello team up for a dreamy and wistful alto version of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” – included as a reflection of the intense way life has changed during the pandemic, and a reminder that just yesterday, everything was very different.
Creating an album under the current protocols was uncharted territory for Dave, whose projects always thrived on the live interaction of musicians feeding off each other in the studio. To ensure maximum efficiency, he had various producers on the case at the same time, creating foundational tracks, and compiling and overlaying submitted digital tracks in their different studios. These included longtime collaborators Evan Rogers & Carl Sturken (who co-produced with Dave “Summertime in NYC” and “Long Goodbyes”), Darren Rahn (“The Closer We Get,” “Still Got It”), Rick Braun (“Side By Side,” “Barcelona”) and Jeff Lorber (“Dr. Norm,” “All the Love in the World,” “High Wire”). Koz also collaborated with producers Matt Cusson (“Yesterday”) and David Mann (“A New Day”). The bonus track was also produced by Darren Rahn and features multiple Grammy nominee Chris “Big Dog” Davis.
Without the luxury of time for extensive overdubs, the other key was hiring top veteran studio musicians who could deliver without much extra coaching – including drummers John JR Robinson and Gary Novak, bassists Nathan East, Alex Al and Mel Brown, guitarists Michael Thompson, Paul Jackson Jr., Adam Hawley and keyboardist Philippe Saisse. In most cases, the instrumentation on the original rudimentary track was replaced by live playing, especially in the case of synth bass and drum machines being switched out for the trademark grooves of East, Al, Brown, Novak and Robinson.
“Ironically, recording an album during this time didn’t have the usual roadblocks,” Dave says. “Everything flowed and came into place very easily. Working to our advantage was the fact that because our touring has been sidelined this year, these musicians were all home looking for new projects to sink their teeth into. They not only had the time but brought all of their passion and unbridled energy to create something beyond what I could have envisioned. The pandemic forced us to find a different way to record, and the result is an intimate, personal album where you really feel a sense of warmth. “When he was mastering A New Day,” he adds, “the legendary engineer Bernie Grundman told me he felt with this album we’d created a special, sort of secret private place of comfort where the listener can be at one with the music as it washes over you. That struck me as the perfect musical antidote to dealing with the prolonged chaos and significant trials of 2020 – the opportunity to feel protected and nurtured – something that most, if not all of us need right now.”
With no guarantee or way of knowing how our lives will change or what the future holds, more than ever before we find ourselves looking to the people and things we trust, love and can make us feel better. Once again providing music that comforts and uplifts us during challenging times, Dave Koz meets our collective, anxiety-filled moment with a beautiful vision and the hopeful promise of A New Day.