- Dave Koz keeps Modesto spirits bright for the holidays - Modesto may not get that white Christmas of holiday lore each year, but it certainly seems content to have a jazzy Christmas instead. Since 2010, contemporary jazz saxophonist Dave Koz has brought his popular Christmas show to Gallo Center for the Arts four times. The last time was in 2015, and it returns again this year for a sold-out production Wednesday, Dec. 21.
The smooth-jazz hitmaker and nine-time Grammy nominee celebrates the 19th anniversary of his successful Christmas tour. As in years past, Koz brings a revolving roster of stars with him on the road for the holiday extravaganza. This year's special guests are Jonathan Butler, Valerie Simpson and Kenny Lattimore. “We’re very honored and happy to come back to Modesto. I love the Gallo Center, and it has become a yearly tradition. Nothing makes me happier than seeing familiar faces,” Koz, 53, said in a phone interview with The Modesto Bee from the road in Florida recently.
This year’s tour also has some notable production changes. For the first time, all four artists will be onstage together to start. And Koz has decided to go less high-tech, ditching the big screens that projected in the background in years past. “I feel like in our life now, we have our noses in screens too much. Whether television or iPad, we’re always staring at a screen. This time, there will be no distractions – no big screens,” he promised.
He also said audiences can expect the show to be about 65 percent Christmas-themed and 35 percent artists’ own repertoires. He said picking the performers each year is one part inspiration, one part luck. “It’s a little bit crossing fingers and hoping it works out. Whatever makes for the best show will win. There’s really no ego; we all band together. And I love what it says to the audience,” he said. “These are four artists who could be doing their own show. But this is a microcosm of what life should be. With so much divisiveness and uncertainty, it feels like a nice opportunity to bring people together.”
Koz himself is, of course, no slouch in the success department. The entertainer has had nine No. 1 albums on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Album chart. His last Christmas album, 2014’s “The 25th of December,” spent eight weeks atop the charts. Over the summer, he toured with fellow jazz saxman David Sanborn and opened the U.S. and U.K. dates for Barry Manilow’s “One Last Time!” tour.
Koz, who calls himself a “nice Jewish boy,” said no one is more surprised by the enduring success of his Christmas tour than him. “I feel so blessed and fortunate to have a tour that has lasted this long. We’ve created more of a feeling than concert for many years now. And people make it a holiday tradition,” he said. “I’ve watched kids come to the show, and they are now grown up and come with their kids. That’s the part that makes it special for us.” (The Modesto Bee, 12/14/2016)
- Burnsville Music Teacher Surprised with $35,000 Worth of Donated Instruments - Music teacher Ann Bakken stood in front of her eighth-grade band class Thursday at Nicollet Middle School. With the students' complete attention, she raised her hands and motioned for them to begin playing. They may have sounded like an eighth-grade band, but in time she will have them in tip-top shape. This past fall, Bakken told the school's resource officer and friend, Beverly Price, that she was worried she would not be able to provide enough instruments to her students. "There was a time where there was two or three weeks we were practicing without drumsticks. Some of these kids had nothing for their hands and it just bothered me," she said. And a number of instruments she does have are 45 years old and in bad shape.
Without Bakken knowing, Price contacted the Barry Manilow Foundation's "Manilow Music Project." The project donates instruments and materials to school music programs. "They came through with being able to provide Bakken with all the instruments she needed," Price said.
At the school's band concert Dec. 1, Price surprised Bakken with new instruments worth $35,000. "It still makes me tear up because it's really cool. I'm really passionate about what I do and I want kids to be able to play if they want to play," Bakken said. Bakken says she's thankful to Price for helping her and the kids make sweet music. (KSTP ABC-5 Eyewitness News, 12/9/2016)
- Christmas success surprises no one more than Koz - No one is more surprised than Dave Koz that nearly two decades later he’s still taking his annual Christmas tour on the road. "I can’t believe being a Jewish boy out there doing almost 20 years of Christmas touring," said Koz, calling from Jacksonville, FL ... The "Dave Koz Christmas Tour 2016," which comes to the Rock Hall City for a Dec. 10 show at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre, finds the saxophone player joined by guitarist Jonathan Butler, R&B-gospel crooner Kenny Lattimore and Ashford & Simpson’s Valerie Simpson.
Considering the Christmas Tour was initially designed as a way for Koz and keyboardist David Benoit to deal with unexpected family deaths, it’s apropos Simpson is on the bill. "This is the first time Valerie has been out on the road since her husband passed away five years ago," Koz said. "She’s just a powerhouse. We’re talking about classics like 'Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,' and 'Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).' These are songs we can incorporate in our show giving it such depth that we really never had before."
Koz said this year’s tour is mostly Christmas songs with a Hanukkah medley to boot. Also, there are a few new songs that based on the time of the year and recent events seamlessly fit the show. "It’s often really difficult to introduce new Christmas songs because people want to hear the songs they know," Koz said. "Occasionally we introduce new material and this year because of the passing of Leonard Cohen, Kenny is singing 'Hallelujah.' Now that’s not a Christmas song, but it feels like one. It’s a showstopper and a beautiful moment. We’re also doing a funky song called 'Silver Lining.' People who come to the show will get a nice mix of things that really set them up for a holiday feeling. Hopefully that’ll get them in that mood."
