Q&A with Dave Koz

Dave Koz is known for whipping up ear treats in the form of smooth jazz, but when he talked to us here at GoGoMix, it was to promote the fact he had gotten into the business of whipping up more traditional treats. Yes, the incredible pop saxophonist has gotten into the restaurant business, opening the Spaghettini Beverly Hills and Dave Koz Lounge with restauranteurs Cary Hardwick and Laurie Sisneros. The restaurant offers California-style food and classic entertainment, with a clientele of celebrities who may even perform, if the night calls for it! It's a night of great dishes and great surprises. Dave gave us the lowdown about the place, along with details of his tour with Barry Manilow, and then his favorite music, movies, books, etc. Check it out!

-Adam Downer


GGM: Your new restaurant, Spaghettini Beverly Hills and the Dave Koz Lounge, just started, right?

DK: Yes, in a couple days it’ll be two months old! We soft-opened for about six weeks, and last week we had our formal grand opening. The Mayor was there and we had the ribbon cutting ceremony and everything—and by the way, the ribbon is not actually cut! I thought there was an actual ribbon cutting, it’s just a ceremonial picture!—but yes, we are now formally open and it’s been very exciting. We’ve had so many unbelievable things happen in that spot! It’s on North Cannon Drive in Beverly Hills, the new restaurant row of LA. We’re right next to a legendary restaurant called Spago, which is Wolfgang Puck’s place, and a block away from Mastro’s steakhouse.

It’s a fine dining restaurant and world class music lounge. It starts in the evening with unbelievable food from chef Scott Howard. You can get that California-influenced Italian food. After you get your belly sated, you get your ears a workover! Six nights a week, we have world-class entertainment. We’ve had Annie Lennox eat with us, which was awesome. The other night, we had Tom Jones in for dinner, and he actually got on stage and did three songs! We’ve had Bill Withers, John Stamos, a variety of musical talent both on the jazz, pop, and singer songwriter front! It’s becoming a place to be! After dinner, you never know what’ll happen on stage. That’s the aura we’d like to create with this place.

GGM: You’ve been planning Spaghettini and the Dave Koz Lounge for 7 years! What finally came together to get this place off the ground?

DK: I have to say, this is the second Spaghettini restaurant. The owners of the original are two great friends of mine, Cary Hardwick and Laurie Sisneros. Cary came to me about six and a half years ago saying “It’s always been our dream to open in Beverly Hills, and when we do, we want you to be our partner and curate the music!” and I said “Of course!” never thinking in a million years that it’d happen. Through sheer tenacity, it did happen, and I’m probably the most surprised that it exists! It’s an aspect of my career I didn’t see coming but really enjoy very much.

GGM: What can fans expect from your tour with Barry Manilow?

DK: Barry’s been a friend of mine for many years. We’ve appeared on each other’s records. Say what you want about his music, but there’s no better entertainer I’ve seen in my experience! He’s 71 years old, so he’s no spring chicken, but when he gets out there it’s all about the audience. He’s still at the top of his game, selling out arenas!

He asked me last year to open up some shows in the UK, which was a great opportunity. Nobody knows me in the UK. It was so funny. The lights would go down and the place would go bananas, because they were expecting Barry! And then you hear “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dave Koz.” Do you know what the sound of disappoint is multiplied by ten thousand? That is a palpable sound! People were angry it wasn’t Barry! The only thing I could do was join in the fun, so I would walk out and say “I know what you’re thinking. Who are you, and where’s Barry? But he’s not gonna come out any sooner, so let’s have fun for thirty minutes!” I hadn’t opened for many years, and that tool is great to have in your toolbox. When I play for my own audiences, they know my stuff. In the US, our tour will be a little different cuz I’m better known, but it’s that same thing: you have thirty minutes to prove yourself and say “Let’s have some fun. You’re in for an incredible night of entertainment.”

I’m really excited for the tour. Barry has asked me to come out for a couple songs, and we end the show together. It’s a very well thought evening. And I’ve learned so much from that guy, just volumes about performance style and attention to detail. He’s a great songwriter, singer, performer, but he is also a musician’s musician. He’s never satisfied with doing the same thing over and over. He’s a tinkerer.

GGM: You’ve played with a number of incredible artists. What’s your favorite moment of your career?

