Dave Koz is a lucky man. For one thing, the guy has never had a real job. The smooth-jazz star has always earned his keep, and then some, through his nimble-fingered command of the saxophone, from playing weddings and bar mitzvahs in his older brother's band in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, to touring the world right out of college with Richard Marx, to going gold with just his second record, 1993's aptly titled Lucky Man. And yet ...
Despite all his success--don't forget the perennially sold-out Christmas concerts or the internationally syndicated radio show or Saxophonic, the new album that's already caught a Grammy nomination--Koz felt like there was a piece missing in his particular puzzle. He hadn't come out.
"It's a big deal, and it's not a big deal," he says at a serene tonic-and-tea joint in West Hollywood. "For the most part, I've been out in my personal life and even in my professional life to a certain degree." But it was that last step that kept the ever-youthful Koz (who spoke with The Advocate days before his 41st birthday) at bay until now.
Did you always know you wanted to be a professional musician?
The reason I chose the saxophone was because of my brother. The only way that I could be in [his] band was to play that instrument, because all the other instruments were taken. I said, All right, saxophone it is! I'd never played before. I didn't really feel like I had a lot of musical aptitude until I picked up the sax. It's really like funding another part of my body. It was an extension of me immediately.
But I never entertained the idea of being a professional until I graduated from UCLA, because, the truth is, I'm a very shy guy. I was very happy being the side man growing up. It was probably having to do with what was going on inside of me. I was just happy to blend in, you know? Not really be this guy who wanted to stick out.
Does it bother you that some people think of "light" jazz as if it's Diet Coke, like a more palatable version of jazz for the masses?
It used to bother me terribly, but I let it go. I found that as long as I was malting the music for me, [music] that was inside of my heart and was uniquely me, then people can say what they want [about] smooth jazz, or pop instrumental, or light jazz, to use your term--which I hate, by the way. If you listen to my music, it's really not that much jazz. I play the saxophone, and that's why people equate it with jazz, but it's really pop, R&B music with a saxophone melody instead of somebody singing.
I totally get that.
We have never had any credibility, our genre of music. But credibility is an important issue. Credibility is one of the main reasons why I feel like now is the time to bring [my sexuality] to my music, to my professional life. My road manager for 10 years--he's like my older brother, my sage, my guru, if you will--passed away this last year from cancer. A few days before he passed away, I was telling him that I was contemplating [coming out], and he said, "Credibility can only be achieved when you find truth in yourself." He just said it, and I was like, OK, I gotta write that down. And it's true. This is about being truthful, about authenticity. Musically speaking, some of the critics don't find authenticity in the music, but it's coming front a truthful place.
That's quite a coming-out pep talk.
It's interesting, because my commitment right now to putting all the cards on the table, professionally speaking, is a commitment to myself to write a new script. I realized that this 10-year-old boy--I'm talking about me--wrote my life script. OK, this is a part of me, but I'm just going to keep it dormant. I'm just going to push it down, push it away, and I'm going to be able to fill that void with other things.
And you wanted to change it.
I realized within the last couple of years that I'm still living right now with this script that that 10-year-old boy wrote for me, and there's no reason to do it anymore. …