There was a time in American pop music when no song was complete without a sax solo. When Dave Koz takes the stage at the Lobero Theatre on Friday, August 27, with his Summer Horns tour, it will be like that golden age never ended. The platinum-selling artist has made a career in instrumental music by bringing out the jazz potential of pop material. Koz injects both his original songs and classic covers of tunes by good friends of his like Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire with dynamic opportunities not only for his own playing, but also for that of the other talented musicians in his band. Koz understands the importance of a great chart and the thrilling experience of hearing a live horn section as well as anyone in the music business, and that’s exactly what he and his group will deliver at this upcoming show.
Talking about the other players — Kirk Whalum, Mindi Abair, and Vincent Ingala — who will be appearing with him, Koz told me that “most of us started in a section, and there’s still an excitement level to that you can’t get from anything else.” The sound of four horns locked into a single chord is truly unique, and it’s also not something that you can fully appreciate until you’ve experienced it in person. Koz has never played the Lobero before, and it should be a particularly effective venue for the big sound he cultivates with Summer Horns.
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The band is coming off of a successful double bill with Tower of Power at the Hollywood Bowl and a series of live performances that began a month ago in Clearwater, Florida. Of that first gig back after the pandemic layoff, Koz said “I’ll never forget it.” The thrill of being back in front of a live audience after so long was something he said that he “felt in every cell” of his body. At the Hollywood Bowl, Tower of Power joined the Koz band onstage for their encore, a Stax medley that brought down the house.
Although Koz enjoys a long and happy association with the category “smooth jazz,” a judicious listen to his back catalog reveals choices that indicate a wider range of influences than that label might suggest. Take for example 1993’s Lucky Man, his second solo album and a Capitol Records release. It’s a smooth jazz classic, and it paved the way for many more decades of success in that genre, but it’s got guest appearances by Maceo Parker and Clarence Clemons, and a “digging in the crates” deep cut of the dance floor classic “Don’t Look Any Further,” none of which fits neatly into anyone’s idea of easy listening.
The fine players joining Koz have their own claims to pop fame. Whalum played with Whitney Houston for years; that’s his sax soloing on “I Will Always Love You.” Abair has back-to-back Grammy nominations in 2014 and 2015 for her solo albums and has toured with everyone from Aerosmith to Trombone Shorty. At 28, Vincent Ingala represents that next generation that every musical genre needs to thrive, and he’s shown a commitment to the form that clearly impressed Koz, a longtime advocate for instrumental music. For tickets and information, visit lobero.org.