DK: Wow. I’m gonna give you two. Musically, it was on my last album The 25th of December, a collaborative record. We cast a wide net of guest artists, and we got a number of incredible singers. We got Fantasia, India.arie, Johnny Mathis, Stevie Wynens, Gloria Estefan, but having Stevie Wonder come in, sing, and play harmonica moment on my music had to be one of the most “pinch me” moments anyone could have. But it happened, and he played and sang on “All You Need is Love.” Such a good song for him, as he’s the embodiment of love on the planet!

The other personal highlight was being able to introduce my parents to a president of the United States. It was many years ago, and Bill Clinton. I played one of his fundraisers and my parents were there. I got to have a little pow-wow with the president, and introduce him to my parents. Now that’s every kid’s dream.

GGM: If you met someone who wanted to get into smooth jazz music, but had no idea where to start, what album would you give them?

DK: I would say go back to the basics. David Sandborn and Bob James made an album produced by Marcus Miller. It’s a seminal album in our music, which some people call smooth jazz, others contemporary jazz or pop jazz. Sandborn and Bob James’ Double Vision is what most people would refer to as the classic instrumental album.

GGM: How do you classify yourself?

DK: I call myself a contemporary instrumentalist because I grew up playing all kinds of music. I played everything. I loved it all! I would never classify myself as a jazz musician because I don’t feel like I need to be boxed in like that.

GGM: What’s a non-jazz album or song you’re jamming right now?

DK: I do love that Sam Smith album. It’s pretty amazing. It’s funny—before the Super Bowl, I’d been really into Katy Perry. I appreciate, from a pop standpoint, how well-crafted these songs are, how many hooks there are in them, little musical cookies and candy for people like me who like to analyze why certain songs become hits and others don’t. I like John Legend, Aloe Blacc, and this new kid Timothy Bloom who just came out with an album that knocked me out.

GGM: What are some of your favorite TV shows?

DK: My favorite television show right now is How to Get Away With Murder. I love Viola Davis, and think she’s phenomenal. For a TV drama, it has so much going on. It’s a great show, very well-written, and very well-acted. I’m a total Downton Abbey nut, and let’s see… Matt LeBlanc’s show Episodes has me completely hooked. I still watch every Modern Family cuz it’s really funny. It makes me laugh by myself.

GGM: Favorite movies?

DK: I thought Selma is the best movie I’ve seen in the current crop. I was reluctant to go, but I was completely blown away. I liked Birdman. I loved the Imitation Game. There’s a movie I get asked a lot about, Whiplash, people asking “could that really happen?” and I can’t recall ever being that uncomfortable in a movie theater. I was squirming! JK Simmons will probably win the Oscar, but his character... I can’t imagine that happening in real life. From a musical standpoint, someone like that would never last. And the end… not in a million years would something like that happen. It’s terribly painful. Maybe that’s why it’s getting attention, because people equate “discomfort” with “good” and “artistic.” It’s weird… you don’t do that with food! You don’t want food to make you uncomfortable! Why would we wanna do that with art? I mean there’s a wide range of emotions, but ultimately you want to listen to stuff that makes you feel good!

GGM: Favorite books?

DK: I have a book called The Artist’s Way in my to-do list. I’ve read it before, but I feel like, as 2015 is the 25th anniversary of my first record coming out, it’s a milestone year to look back and reflect. It’s a workshop book for someone in the artistic realm. There’s a book called Setting the Table, a book by Danny Meyer, a guy with 20 different restaurants in New York City. It’s mandatory reading if you’re opening a restaurant. It’s been very helpful.

GGM: Favorite place to eat that isn’t your restaurant?

DK: There’s a sushi place called Yu-N-Mi, a hole in the wall place who makes “blasphemous” sushi. He takes the traditional sushi mold, but gives it a really inventive approach.

GGM: What do you think about the state of smooth jazz today?

DK: The genre came out of a radio format, and that’s always a little dangerous, as radio formats are always in flux. We had many radio stations playing smooth jazz, and then the format changed. There are only a handful of stations left. I think many people look at smooth jazz as a radio format, but at the same time, there’s a whole lot of compelling instrumental music made by really talented artists. I feel like it’s growing now, because without having to be shackled by a radio format that debilitated the growth of our genre, people are making records to make great music!

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