Words by Shelton Hull
By the time the Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour performs on Thursday, November 30 at the newly-renovated Florida Theatre (which just reopened on October 28), it will be the sixth of 24 shows they’ve booked for just one month. Koz and co. will be hitting a different city almost every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the last nine shows booked for his home state of California before the tour ends in Modesto on December 23. At this point, Koz is probably best-known for his Christmas music, but the man’s resume runs way deep.
For starters, Koz was touring with Jeff Lorber and Richard Marx in the ‘80s, and worked in the house bands for talk shows hosted by Pat Sajak and (most notably) Arsenio Hall. He also led the band for Emeril Lagasse’s syndicated show, and he did one of the theme songs for General Hospital. He’s hosted his own shows on terrestrial radio, and now on Sirius XM Watercolors.
Born in 1963, Dave Koz has been a top star in the Smooth Jazz genre for four decades now, having released his eponymous debut album in May 1990. There have been at least two dozen since, including four live albums and two compilations. He recorded almost exclusively for Capitol Records through 2010, though he did release albums in 2002 for Artistry Music and in 2005 for Rendezvous Music, a label he started with Hyman Katz and Frank Cody in 2002.
Koz then spent the next seven years with Concord, another iconic west-coast jazz label, before launching Just Koz (great name), which has released his new music since 2020. He was one of the first jazz artists to release new material during the pandemic, which ravaged that genre more than any other. In 2021, he recorded The Golden Hour with the incredible Cory Wong, himself a key member of the beloved Vulfpeck crew, with whom he also recorded in 2018.
More specific to our purposes is the series of Christmas albums dating all the way back to his fourth album December Makes Me Feel This Way, released in 1997. He’s done six such albums in total, probably more than any contemporary artist in any genre that I can think of. His most recent album, in fact, is Dave Koz and Friends: Christmas Ballads (25th Anniversary Edition), which was released just last year. Even if you think you haven’t heard any of this music, trust me, you have, somewhere, at sometime. These albums are the kind of stuff that goes into the permanent holiday playlist, even for casual fans, and form the backbone of a holiday music machine that forms a big part of his business model, in particular the live show that he’s been touring the country with for 26 years now.
Koz’s Christmas tour also features fellow smooth-jazz icon Jonathan Butler, as Rebecca Jade, Marcus Anderson, and “introducing” Justin-Lee Schultz, a rising young talent in that scene. Jade features on Koz’s new album, singing “Happy XMas (War Is Over)”, which is a perfect cover for the times we’re living in. Koz himself features on Schultz’s single “Fellowship”
Like a number of other jazz artists (Joey DeFrancesco comes to mind), Koz runs his own cruise, called Dave Koz and Friends at Sea, which he’s been doing since 2005. The 2024 cruise is called “The Cradle of Civilization”, with two jaunts scheduled for April 30-May 7 and May 7-14, and an itinerary that includes Egypt, Greece and Turkey. You can learn more online, but there’s really no point, because both cruises are already sold out. There are still plenty of tickets for the show here, however, and if it’s not an annual tradition by now, it should be.