For 15 years, before coming out publicly as gay in an 2004 interview with The Advocate, renowned jazz saxophonist Dave Koz thought doing so was the ultimate gamble: risking his career, fans, and record sales in order to live as his true self.
Much to his surprise, the acclaimed musician received an incredible response after coming out. Not only was he chosen by People magazine as one of their 50 Most Eligible Bachelors that same year, but shortly after, he scored a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Clearly, as Koz wrote in a 2005 op-ed for The Advocate, his fears about what the world would think of him were totally overblown.
“The only thing that really changed was me,” he wrote at the time. “Now I can finally be ‘me’ in every aspect of my life. The big loss I feared never materialized. Instead of losing people along the way, I gained people… and in the most unlikely ways.”
On National Coming Out Day, October 11, 2018, Koz and his band (Gerald Albright, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, and Aubrey Logan) will be nearing the end of their tour for the album Summer Horns II From A to Z, which debuted as the number one contemporary jazz album in the country. But that won’t put an end to the performances: he’ll immediately kick off his 21st annual “Dave Koz Christmas Tour,” and next spring will be performing on an Australian cruise (DaveKoz.com).
Summer Horns II (a follow up to the saxophonist’s 2013 Grammy-nominated release Summer Horns) features 11 timeless tunes reimagined by Koz — including Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song.”
In the 14 years since Koz’s coming out announcement, he has had time to reflect on how things have changed. “Back then, it was a different climate than it is today,” he says now. “There weren’t a lot of music people coming out, especially men. But I had gotten to a place in my life and career that I wasn’t content to continue on not playing with a ‘full deck.’ I was out to my friends and family, but still being in the closet publicly made it feel like I was living two separate lives.” That’s why he made the decision to come out and, as he puts it, “let the chips fall where they fall.”
“If it was going to be the end of my career as I knew it, fine,” he explains. “At least I would be a whole person. When the story finally ran, I was on pins and needles. But then the unthinkable happened: nothing changed. Except me. I was finally freed from the fear. I had tackled the one thing in my life that scared me most, and was able to rise up from it and finally live an authentic life. The fans couldn’t care less, record sales improved, ticket sales as well, and I truly believe that came from finally feeling my complete self. It took me until I was 40 to be able to do that and I still marvel about it today. I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ time for someone to come out. Everyone has to feel it for themselves, intuitively. I guess that was my time. I’ve never looked back since.”
Now, Koz, 55, feels the love of his fans more than ever as he tours the world. “We were coming off of some nice, unexpected success with the first Summer Horns album, having sold really well and earning a Grammy nomination, so it was a little daunting to try and follow that up,” he says. “We’ve been on tour all summer and this show is so much fun. The audience knows every song and the energy in the venues is off the charts.”
The band also has a new sound. The addition of brass in the ensemble (trumpet and trombone) gives the horn section more energy and punch, which is palpable no matter where you’re sitting in a concert venue.
Growing up as a gay kid in the ‘70s, Koz says there wasn’t anyone he could talk to about finding his identity. But music saved him. “I was 13 when I first picked up a saxophone,” he reflects. “I remember the way it made me feel. Almost like discovering a new best friend that I didn’t know existed… In many ways it became my most trusted ally and may have actually saved my life.”
Now he’s able to pay it forward by making music that helps heal. “So many people are now looking to music to help them cope in these strange times we find ourselves in,” he asserts. “I’ve been so humbled by the power of music and the unique way it has to truly inspire, embolden, and soothe… I know that at our shows we’re playing to both Democrats and Republicans, but the whole audience is a melting pot — gay-straight, young-old, all different races. I try hard to steer clear of saying or doing anything that can be divisive, relying mostly on the music to bring people together.”
Music, he says, is “proof that it actually is possible for people with very different backgrounds and points of view to actually get along.” (@DaveKozMusic)