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MUSIC Out musician Dave Koz releases his own 'Summer' sequel
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Summer may be known for movie sequels—but out saxophonist Dave Koz is doing his own take on the phenomenon.

On June 22, he'll drop Summer Horns II: From A to Z, five years after releasing Summer Horns, a Grammy-nominated album that paid tribute to classic songs featuring killer horn sections. "From A to Z" features collaborations with musicians such as Gerald Albright, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot and Aubrey Logan, with guest vocalists Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore, Shelea—and Gloria Estefan; songs include remakes of everything from the late Natalie Cole's "This Will Be ( An Everlasting Love )" to the oft-covered classic "Route 66."

The conversation picks up after Windy City Times and Koz exchanged pleasantries.

Windy City Times: Since the last time we talked, in 2015, there's been a massive change in the political landscape.

Dave Koz: Yes, that's true. No comment. [Laughs] So that's kept you busy, I'm sure; I hope you're not going insane.

WCT: I'm trying not to. Now, this new album is a sequel. What led to Summer Horns II: From A to Z?

DK: Well, the last time we did it was five years ago. The first Summer Horns project was like a one-off—just a little project. We did two tours of summer shows behind that and had such a blast. In the back of my head, I knew we would do another album; we were just waiting for the right time—and it seemed like late last year was the right [time] to do it for this summer.

One of our principals from the last go-round, Mindi Abair, had already committed to something else so she couldn't do it. We thought about delaying it, but we decided to move ahead, thinking about how we can change the sound in this new iteration. We decided to incorporate brass this time; the last time, it was just four saxophones. This time, we added trumpet, with Rick Logan; we also added Aubrey Logan, who's an amazing singer but who also blows the bejesus out of a trombone. She's really on the cutting edge of music.

This new lineup gave us an opportunity to look at a lot more of the repertoire because this is a full horn section, with brass and woodwinds. The sound itself is so powerful. What happened was a very inspired project in which we reimagined these classic songs in a new way—and, hopefully, it'll bring a lot of smiles and happy memories to people. 

WCT: I certainly recognize some of your longtime collaborators, like Gerald Albright and Kenny Lattimore. And Jonathan Butler—I remember him from his [1987] hit "Lies."

DK: Oh, yeah! The core of the group is Gerald, Richard Elliot, myself, Rick Braun and Aubrey Logan, but we wanted some great vocalists. Aubrey does a great job with Gloria Estefan's "Conga"—and then Gloria wanted to sing on the album after giving us her blessing, which blew us all away. Aubrey was a psycho fan of Gloria growing up—and, now, she had her idol singing back-up for her.

Kenny Lattimore and Shelea gave a very inspired performance on "This Will Be." Jonathan Butler, with his South African influence, was tailor-made for the Paul Simon classic "Late in the Evening." 

There were a lot of fun collaborations and mash-ups. We took the Duke Ellington song "The A Train" and mashed it up with the Jay-Z song "Roc Boys"—which gave the album its title: from "A Train" to Jay-Z. This was such a fun project, Andrew—and now we're going to take it on the road.

WCT: Having Gloria Estefan sing back-up is a bit intimidating, isn't it?

DK: Yes, but she's a giver. I remember doing a PBS special with her; she was out there for MY sound check, talking to the people to make sure I was comfortable. She wanted to make sure we were taken care of; she's a mama bear. It's one of the many reasons I love her so much.

WCT: I heard a few songs on the album. I had reservations about "Getaway," to be honest—but you guys pulled it off. [DK: Thanks!] You've alluded to it a bit with a few songs, but how did you decide which songs would be on this album?

DK: Last year, in December, we were all on the road, we'd have weekly conference calls with the principals and the record companies. We'd have these spirited, good-natured sessions in which people suggested songs. It was fun because it gave us a chance to fight for the songs we wanted. The first song list had about 150 songs, and we had to get down to 11. We felt very confident about those 11; there wasn't any fluff. It was almost alchemic—the right notes, arranges and songs, and they fell into place. I'm really proud of how it came out—great sound and a lot of energy.

WCT: Last time we chatted, we talked about younger artists you would like to collborate with, like Janelle Monae, Frank Ocean, Alicia Keys... Have you had a chance to connect with them?

DK: No, I have not—but there's always that possibility of the future, and that's what keeps me going.

I had a fun one last year in which I got a chance to play on the Foo Fighters album. Then, Dave Grohl asked me to perform with them at this huge rock festival in Southern California. Of course, I did—and that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I've had a long career, and I feel very blessed that it's still going strong. This is actually just the "gravy" part; I just try to savor everything right now with his long career.

WCT: Long career? You told me you were 28! [Laughs]

DK: That's right. ... I'm 28. [Laughs] It's interesting—it's one thing to come out as gay, but to come out as gray.! That's happened since the last time we talked—and it was the best decision I ever made. It was like taking off another mask. Some people say I actually look younger with gray hair.

WCT: It's interesting because the younger people have been dyeing their hair gray.

DK: I know! I've been trying to get rid of mine for 25 years, and now they're doing this. I'm, like, "Geez—have some of mine!" [Interviewer laughs.] I started dyeing my hair in my 20s, and you get hooked on it. After, you're thinking, "Why did I let that drive me for so long?" It's about letting the real me out, now.

WCT: Of course, your album is dropping during Pride Month. What does Pride mean to you?

DK: It's certainly changed over the years. I was a very closeted gay kid, and had no resources, like a lot of other gay people. It's a generational thing, of course.

When I was a kid, I was a stranger in my own family. The saxophone became my best friend; I could work out all my emotions. Thank God I had that—it kinda saved my life.

But when I finally got enough strength to come out to my friends and family, Pride became a very important part of my life. I went to all the Pride parades in Los Angeles, and got addicted to that feeling to showing up with my full breadth of colors, you know? That was a great experience for me during my formative years.

Then there was coming out to the public at 40—15 years ago. It was the best thing I ever did, but Pride became a different feeling for me. Now, seeing how far we've come, Pride has again changed; I feel like we've come so far, but we have a long way to go. It's a complex world we live in regarding gay rights, but it's been amazing to see how things have [changed]. I didn't think, when I was a kid, that same-sex marriage would happen in my lifetime.

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