Story by ADRIANNE MURCHISON
I received an unexpected treat in December 2016 when my cousin, Michelle Matthews, invited me to the Dave Koz and Friends Christmas concert at Cobb Energy Center. Her fiancé, Carlos, was out of town, but the two have been attending the annual show together since their first date in 2003. Michelle has not missed an Atlanta performance since the tour started in 1997 at Ferst Center for the Arts.
Sitting practically center stage in a second row seat, the show was spectacular for me, a newcomer. In 2016, Valerie Simpson, Jonathan Butler and Kenny Latimore, all of whom have long-established careers in their own right, joined Koz, who is world renowned as a smooth jazz saxophonist.
The crowd was in jammin’ jubilance and sentimental reflection as the musicians rocked the house with holiday songs.
The same experience is promised yet again on Nov. 30 when Dave Koz hits the stage with saxophonist Mindi Abair, keyboardist Keiko Matsi and guitarist and singer Jonathan Butler, who will not escape without singing “O Holy Night,” an audience favorite. This year’s show also features Shelea, an exciting young vocalist who has performed alongside Stevie Wonder and David Foster.
“This concert is so amazing,” my cousin says. “Before I met Carlos, I was there every year whether there was someone to go with me or not.”
Now the couple thinks of the Koz holiday show as part of their anniversary celebration.
Koz spoke to Living about the show and his collaborations with various artists, and says that there’s a mutual feeling of affection with the audience.
Living: How special is the Christmas show for you as performers?
Koz: Last year was our 20th year anniversary. I see families who come with their kids, and they had no kids in the beginning. It’s kind of a surreal thing. It’s such a great time of year to be on tour. Holiday music has so much meat on the bone, if you will. Our special guests’ music is so rich.
When I saw your concert two years ago, I could sense the audience experiencing special moments. Do you all feel that on stage too?
Koz: That’s what we’re going for. Christmas brings up a lot of emotions for people. They let their hearts open up a little more. In places like Atlanta where we have such a wonderful following all year round, this is a capper for us.
Folks know Jonathan Butler, Mindi Abair and Keiko Matsui. What makes Shelea, who is also joining you, your favorite female vocalist right now?
Koz: She is the closest I’ve seen to Whitney [Houston’s] talent. That’s a big comparison. Whitney could deliver something so soft and intimate, and in the same song be able to soar to take you to another planet. It is a pretty big and rare thing to find. I heard about Shelea from no less than a half dozen of my music friends [before I met her]. We were on a trade show together for Yamaha music instruments and she sang a remake of “This Will Be,” and I said, “Now I understand.”
What do you enjoy about collaborating with other artists?
Koz: It’s like [collaborating] was a part of my blueprint as a human being. I trace it back to my mom, who was a total people person and naturally curious about people. She instilled that in me, my brother and sister, and it spilled over into my music. If I was left to my own devices, I would probably play the same songs and licks over and over.
You’re taking who you are, and collaborate and bring who they are, and you overlap and find things that you didn’t know existed and wouldn’t be able to access [otherwise].
This is an art that is lost now. [For political] leaders, it should be mandatory by law to play in a band because you have to listen. We can all learn a lot from music. It’s such a pure language. With music, you have to be aware and open to listening and communicating properly.
The brass section
Dave Koz is just off his Summer Horns Tour with saxophonists Gerald Albright and Richard Elliot, trumpeter Rick Braun and singer Aubrey Logan. The quintet performed tunes from their 2018 jazz album “Summer Horns II A-Z.” The artists serve up their rendition of classic songs on the high-energy record.
“We all share the same passion for being part of a horn section,” Koz says. “We wanted to celebrate on the album — to come out guns blazing and with all this great repertoire. I can see it on people’s faces [in the audience]. The excitement is undeniable.”
“Friendship is at the core of everything we do. We are just there to support each other. I love being able to put that on stage. Together we are all much bigger than one of us alone.”Holiday Concerts: Songs, carols and holiday cheer
As the song goes, bells will be ringing and choirs will be singing this season. In addition to the Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour, we have seven more shows to keep you in the holiday spirit.
Will Downing’s Soulful Sounds of Christmas with Eric Benet and Eric Roberson. Will Downing has delivered a musical Christmas season to fans for years with various guest artists. This year’s blend of R&B, neo-soul and instrumental mastery is sure to inspire swoons.Nov. 25. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway. 770-916-2800. cobbenergycentre.com
Sing! An Irish Christmas. Keith and Krysten Getty and their instrumentalists bring an Irish Christmas, performing carols and hymns in their seventh annual tour. Nov. 28. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway. 770-916-2800. cobbenergycentre.com
The Piano Guys: Christmas Together. The quartet performs songs from their holiday albums which feature “What Child is This, “Mary Did You Know” and “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Placido Domingo performs on their 2017 record. Dec. 1.Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway. 770-916-2800. cobbenergycentre.com
Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Vocalist Vuyo Sotashe and Veronica Swift are special guests for the holiday performance that promises to be dazzling. Dec. 10. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-733-4900. atlantasymphony.org
Home by Dark Christmas. The country music singer-songwriter ensemble performs songs of season. Dec. 13. Infinite Engery Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 770-626-2464. infiniteenergycenter.com
Jewel’s Handmade Holiday Tour. The singer-songwriter is joined by Atz, Atz Lee and Nikos Kilcher from the Discovery Channel’s “Alaska: The Last Frontier.” A pre-show will feature an artisan gift event. Dec. 19. Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. 770-206-2063. citysprings.com/events
Boston Brass — Christmas Bells are Swingin. French horns, tubas, trombones and more are in store for this celebration of holiday classics. The band’s more than 30-year career is renowned. Dec. 22. Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, 1 Galambos Way, Sandy Springs. 770-206-2063. citysprings.com/events
Classic Nashville Christmas. Jason Petty and Katie Deal bring Christmas songs and storytelling to the Live! In Roswell Series. Dec. 22. Roswell Cultural Arts Center, 950 Forrest St., Roswell. 770-594-6232. roswellgov.com