Tower of Power’s “Back to Oakland” was the first album saxophonist Dave Koz ever bought – a nice blasting off point for his highly successful smooth jazz career.
Now the 50-year-old eight-time Grammy nominee and NAACP Image Award winner is coming full circle with his next album, “Dave Koz and Friends Summer Horns,” a salute to horn-rock bands of the 1960s and ’70s. Coming out June 11 on Concord Records, the 12-track album includes a cover of Tower of Power’s “So Very Hard to Go,” with lead vocals by Michael McDonald.
Joining Koz on the album and on a summerlong tour are fellow sax stars Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot and Mindi Abair.
“That horn section on ‘Back to Oakland’ was what got me going when I was a kid,” Koz said. “It was the same with Chicago, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sly & The Family Stone, James Brown, Blood, Sweat and Tears. The list of songs from that era was just so impressive, and they all had that sound, that formula and essence.
“The challenge for us was which ones do you do, then how do you do it without just copying them. We wanted to reimagine them in the context of 2013, not just going down memory lane. In the end, it was a message of camaraderie, of friendship and a combination of forces with Gerald, Richard and Mindi.”
The project came together quickly, with producer Paul Brown lining up other musicians and guest players, like McDonald, Brian Culbertson, Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler and Jeffrey Osborne.
Koz wasn’t sure what to expect when he entered the studio with his three sax friends, but as they started on “So Very Hard to Go,” he knew they were onto something special.
“It formed the basis of what ‘Summer Horns’ is,” he said. “We got some of the original arrangements, like from Tom Scott. He did half of this album. The other part of this was the four of us, all independent artists at the top of their game, coming together with an open heart and mind, trying to come up with a new sound together.
“We all lined up in the studio, setting up four microphones facing forward to each other. Once we did ‘So Very Hard to Go,’ it was so powerful to hear, you could immediately identify the texture to it and the individual sounds. We got excited right away.”
From there, it was smooth sailing, tackling such classics as “Got to Get You Into My Life” (the first single), “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “25 or 6 to 4,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” and “God Bless the Child.”
Koz considers “Summer Horns” the most collaborative effort of his 23-year solo career – though he holds his 2007 album “About the Movies” close to his heart. That all-covers album was produced by Phil Ramone, who died in March at age 79.
“That was a very special album to me, getting to work with such a pioneer,” Koz said. “He was such a powerhouse, but also such a gentle soul. I miss him dearly.”
“Summer Horns” clearly has rejuvenated Koz, “because there’s so much life and energy in this music.”
“It’s going to kick ass live, I can guarantee that,” he said, laughing.