Months after he lost his father in 1997, Koz was conducting a radio interview with fellow jazz favorite David Benoit, whose mother had recently died.
“Both had gone pretty suddenly, and we were talking about how the holiday season was going to be the toughest because it was the first time we both lost a parent,” Koz recalls. “And David just blurted out, ‘What do you say we go out and do some shows at Christmas time? It would be a great way to honor our folks.’”
‘Music was my lifesaver’
Koz detailed how picking up a saxophone in seventh grade helped save his life in a recent video he made for the “It Gets Better” campaign.
“When I was thirteen years old, my body was exploding, my head was exploding, I had nobody to talk to, I had no clue what was going on,” Koz says. “I had all these crazy thoughts about who am I, what’s going on, and am I ever going to make it out of this.
“I had a lot of questions and a lot of confusion, and music, for me, was my lifesaver,” he adds. “If I didn’t have it, I don’t know what would have happened to me.”
Despite the salvation and success music provided, Koz continued to struggle with his sexuality until he came out eight years ago. If he could make a video message for his younger, closeted self, Koz says it would be titled, “Don’t Worry.”
“I would say, ‘Take all of the concern out of your head,’” Koz says. “When we have fears about things, we build these imaginary walls that keep us locked in the status quo.
You build this wall up, and in your mind it becomes so big and so tall that there’s nothing you can do to scale it, it’s way too overwhelming.
“You look back, then you realize there was no wall at all, it was all in your head,” he adds.
As he was creating his first original album since coming out, Koz bumped into familiar walls, especially as he contemplated including a cover of Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s In Love With You,” which is sung male-to-male.
“I did have some [second] thoughts about it,” Koz admits. “There’s a line that I sing that says, ‘I’m in love with this guy,’ and I thought, should I really put that in there? My producers, ironically, it wasn’t them that brought it up, it was me. And my producers insisted that we leave it on the album, which was a great thing.
“It took me a long time [to accept my sexual orientation], and frankly I never thought it would happen,” Koz says. “When I came out publicly, that was the best thing I ever did in my entire life. All of the things that I worried about changing, the only thing that changed was me, and I just got much more confident and started having fun in my life, and I started feeling like a whole person.”
As a result, Koz considers “Hello Tomorrow” to be “more ‘me,’ more personal than anything I’ve ever done.”
“Sometimes I look at the album, I look at the guests, I look at the songs, and I wonder where did that all come from, because I don’t really remember how it came,” Koz says. “This album, more than any album I’ve ever made, it felt like it was like a gift given to me to sort of almost translate — it just kind of came.”
Top photo: ‘When I came out publicly, that was the best thing I ever did in my entire life,’ says saxophonist Dave Koz. ‘All of the things that I worried about changing, the only thing that changed was me.’ (Publicity photo)