Even though he was raised Jewish in Southern California, saxophonist Dave Koz always had a thing for Christmas and its music — especially a snowy song written by Irving Berlin in 1942.
“My parents actually loved Christmas music,” Koz recalls, “and I used to love going over to friends’ houses and trimming the tree and having Christmas Eve dinner. I loved all of the traditions [associated with the holiday].
“ ‘White Christmas,’ to this day, is my favorite Christmas song,” adds Koz, who recorded a version of it for his first Yuletide-themed album, 1997’s December Makes Me Feel This Way. “As an instrumentalist, I look for a melody that really speaks: It’s almost like you don’t have to have the words, especially with a song like that. The emotion is so familiar to people. It’s such a great melody — so much meat on that bone for an instrumentalist to get into. It never lets me down. I don’t play it every year, but I am playing it in the current show.”
What Koz is referring to is his annual Christmas tour. Joining him for the 19th edition are three singers: Jonathan Butler, Valerie Simpson and Kenny Lattimore.
“We’ve never had three singers as our special guests,” Koz says. “And we’ve never had as much ensemble work. It’s a different twist to the show, and people seem to be loving it so far.”
Koz’s 2016 Christmas tour began Nov. 25 in Sarasota, Fla. When asked whether it’s strange to be performing cold-weather-themed Christmas music in a warm climate, he is quick to give a wide-ranging answer that includes some noteworthy history.
“I’m from Los Angeles, and we had a week of rehearsals in Burbank, where the average temperature was about 85 in November — thank you, global warming,” Koz says with a laugh. “Here’s an interesting fact about Christmas music: Most Christmas songs are written in the dead of summer. In fact, there’s one song that we do in the show that was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in the summer of 1945 in Hollywood, during a heat wave. I think it was 110 outside, and inside, they turned the air conditioner way up so that it was freezing. And they came out of the studio that day having written ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’
“Can you imagine writing ‘Let It Snow!’ in 110-degree weather? It’s like, you have to put yourself in another position, and that’s kind of the way it is [starting the tour] in Florida. Put your mind in Chicago, Philadelphia or Cleveland.”
More than any other category, “Christmas music might be the most emotional because of all the memories that we attach to it,” according to Koz.
“It’s a funny thing: People keep trying to write new Christmas songs, but the average person just wants to hear the songs that they know,” he says. “It’s almost like comfort food; you want to put on that old sweater that every time you put it on, it feels so good. That’s my perception of it.
“We keep coming back to the familiar songs because they’re phenomenal pieces of music, many of them written in the same time period that the Great American Songbook was written. The more religious Christmas music dates back to the beginning of time, probably. These are songs we’ve heard over and over. We track them with our emotions; they remind us of simpler times and our families.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Dave Koz Christmas Tour 2016 (schedule subject to change):
• Nov. 29: Ruth Eckerd Hall — Clearwater, Florida
• Nov. 30: Sunrise Theatre — Fort Pierce, Florida
• Dec. 1: The Florida Theatre — Jacksonville, Florida
• Dec. 2: Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre — Atlanta
• Dec. 3: National Theatre — Washington, D.C.
• Dec. 4: Scottish Rite Auditorium — Collingswood, New Jersey
• Dec. 6: Town Hall — New York
• Dec. 7: Andiamo Celebrity Showroom — Warren, Michigan
• Dec. 8: The Palladium — Carmel, Indiana
• Dec. 9: Palace Theatre — Columbus, Ohio
• Dec. 10: Playhouse Square/State Theater — Cleveland
• Dec. 11: Chicago Theatre — Chicago
• Dec. 13: Plaza Theatre Performing Arts Center — El Paso, Texas
• Dec. 14: Ikeda Theater — Mesa, Arizona
• Dec. 15: Fox Tucson Theater — Tucson, Arizona
• Dec. 16, 17: Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts — Cerritos, California
• Dec. 18: The Balboa Theatre — San Diego
• Dec. 20: Weill Hall at the Green Music Center/Sonoma University — Rohnert Park, California
• Dec. 21: Gallo Center for the Arts — Modesto, California
• Dec. 22: City National Civic — San Jose, California