When it comes to Koz’s Christmas wish, he admits Santa already came through in a big way. Not only did the Grammy Award-nominated artist spend the spring opening for Barry Manilow’s swansong tour, but this past summer he hit the road with David Sanborn. "I’ve had more of those dreams come true than any one person can rightfully claim in one lifetime," Koz said. "Whether it’s David Sanborn, being on the road and flying from gig to gig on Barry Manilow’s jet and hanging with him or making music with Stevie Wonder or meeting Nelson Mandela, I can go on and on. At this point, it’s all gravy."
"Dave Koz Christmas Tour 2016" featuring Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore and Valerie Simpson. When: 8 p.m. Dec. 10. Where: State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Tickets: $10 to $69.50. Info: Call 216-241-6000 or 866-546-1353, or visit www.PlayhouseSquare.org. (News-Herald, 12/9/2016)
- Dave Koz to Reunite With Original Christmas Tour Lineup for 20th Anniversary Concerts - Though his latest Christmas Tour is just underway, Dave Koz is already planning next year's trek -- which will mark 20 years since he first took the holiday package on the road. The saxophonist tells Billboard that to commemorate the anniversary he plans to reunite the original Christmas Tour crew of David Benoit, Peter White and Rick Braun in 2017. "A lot of very wonderful energy will be on that, kind of make it full circle," Koz says. "I never thought in a million years we'd be doing it this long. There's a familiarity thing that happens with this music; People hold on to these traditions and somehow we've become part of a lot of people's traditions. It's amazing. The most surprised person about this whole thing is me. I think it deserves to have a celebration of some sort, so next year will be very special."
Koz is high on this year's Christmas Tour, too, of course, which features Jonathan Butler, Valerie Simpson and Kenny Lattimore on a 24-tour itinerary that wraps Dec. 22 in San Jose. Koz notes that it's the first time he's featured three vocalists, and in the contentious wake of this year's presidential election the shows seem to be providing a bit of balm to the crowds so far. "There's such a warmth and energy to these songs," Koz says. "They make people feel good, so innocent. Especially coming off this last couple months of just craziness and divisiveness, it's so reassuring. It does a lot of good for all of our hearts on stage to see people melting a little bit and letting their guard down and hopefully be a little kinder in the holiday season and the new year. We need more of that, common kindness."
Koz, who's released three holiday albums, says his plans for the tour's 20th anniversary may also include some studio time. "I would love to go in the studio and record with the guys, maybe do a little retrospective and some new music," he notes. He's also planning to work on a new album of his own in the new year, although Koz hasn't "narrowed in" on what direction he'll take. Meanwhile, he's also still buzzing about being the special guest on Barry Manilow's One [Last] Time! Tour during the past couple of years, which brought new fans to Koz's own shows. "I just met up with some Manilow fans the other night in Naples," Koz says. "They were there and came backstage and said, 'We saw you with Barry in Florida. This is our first Christmas show and we won't miss any more in the future.' So touring with (Manilow) was an amazing experience for me. He went above and beyond to truly make his fans really aware of me. It was really sweet. I don't know if he'll ever do a big tour like that again, but I'm happy to play with him any time he wants." (Yahoo! News, 12/5/2016)
- Dave Koz at Andiamo, 5 Things To Know - With 19 years of an annual holiday tour in his pocket, Dave Koz has become one of entertainment’s kings of Christmas. Not bad for a nice Jewish boy from Los Angeles. Nevertheless, the saxophonist has spent most of the past two decades gathering some musical friends and hitting the road playing seasonal favorites. The enterprise has outlasted the Smooth Jazz tag Koz and company once labored under and is now [just] an accepted, and expected, part of the annual December Christmas parade... Koz still carries warm memories about being on the road with Barry Manilow during his “One More Time! Tour last year and this. "I just met up with some Manilow fans the other night in Naples," Koz says. "They were there and came backstage and said, 'We saw you with Barry in Florida. This is our first Christmas show and we won’t miss any more in the future.' So touring with (Manilow) was an amazing experience for me. He went above and beyond to truly make his fans really aware of me. It was really sweet. I don’t know if he’ll ever do a big tour like that again, but I’m happy to play with him any time he wants." If You Go: Dave Koz Christmas Tour with Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore and Valerie Simpson. 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7. Andiamo Celebrity Showroom, 7096 E. Foruteen Mile Road, Warren. Tickets are $25-$175. Call 586-268-3200 or visit andiamoitalia.com. (The Oakland Press, 12/5/2016)
- How Joni Mitchell's 'River' became a Christmas classic - Michael Ball, a British stage actor and singer, was watching a performance of traditional Christmas music at a London drama school several years ago when the students unwrapped Joni Mitchell’s "River." Ball said he was somewhat startled, given that the classic 1971 confessional isn’t really a Christmas song ... "River" is a bereft song about a broken romance and a woman who desperately wants to escape her heartbreak, saying repeatedly: "I wish I had a river I could skate away on." The despairing drama just happens to be set around the holidays.
