Mike Ragogna: It’s Christmastime, so of course, it’s time to talk to Dave Koz once again. Dave, how are you?
Dave Koz: Doing very well, Mike. Happy Holidays.
MR: Same to you, man. Do you have any plans for the holidays?
DK: Well, we’re going on our Christmas tour, which is about 23 shows in maybe 27 days – that ends on the 23rd of December. Then I’ll get home on the 24th. Then on the 25th, believe it or not, we are taking a family trip to Israel. My sister turned 50 this year and it’s been a life-long dream of hers to take a family trip there. So, I’m leaving on the 25th for Jerusalem and we’ll be spending about 10 days there all together. It should be interesting spending that time in the Holy Land. I should have some interesting stories to tell when I get back.
MR: That’s great, bring ’em! Now, this isn’t your first time to Israel.
DK: No, you’re right. I’ve been there a few times. There was a kid that I played with in college that played there with me a few times, so that was really fascinating. No matter what your religious affiliations are, there’s something about that place that’s like a spiritual magnet, and the history there is off the charts–it’s everywhere you look. It’s a very interesting place. But this will be the first time for some of my family, so it should be a pretty great trip.
MR: Nice. What do the holidays mean to you?
DK: Well, for the last 15 years, we’ve been doing this holiday tour every year, so it really has become about celebrating the holidays with people all over the country. We get to be a part of thousands of people celebrating the holidays with their families. To me, it’s very special. You would think, by this point, I would have run out of Christmas spirit, especially having grown up a Jewish boy in the San Fernando Valley, but I love Christmas music. There’s just something about the songs this time of year that’s like musical comfort food. It makes people feel good and I love being able to help that along. I love seeing people’s faces and watching as they suddenly get into the holiday spirit. I consider it a great honor and challenge to go out and do this. And as far as my family is concerned, it’s always been about being together when we can this time of year.
MR: Beautiful. As you’re preparing for this family reunion trip to Jerusalem, are there any heart-warming stories you can share about the holidays from when you were a kid?
DK: Well, we celebrated Channukah, as you know, and that has eight nights. I used to always enjoy having my friends that weren’t Jewish over for Channukah and imagine their tremendous jealousy that we would get presents eight nights in a row and they only got them on one morning. (laughs)
MR: Oh, come on. (laughs)
DK: That’s not my favorite holiday memory, it’s just the one that comes to mind. (laughs) I think the greatest memories are just of my family getting together. We used to have this menorah that we would light right next to the fireplace during the eight nights. It was a very innocent time, growing up in the Valley with my parents. I miss my parents so much–they’ve been gone for quite some time. We keep the tradition alive with Channukah now, we keep the traditions and light the candles. That’s something that we’ll always have.
MR: That’s great. Let’s chat about The Ultimate Christmas Collection, which is pretty ultimate. How did you choose the track list?
DK: Well, this album is almost like a “best of” collection of my previous albums with two new tracks as the bookends of the album. One of the new tracks is called, “Welcoming The Season,” and it’s an instrumental song that sets the tone of the season and the last one is called “Welcoming The New Year.” A lot of people find themselves surprised at the end of the holiday season when it’s all of a sudden January. It’s cold, you put your decorations and lights away, say goodbye to family…it can be a little bit depressing, you know? The idea behind that last song was to provide a little bit of inspiration and encourage you to open your arms up and give the New Year a big hug, especially since, for a lot of people, this has been a really strange and difficult. Sometimes, the unknown can be a little scary. I mean, what’s going to happen in 2012? Yet, there’s a tremendous excitement involved in a new time. Never before in our lifetimes has there been such a prospect of greatness in our futures, and it takes an attitude of welcoming the New Year and whatever it brings. That was the inspiration for that song. The bulk of the album is collected from the Christmas albums that I’ve done over the years. We tried to put the best of the best on there and give people a good collection.
MR: Nice. Are there any songs that are very close to you personally?
DK: The song “White Christmas” is my favorite holiday song. Something about that song tugs on my heart in a very special way. I know a lot of people feel the same way. Brenda Russell, who sings the track, does an almost unplugged version of the song. I play, David Benoit plays the piano, and then Brenda comes in to sing it the last time–it’s a really beautiful version of the song. I also liked putting the Channukah song on there. It’s called “Eight Candles,” and I wrote it in honor of Channukah. It’s funny because in our Christmas show, there are probably 35 pieces of music over two and a half hours, and as soon as I go into the lobby to sign CDs after the show, what do you think I’m told is the favorite song more often than not? The Channukah song, whether or not the person is Jewish. They love that song. Go figure, right? (laughs) So, that one was an important one to put on the album as well.
MR: Now, just because you’ve put out this collection of your best Christmas music doesn’t mean you’re done recording holiday albums, right?
DK: Well, that’s the funny thing about these songs. There’s a lot of meat on the bones of these songs. They’re like the sum of the standards in the Great American Songbook–they lend themselves to such a tremendous range of stylistic choices. For instance, Michael Bublé has the number one album in America right now and the bulk of that album is classics–though he wrote a few new ones for the album. But he can take those songs and totally go for it in the Michael Bublé style, and then Justin Beiber can do the same songs in his own style. There’s just something about this music that lends itself to artistic rendering, so I could absolutely make Christmas records until I’m a very old man and not repeat myself. I certainly hope I can. (laughs)
MR: I hope you can too. I think the only other people I’ve interviewed that were as wild about Christmas as you are were Ronnie Spector and Richard Carpenter.
DK: Richard Carpenter was a Christmas music genius. In fact, a lot of the Christmas music I listen to is the Carpenter Christmas records. There was something about the sound of her voice around Christmas time because of the innocence in her voice. She was an amazing artist regardless, but there’s something about listening to Karen Carpenter’s voice at Christmas time that feels right. A lot of that was due to Richard–he was an incredible producer. He produced some of the most important music of our time. I mean, you may not think of the Carpenters when you think of them in the same instant as The Beatles, but they created some very important music together that means a lot to so many people.
MR: That’s very beautifully put, Dave, thanks. Hey, every year, you and your entourage tour featuring your Christmas music mainly from the albums. But what holiday songs do you play when it’s just you and your family or whoever around the piano?
DK: Well, I’m a ballad guy, so I love songs like “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” songs that just pull on your heartstrings. That and, “White Christmas” and Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” are my go-to songs. I’m a sucker for sentimentality.
MR: I asked you this, I think, twice before, but do you have any advice for new artists that you’d like to share?
DK: I would say that you should know that one side of this business is exciting and the other is absolutely terrifying. It’s just a no man’s land in this business, particularly the record business. It’s just a very different time. Everything about it is different. For guys like me who started in the old business who are now trying to understand the new rules, you’re looking for solid ground that’s just not there. But if you’re a brand new artist, it’s a bit easier to come into it knowing what you’re dealing with. So, I think it’s a great time to be a new artist because the world is at your fingertips. Everything is changing. You can create your own career without those traditional trappings that we thought we all needed before to get your music out there. You can make a record in your bathroom for very cheap. (laughs) You don’t need to spend a million dollars making a record anymore. The music business has become a much more democratic process. We still need to find a way for it to work financially, but the art is going to prevail. This is going to help great art rise to the surface. Someone described the music business to me as a casino–you gotta stay in the game and play smart. You’re never going to get your big jackpot if you throw your hands in the air and give up. Make shrewd moves, bet smart, and hope that one day, all of that pays off.
MR: That’s great. Dave, thank you so much for taking time out of your holiday schedule to spend some time with us.
DK: Thanks so much for having me, Mike. Happy Holidays!
MR: Happy Holidays to you as well.
Transcribed by Evan Martin