Meet Dave Koz, the ‘nice Jewish boy’ who specializes in popular Christmas shows

Meet Dave Koz, the ‘nice Jewish boy’ who specializes in popular Christmas shows –

As saxophonist Dave Koz prepared for his upcoming holiday tour, he paused to reflect on the irony of it all: “A nice Jewish boy, 19 years of Christmas shows, what’s wrong with that picture?”

The tour, which this year features special guests Jonathan Butler, Kenny Lattimore and Valerie Simpson, arrives at Collingswood’s Scottish Rite Theatre Dec. 4. The only other show in the tristate area is at New York’s Town Hall Dec. 6.

It began, the nine-time Grammy nominee explained, after his father died unexpectedly in 1997. Pianist David Benoit, a close friend, lost his mother around the same time. The two mourning musicians decided to perform a series of shows together because “what better way was there to honor our parents than to play shows at Christmas,” a holiday focusing on family togetherness?

They played six or seven shows that year, Koz said, “We never thought it would go on to year two, much less year 19.”

The show’s beginnings were about family and it continues for the same reason, he said: Families across the country have made attending the show part of their holiday ritual.

“People come with open arms and open ears and in a festive mood you don’t find during the rest of the year,” he said.

Koz, who has had nine No. 1 albums on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, may be one of the busiest men in show business. He seems to always be on tour, most recently this summer with saxophonist David Sanborn as part of their “Side by Side” Tour. He’s hosted the Dave Koz Radio Show, a two-hour, internationally-syndicated radio program, for more than 20 years.  For the last few years, he’s been the headliner on themed cruises that bear his name — the two one-week 2017 trips are already sold out.

In 2014, he joined the musicians behind Post-Modern Jukebox to record a killer version of “Careless Whisper.” He’s already planning the 20th annual holiday tour, expecting Benoit to join the show again.

“It’s all smoke and mirrors. I’m not that busy,” he said, adding that touring is what really pushes him forward. “It’s fun. The fun aspect is what buoys me.”

The show’s rotating guest line up helps keep it fresh, Koz said.  This year, for example, the show will include a Motown medley of songs co-written by Simpson and her late husband, Nick Ashford, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”

“When you have someone like Valerie, who has given us so many classic songs, to not do those songs would be shooting ourselves in the foot,” Koz said. “Like Christmas, Motown is part of our culture. It makes us feel good.”

There will also be performances repeat fans hanker for, including Koz’s performance of “Eight Candles (A Song for Hanukah).” Jonathan Butler, a tour veteran, has gained a following for his rendition of “O Holy Night,” Koz said.

“People will tell me flat out that that’s why they come to the show,” he said. “I say, ‘What about me and the saxophone and all the other songs?’ And they say, ‘Nope.” But as long as they’re coming, I’m happy.”

Koz calls music “the humble healer.” He suspects that some people need a dose of musical medicine after the tense presidential campaign season and election.

“It’s like pouring water on a sidewalk: it gets into places you didn’t know it could get to,” Koz said. “That’s what music does to the soul. It sneaks into places a person needs it to go and it makes people feel better.”

Dave Koz and Friends 19th Annual Christmas Tour

Featuring Dave Koz, Valerie Simpson, Kenny Lattimore and Jonathan Butler

Dec. 4, 7 p.m.

Collingswood Scottish Rite Theatre, Collingswood

Tickets: $42.50-80, available online at Ticketmaster.

Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She can be reached atnataliepompilio@yahoo.com. Find her on Twitter @nataliepompilioFind NJ.com/Entertainment on Facebook.koznjcom1