[Ball] recorded a version of "River" for his holiday album, "Christmas." At the time, he thought he was a maverick for placing the song alongside the likes of "Silent Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." As it turns out, plenty of artists have been dreaming of a very, very blue Christmas over the last two decades: "River" - originally featured on Mitchell’s melancholy 1971 masterwork, "Blue" - has become a seasonal favorite ... "We needed a sad Christmas song, didn’t we?" Mitchell said with a chuckle on NPR in 2014.
"River" has long been a popular cover among musicians, more than 500 of whom have recorded it for commercial release. Countless others have performed it in concert ... Mitchell’s composition has been included on dozens of Christmas albums, from Barry Manilow’s "A Christmas Gift of Love" and Tracey Thorn’s "Tinsel and Lights" to Sarah McLachlan’s Grammy-nominated "Wintersong" and Megan Hilty’s new "A Merry Little Christmas."
Various versions of "River" have become hits on the radio stations that play Christmas music and nothing else around the holiday, making Mitchell’s tune one of the rare "new" entries in the Christmas canon, alongside Mariah Carey’s "All I Want for Christmas Is You." "It’s the most beautiful, like, sad Christmas-time song I’ve ever heard in my life," country singer Ashley Monroe recently told A.V. Club. "Every time I sing it I kind of cry a little on the inside." "River" has become popular in Hollywood, too, featuring in the seasonally set movie "Love Actually," in a Christmas scene in "You’ve Got Mail," and in shows from "Glee" and "Ally McBeal" to "E.R.," which used McLachlan’s ethereal version of the song in a dark, holiday-themed episode...
Mitchell told NPR in 2014 that the song is about "taking personal responsibility for the failure of a relationship." "And my generation is known to be a Peter Pan, narcissistic generation ... So it's really that aspect of our inability - 'I'm selfish and I'm sad.' People think that's confessional, but I'd say, in my generation, you think that that's a unique personal statement? ... No wonder there's so many covers of it!" (Washington Post, 12/7/2016)
- The Holiday Albums That Topped the Charts Each Year Since 1987 - With Thanksgiving in the rear view, it's now socially acceptable for those who are so inclined to listen to nothing but holiday tunes from now until Dec. 25th. If for some reason you aren't already deeply attached to a particular set of holiday albums, consult our list to begin your holiday music education. PrettyFamous, an entertainment data site by Graphiq, pulled data from Billboard's Holiday Albums charts to find the holiday albums that topped the rest each yuletide season... Holiday Season '87-'88: "A Very Special Christmas" by Various Artists ... Holiday Season '88-'89: "A Fresh Aire Christmas" by Mannheim Steamroller ... Holiday Season '89-'90: "Merry Merry Christmas" by New Kids On The Block ... Holiday Season '90-'91: "Because It's Christmas" by Barry Manilow ... (Tucson.com, 12/6/2016)
- Annenberg theater wows on opening night - Singer-Actress Megan Hilty has thousands of fans from her break-neck-speed career encompassing some 24 TV appearances on shows such as Bones, The Closer, Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty; plus 10 films, including "Sally" and "Rules Don't Apply" ... And now, judging by last week's applause, Megan has won another 400 + fans who attended the sold-out Opening Night Benefit Concert at the Annenberg Theater in the Palm Springs Art Museum. The sponsors of this lavish event were also treated like stars, beginning with Annette Bloch, who was the Annenberg Theater Council and Diamond Row Sponsor. Close behind came Gold sponsors Donna MacMillan and Arlene Schnitzer & Jordan Schnitzer and Silver sponsor Harold Matzner...
Megan Hilty is one of those performers who makes you feel like you've known her – and loved her – all her life. Between her oldies but goodies numbers like "Someone To Watch Over Me" she chatted intimately with the audience about her life .... "I wanted to be an opera star" ... "That handsome guitar player is my husband and the father of our little girl" ... and (explaining her slightly pudgy figure) I'm five months pregnant .... we only get pregnant when we're coming to Palm Springs." Her show-stopping numbers included "Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend" and a magnificent arrangement of "Autumn Leaves" ... Barry Manilow [was] in the audience.
It is a long-standing tradition for the Annenberg's opening to be held early in the evening, followed by a reception upstairs in the main gallery of the Palm Springs Art Museum ... A major topic of conversation this year was the Annenberg's "Take Your Seat" fundraiser which offers sponsors the opportunity to purchase the seats of their choice for $1,000 and have a name plaque on it, identifying it as theirs’ – forever! ... The proceeds of this program will be used for major renovations to the theater, its equipment, and décor. The Annenberg Theater is located on the ground floor of the Palm Springs Art Museum at 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. Information: 760-325-4490 or Annenbergtheater.org. (The Desert Sun, 12/3/2016)