Duet – Dave Koz vs Ari Gold
Their collaboration on the song “Love Wasn’t Built In A Day” from Ari Gold’s new album Transport Systems just won the 2007 Independent Music Award for Best R&B Song. Enduring stars from two generations of the music industry exchange their differences and discover their common ground. One of them is a contemporary jazz saxophone legend whose latest album At The Movies is nominated for two 2008 Grammys. The other one is a pop sensation with a sweet voice, an even sweeter mug, and a hot new album. Meet Dave Koz and Ari Gold , and join them for a conversation about music and breaking the rules.
Conversation between two performers: Ari Gold and Dave Koz.
Ari Gold: What’s happening?
Dave Koz: Everything …
Where are you?
I’m in the greater Reading, Pennsylvania locale. You can’t stop me from being here.
Why would I want to stop you?
I dunno, because I’m here in Reading, Pennsylvania.
[Laughs] Are you doing a Christmas concert there?
Cool. I am coming to see it in New York at the Beacon.
I’m very excited. How are you?
I’m great! Just here at the office of movmnt. This issue is supposed to be about contrasts, and I think in some ways we’re alike and in some ways very different.
Well, you have a lot more gold clothing than I do.
Right, a lot more Jew-bling! We are both Jewish and we are both gay. I guess that’s not a contrast, that makes us alike. You are a featured guest on my song “Love Wasn’t Built In a Day,” and I get a lot of statements from interviewers saying, “It’s such an unlikely collaboration.” I don’t know if its something about me or something about you, or the kind of music I make, or the kind of music you make. I mean, to me, the kind of music you do is classified as smooth jazz but I don’t see it as all that different. I mean, it’s soul music, it’s got that R&B thing to it. So I wanted to hear your thoughts about that.
For me, generally speaking, you are perceived as the epiphany of being hip and cutting edge and controversial, right? You push boundaries, and that’s what your whole thing is about. I’m so not that. I’m so safe and comfortable and older… very few gays typically like smooth jazz. Your music is more in the sweet spot of what stereotypically would be considered music that gay people enjoy, although I say that and it sounds funny coming out of my mouth to begin with because everybody has their own musical tastes.
I’ve always loved smooth jazz. I am that gay that loved Madonna growing up! Anita Baker, Sade, George Benson—I love those artists too! And you of course. People think gay people only like thump-de-thump dance music but that’s not really true. That’s not the kind of music I make, except for a remix perhaps, or an occasional house treat I’ll put on my album.
If the world ran at the speed of musicians, I think we would have a lot more peace because musicians have this certain quality of finding a common ground that other people can’t find. You put two musicians together (I’ve seen it so many times at so many places) and you would never expect there to be harmony between two people coming from completely different areas. Yet they somehow find a way to communicate. This is just another example of two musicians from completely different areas able to make music. And you know what? For me it was the easiest thing in the world because you’re so musical. You’re incredibly gifted and I can relate to you on many levels, other than just music, too. So, it was a very natural thing for me to just go in there and play because I just thought this music was great and I liked the guy who was singing.
Well thanks, Dave! [Laughs] When one has such a high level of musicianship as you do, you really can play any genre. I’ve been to your concerts and you get quite a hip crowd. People are totally psyched to hear your music. I think it’s about misconceptions in a lot of ways. People have misconceptions of what smooth jazz is or what gay music is. How about I’ll give you some of my gays and you give some of your soul sisters and then we’ll have the best audience ever!
Deal! Also, I play an instrument. You sing, and that’s very different. It’s all about mood enhancement. There are times when people just want to have that musical accompaniment without lyrics coming at them. That’s one of the biggest compliments people say about my music; that it gives them an empty canvas, the blank canvas in which they can paint their own picture. Some of the music is really melancholy and brings up a lot of memories, and the other music is very jubilant. My favorite comment from one person is, “I will not vacuum up my house unless I am listening to your music.” So now I am America’s favorite vacuuming music. Thank you very much.
That’s hilarious. I’m not even gonna ask what people do while they listen to my music! [Laughs] I think if people just sat down and really listened to the music, they’d be able to let go of, “Oh, well this is gay music, and its supposed to be in this box. And this is instrumental music, and it’s supposed to be in that box.” I remember reading your coming-out article in the Advocate when you talked about being gay and doing smooth jazz.
The fact that I’m gay plays no role whatsoever in my music. I think it plays more of a role in your music than it does in mine.
I can’t imagine that you would say you are a gay artist versus an artist who happens to be gay. I would say that the latter is more how you would refer to yourself, rather than the former. Is that correct?
Actually, I always talk about exactly that issue because I don’t care if people call me a gay artist. I don’t really think that I just happen to be gay. Being gay is a huge part of who I am. It influences all the other parts of my identity and what I want to say as an artist. It’s not all of me by any means, but when I hear the I-just-happen-to-be-gay thing my back goes up as if there is something shameful about being gay. I make a specific point to write about gay stuff. And I’m working with lyrics, while you are not. In my music there are stories that I’m telling that are sometimes very literal. You might be telling stories with your music, but they are more figurative.
Your experience drives your music certainly more than my gay experience drives my music, so it’s just a different point of view. I’ve never come from that point of view, personally, although who I am obviously goes into who I am on record and in concert. But it’s not so much in the forefront.
Right. You have been signed to Capitol Records for 20 years. Who is signed to a major label for 20 years? Not many people.
There have been a lot of people on Capitol. Just keep your head down, don’t make any sudden movements, and hope for the best.
I don’t think anyone in smooth jazz has come out of the closet before, right?
