Musician Dave Koz on Growing up in the Valley & More

Smooth operator.

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  • Written and photographed by
    Rose Eichenbaum

Contemporary jazz artist Dave Koz has spent much of the last 35 years on the road performing in concert halls around the world. But no matter where his tours take him, he says he’ll always remember where his life in music began—the San Fernando Valley. Born in Encino and raised in Tarzana, he took up the saxophone in the 7th grade at Portola Middle School. He was soon playing in his brother’s rock band, doing weddings and bar mitzvahs. 

“If someone told me back in high school that I’d be playing the saxophone for the rest of my life and making a living at it, I never would have believed them,” he says. “I didn’t know it at the time, but the sax became a means to express myself in ways that words could not. This instrument, with the deep inherent humanness in its sound, was a way for me to communicate my deepest emotions.”  

After graduating from UCLA in 1986, he made a deal with his parents that if he couldn’t make it as a professional musician after six months, he’d try something else. His big break came only six weeks later when singer Bobby Caldwell invited him to go on tour with him. Through Caldwell, Dave met keyboardist Jeff Lorber, who hired him and encouraged him to begin composing and recording his own music. A year later, Capitol Records released Dave’s debut album, Dave Koz, which won him his first Grammy nomination. Since then, he’s had numerous #1 hits, including the songs “You Make Me Smile,” “Together Again,” and “Can’t Let You Go.” He’s also collaborated with such big names as Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but the sax became a means to express myself in ways that words could not.”

In all Dave has received nine Grammy nominations and had 11 albums reach #1 on Billboard’s Current Contemporary Jazz Albums Chart.

The artist has never lost sight of his roots, though. “I will always have a soft spot for the Valley—so many happy memories growing up in Tarzana, riding my bike and playing with neighborhood kids. It always felt safe, comforting and inspiring. It will always feel like home to me. Being a Valley Boy is a special part of my identity.”

Valley Boy or not, Dave has become a world citizen. In the mid-1990s Dave started hosting “The Dave Koz Morning Show” on radio 94.7 The Wave. Today you can catch him Sunday mornings on the SiriusXM Watercolors weekly show “The Dave Koz Lounge” for two hours of great music, live interviews and stories. Currently he’s preparing for his next big gig, the annual Dave Koz & Friends at Sea cruise—a seven-day floating music festival aboard the Holland America ship Oosterdam this spring that will sail to ports of call in Spain, Morocco and Portugal.

“The future,” says Dave, “is about finding the inspiration and the creativity to continue producing music that will bring people together, lift them up, and help them find solace, inspiration, warmth and happiness.”