Saxophonist Dave Koz, with nine Grammy nominations and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, regularly sells out large concert halls and namesake jazz cruises. So it’s a bit strange for him to perform on an arena stage each night for thousands of screaming fans — who have no idea who he is.
“These are 10,000 people or whatever that may have heard my name. Maybe,” Koz says. “But for the most part, these people are just seeing me blind: ‘Who is this guy and where’s Barry?’”
As in Manilow.
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Usually the Manilow fans want to fast-forward past Koz’s 30-minute performance so they can swoon to their favorite crooner.
“It’s kind of a funny position to be in because I’m in the way of these people enjoying their favorite artist,” Koz says. “I sort of say, ‘Look, if you hate me, it’s not going to go any quicker, so let’s have some fun.’”
Koz, 52, loves Manilow, too. He grew up in Southern California listening to the pop star, who had his first big hit in 1974 with the song Mandy and his album, Barry Manilow, featuring Could It Be Magic.
“My parents were big fans of his music,” Koz says. “I was born in ‘63, so in the mid ‘70s and late ‘70s, Barry Manilow was everywhere. That was my niche, my music. I watched him sing Mandy on American Bandstand.”
Since then, Koz has become one of the biggest stars in the smooth jazz industry. Since 1990, he’s released 18 albums, including nine that went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Current Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. He just wrapped his 18th Smooth Jazz Christmas tour (“For a nice Jewish boy, by the way. What’s wrong with this picture? Go figure.”) and is about to embark on a sold-out Dave Koz & Friends jazz cruise in the Caribbean.
His most recent album, Collaborations: 25th Anniversary Collection, features three new songs and previously released recordings with stars including Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, Herb Alpert and Manilow.
Koz met Manilow about 15 years ago and they’ve been friends ever since. Two years ago as he prepared for a United Kingdom tour, Manilow asked Koz to be his opening act.
“I had never been asked to be his opening act. As a matter of fact, I haven’t done that slot, to be an opening act in quite a long time. But I jumped at the opportunity because I love him so much as an entertainer and as a musical powerhouse,” Koz says. “I felt like, ‘Oh my God, I can just watch him every day. I could learn a lot.’ And we had so much fun that he said why don’t you come do the states with us for the One Last Time tour. That was a huge success last year and we’re doing more. I guess the One Last Time continues.”
In addition to opening each show, Koz also performs with Manilow.
“I do play with Barry in his show, as well, but there’s always a time when I’ll slip into the audience during his show and just be among these incredibly loyal fans,” Koz says. “I see it night after night. These people, they’re coming for some healing of some sort. That’s the way I look at him: as some massive healer with his music.”
Koz says he’s amazed at Manilow’s staying power. “He’s there and doing shows at 72. He certainly doesn’t need to do this anymore. The fact that he’s there — and not just there, he’s fully embodying the essence of who he is. These are the lessons that I take away with me.”
The two stars complement each other with their “very different styles of music,” Koz says.
“It goes together well,” he says. “There’s so many parallels looking at the way he does things and his commitment to the music. People look at him as a pop star, a great songwriter, singer. But he’s a musician first. And he’s constantly toiling with his songs and arrangements to make them not only new again for himself, but also for the audience so they keep coming back.”
Koz also believes working with Manilow will increase his own fan base.
“No matter how popular we are in our own worlds, there’s always these other worlds we can be exposed to,” Koz says. “Of those 10,000 people [at a Manilow concert], maybe there are 100 people that would be interested in coming to see me sometime when I come back to that city.”
In addition to the music, Koz and Manilow have something else in common: They are among show business’ few openly LGBT pop stars.
Koz came out publicly in a 2004 Advocate magazine interview. Manilow’s personal life became public in April 2015, when People magazine confirmed that he had married his longtime manager, Garry Kief, the year before.
“What better way is there than to have the news break with that kind of piece of information,” says Koz, who is single. “It’s a wonderful thing.
“For all of us, myself included, I thought the sky was going to fall when people found out I was gay,” he says. “Nobody would come and record sales would stop. I created this huge mountain of fear in my head. And when I got on the other side of it, I realized there’s no mountain at all. It was all a figment of my own imagination.”
Koz says that’s how it’s been for Manilow. “It just was a blip on the screen. I don’t think he even thinks about it. Those are the facts and he moves on with his life — and back to the business of entertaining people and creating music and creating healing for people.”
If you go
▪ What: Barry Manilow, One Last Time! with guest star Dave Koz
▪ When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5
▪ Where: BB&T Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise
▪ Tickets: $19.75 to $179.75 via Ticketmaster