Not that I know of. There are gay jazz musicians—one is a big hero of mine. His name is Gary Burton. He is one of the best vibraphonists and jazz educators in the world, and he is a wonderful guy. He is the Dean of Students at the Berklee College of Music. He has also played with everybody and is probably most known for his work with Pat Matheny. I talked to him before coming out.
Do you think that anything has changed for you since you came out? Do you think anything has changed for the smooth jazz community?
Ari, everything has changed, although on the surface nothing has changed. It was a blip on the screen, a non-event. If anything, everything got better, sweeter. Only from my perspective, I could be a complete person for the first time. All my worlds became one. And I was able to play for the first time in my life with a full deck of cards. It’s allowed me to be much more confident, much more relaxed, much more appreciative of all the sweet moments. It’s more of an internal thing that everything has changed, as opposed to an external thing. There was a very large possibility of my career being over as I knew it. Even though I didn’t think that would happen, it was a possibility, so I had to be prepared to say goodbye. That did not happen, and in fact that year, I was riding high on an album called Soxophonic. It produced the most successful year I’ve ever had on radio. I had the biggest concert ticket sales of my career. Everything just became bigger and better. I don’t know why. I don’t know if the two had anything to with it. For me, it was just proof that when you show up in your life as who you are, there are only rewards that come. That doesn’t necessarily mean just about being gay, but about whomever the person is. Why hold back on any aspect of all the great things that you are. Put it all out there, step fully into your shoes, and then go ahead and walk, baby!
Do you think I’m putting it all out there, Dave?
I think you are. [Laughs] You are definitely doing that. That’s one of the reasons I have so much respect for you as a person. You are making up your own rules to this establishment. You´re saying, I don’t need to do it your way; I don’t wanna do it your way. And especially now, it’s the perfect time for someone like you because you don’t need a major label. Nobody needs a major label now. Music is more democratic than it ever has been before. Artists like Alicia Keys are selling three-quarters a million in a week, and it’s great to know people are still buying music. That’s a certain type of artist; mass appeal, big record company, lots of money, swinging for the fences. There’s this huge gaping hole between those artists and everybody else. I think that is where the excitement in the music business is with artists such as yourself (and me to a certain extent); super serving our core fans and giving them the experience of enjoying the music on a more personal level.
I totally hear you, and I agree. I’m just wondering if you think that one of the reasons why Alicia Keys is so universal and on such a big scale is because of the amount of money that is put into her promotion? I’m not trying to take away from her obvious talent, but she is a black woman who’s speaking from that experience. Why is that more universal then what I sing about? I know historically there is definitely a bigger precedent for black female singers to be popular than “out” gay ones. But I still wonder why certain things are deemed universal and other things not.
In my experience as an artist and a human being, there is one thing that I can boil it all down to. If we can master this concept, then we can take a lot of pressure off of ourselves. That concept is timing. Who’s to say that you’re not gonna have your moment when you’re gonna swing to the fences and hit a home run. It will happen. Maybe it’ll happen next week, but it’s really about timing. The time for Alicia Keys is now. It’s her message and the way that all the entities are conspiring around her to get her message out. I’ve had base hits, I’ve had doubles, but I’ve never had a home run. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen for me in the future. So what are you gonna do? You don’t just give up, you just do what you do. And what I do is to keep on. Just keep going. The whole thing will slowly but surely come.
A manager of mine (not my current one, but the one I started with) said, “Hey man, it would be great to have the icing on the cake, sell a million copies, have this and that. But we’re building a great cake, and a cake is a lot better than the vast majority of people out there.” Maybe one day that icing will come. You really have to be driven to be an artist of any kind in the US. You can’t just wait for other people to make it happen for you.
I learned that lesson!
I am significantly older than you, Ari, although I’m not gonna tell the folks how much older!
Well I guess there’s another contrast. [Laughs]
I’ve never met anybody quite as driven as you.
You always say that! That’s so not true!
It’s so true.
You make me feel like I’m some crazy machine or something. I don’t think of myself like that! By the way, I’m building up my cookies, not my cake.
Ok, cookies are good.
You mean my cookies are good? [Laughs] I hear what you’re saying about the timing thing. I definitely feel like sometimes because I’m trying to, in certain ways, blaze a trail that hasn’t been done before, it creates more challenges. It can be very rewarding in that way though.
I mean you take these things that happen for you, like being included as one of the 100 most influential people in gay culture. I would think that you would take that in and say, “Wow, look at what I’ve done on my own (of course with the help of my friends and my support team). I took this outside of the system and look at this reward I’ve gotten.” I mean that’s huge, and I hope that you reflect for a moment on the fact that you did that.
I appreciate you saying that Dave. I do reflect on it. And my theory on why certain people like, say Britney Spears, go crazy is because they lose the connection between what they’re doing, the process, and the outcome of the process. They become these huge stars and they don’t really know how that happened because there’s so much going on behind them that they’re not even privy to. But I do appreciate the fact that every award or reward I’ve received, I know how it happened and the work that went into getting it. Not to take the credit away from the spirits, or God, or whatever you wanna call it, but it’s very gratifying when you get that because you know it’s from your own hard work and not because some corporation may have put lots of money into you. I just got a call from the USA Songwriting Competition to tell me that I won the grand prize for my song, “Where the Music Takes You.” I specifically remember submitting for it and saying, “Well, if I don’t get something this is the last time I am doing one of these competitions!” And then the song not only won first prize in the pop category, but the grand prize through the entire competition of over 33,000 people! Denzel Washington was just on Oprah saying that an award is what man gives, and a reward is what god gives. Isn’t that cool?
That’s so cool.