In the fall of 2019, as Dave Koz (playing Friday at the PPL Center with Barry Manilow) was preparing to do his annual holiday tour, he was already thinking about making an ambitious new album.
“At first the idea was to do like a double album or maybe a double EP that would kind of reflect where I had been and then where I would like to go,” Koz recalled in a phone interview. “I even remember ‘Yesterday and Today’ was the working title of that.”
Of course, within months the pandemic hit and it turned everything upside down, including Koz’s plans for a double album. Like many people, the popular saxophonist has struggled to find his bearings in this strange new world of closed businesses and quarantine.
But Koz, who has always been one of music’s busiest artists, hosting two weekly radio shows, hosting cruises, partnering with a wine company, recording albums and doing at least two tours each year, didn’t let the unexpected stop him from being productive.
As a result, when Koz resumed touring last fall, he had not one, but two new albums under his belt.
The first of those albums, “A New Day,” arrived in October 2020, and it’s Koz’s first album of non-party original music in a decade. To some extent, he pursues the idea of making an album that stays true to the musical style of the 10 non-holiday studio albums Koz has released since 1990 (all of which have reached at least the top 5 on the contemporary jazz charts). Like his previous albums, “A New Day” is largely in the realm of instrumental smooth jazz with R&B accents.
The pandemic, however, influenced the upbeat feel of the music and the way “A New Day” was created.
“Immediately when the pandemic hit, it’s March 2020, after the initial shock wore off I was like, well, that’s what I noticed about myself. I was really fumbling, trying to feel better,” Koz said. “And I noticed that it was really through music that I was able to accomplish that, my feel-good music from people I could count on. So it occurred to me that maybe I should get to work and record some music, hopefully to do the same for others.
Of course, the next question was how Koz could work with his collaborating composers and the musicians who would record the material when they couldn’t get together in person. To his surprise, Koz found that working virtually using the internet was a viable way to get things done, and he was able to collaborate with several longtime musician friends, including Rick Braun, David Sanborn, Jeff Lorber, and Bob James.
“It (the album) was incredibly easy to do because everyone was home (and available),” Koz said. “Everybody was really excited about doing any kind of music. I was calling drummers and bass players, people like Nathan East or Paul Jackson Jr. or Jeff Lorber, I was calling them and they said ‘Could you send it (some music) today?’
“I would have loved to get together with people and write in person,” he said. “But in this situation, it had to be what it had to be. So these guys would send me snippets of songs, maybe like a verse, a chorus, say what do you think? Either I heard something immediately or I didn’t. A lot of it kind of inspired me to be a bit more in the moment writing songs.
The more spontaneous approach to songwriting was in part an outgrowth of the second of Koz’s two current albums, “The Golden Hour”.
In February 2020, Koz had reunited with producer/co-writer Cory Wong to compose songs for this album. “The Golden Hour” would be quite a different adventure for Koz, pairing him and guitarist Wong with a big band playing, in many cases, more energetic – sometimes even rockier – songs than Koz’s other albums.
“He inspired me,” Koz said of Wong. “He said to me, ‘I just want you to do one thing, and that’s one thing for me, and that’s not guessing yourself. Let’s go. Don’t try to overthink things. “Let’s just capture these songs in the moment and then we can come back to them and see if we like them. At least in the writing phase, don’t judge. That was really good advice because I’m a total judge during so I think a little bit of that rubbed off on the writing of the song “A New Day”, where I was just able to say “OK, I like this today and let’s finish it and let’s see if it will do it tomorrow”.
Partnering with Wong was done in a unique way. Wong, who has made waves bringing jazz and instrumental music to younger audiences, wanted to meet Koz and explore a collaboration. He devised a plan in which he invited fans at his concerts to record on their phones a short smooth jazz instrumental piece he was playing with his band, post the videos online, and send messages to Koz.
This has certainly caught the eye of Koz, who is opening a short run of shows for Barry Manilow this summer.
“I was like, ‘Who is Cory Wong and why are all these people approaching me online about him?’ Koz called back. “It was kind of funny because I thought it was done with a lot of tongue in cheek and a lot of humor and a lot of his sense of humor, by the way, because he’s all about having fun and push a bit, and the mismatch of it all. Then I liked the deep dive. I was like, ‘OK, who is this person? What is this? And the more I discovered his music and which he does, plus I kind of felt like he was absolutely someone I’d like to get to know.
The two quickly clicked and decided to do “The Golden Hour” project. Songs were ready before the pandemic hit, but the shutdown put live studio recording plans on hold for a while.
“We were originally going to record it in June 2020. That didn’t happen. Then July came and went, and August,” Koz said. “Finally, in September, we all just said, ‘We’re doing this.’ Hell or the tide comes in, we’ll put on our masks, and we all went into the studio, 10 of us musicians, a crew of filming and an audio crew, which was probably about 18 or 20 people, all masked, all very careful. And somehow, in three days, we were able to record this album.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Allentown PPL Center
Tickets and info: pplcenter.com