Not Fade Away
Dave Koz & Friends' Holiday Tour Features Singer-Songwriter Melissa Manchester

By Lee Valentine Smith

No matter the season, Dave Koz finds a way to celebrate the moment. After his swaggering Summer Horns shows wrapped in September, he's heading back out on the road with a new tour, a new set of friends and a new holiday album.

Gifts Of The Season finds the busy pop and jazz artist in fine form and good company with soulful and funky support from Melissa Manchester, Jonathan Butler, Michael Lington and Chris Walker. This month Koz and his crew will begin a festive tour that opens in Florida and ends near his studio in California just in time for Christmas Eve.

One of the many gifts of the project is the appearance of legendary performer Melissa Manchester. The singer-songwriter has enjoyed an incredibly varied career - from her early days in the New York club scene, working with Bette Midler and Barry Manilow to the troubadour era of the '70s which melded into a number of '80s synth-pop hits and stage and television roles.

INsite recently spoke with Manchester by phone from her home in Los Angeles.

Holiday music is perhaps the most emotional of all the genres.

It's amazing for me to see how people respond and what they project onto it. The wounds, the unfinished business, the need for clarity or to be reminded to just breathe. For myself, in the early years and even still, I write a lot about self-affirmation, being counted, having a voice and having that voice heard.

Do you think that drive for self-expression was fueled during the dawn of the strong, singer-songwriter era?

I think that was a function of the times, yes. I was a woman thrust into the world of men. They were projecting all of their opinions on me.

Right, you came along during a renaissance of strong female artists while the industry was almost-exclusively dominated by men.

Absolutely. When you're a young artist, you have such a hunger to get to whatever that next elusive point is, and for me I was all about the music. I didn't have the voice or the spine to rail against the nonsense that I now realize that if I'd had more courage to better frame my arguments, who knows how things might have changed. But in the end I was focused on how to approach the material as an artist. Am I going to be able to sing this song and really justify it in case it becomes successful and I have to sing it for the rest of my life? That's how I thought. I don't know if young men had to have those same discussions going on in their heads. Maybe they do.

The struggle continues, even now in these so-called woke times.

Well yeah because it's not easy to be an artist. It's not an easy life. If you think that un-steadiness, un-sanity, un-safeness and un-security is a really good version of normal, then this is the life, you know?

That's where music comes in handy. To help us understand and deal with those feelings.

It does. The true magic of it is that it gives us some clarity and helps us remember things that we might have forgotten. When I meet people after the show, they often say that they feel I'm singing right to them - and that is my job. The key is to be able to take them along on a journey.

Your career is unique in that not only are you a great interpreter of songs but you're equally if not moreso adept at writing originals.

Well, I was raised in a very rich musical environment. My father was a musician with the Metropolitan Opera and my mother was a lovely singer but she was also a pioneer in the fashion industry. So there was always all kinds of music around. A parade of great singers were always playing - artists like Billie Holliday and Carmen McRae and those are the shoulders that I stand on. I bring them with me because so many of those great female singers didn't really have allies. They only had their art.

Thankfully we live in a true golden age for independent artists.

Yes and truly educated artists. They understand that not only the songs land at your feet, but business knowledge lands at your feet and choosing the people you want around you lands at your feet. That's important stuff. I learned a lot about it from my students when I was teaching at USC. They also taught me about crowdfunding.

After working for some of the biggest labels, you're doing it yourself with Indiegogo for your two most recent collections. You don't need Clive Davis or any of those guys anymore.

(Laughs) Yes! I am my own record company now. And that's code language for you have to do four times the work. But be that as it may, there are no suits to suggest all kinds of 'improvements.' What you hear now is coming directly from my imagination. On You Gotta Love The Life - which was my twentieth album - I was able to bring in people like Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Dionne Warwick and Joe Sample. The Fellas, my tribute to some of the great men singers, was with the student big band at Citrus College down in Glendora. It was just thrilling to work with students because I know big band swing isn't really their genre, but they became part of a big adventure.

It's a great testament to the power of the music that they were able to immerse themselves into a style that came decades before they were born.

They were totally immersed in it. And they were blue-collar kids, mostly first-generation college students but they are trained by professors who really want these kids to succeed in life. It's a really comprehensive and beautiful training.

Before you go, we have to discuss the Koz tour. He always assembles a new and interesting program.

Yes! He's just the most well-oiled machine in the world. He goes from one tour to another. I mean, it's just fantastic and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.

Have you planned the set yet?

We don't start rehearsing until mid-November but I have an sense of what I'll be singing. I recorded the great Mariah Carey song "All I Want For Christmas" on Dave's new album. It's a beautiful, slowed down version so we'll do that. And I'll be doing some of my hits and that's always great, too. But it's just going to be a jammin' tour. 22 cities in 25 days? I mean, hello!

That's old school right there. Will you all be on the same bus, like the old Caravan Of Stars tours?

You know, we are! I love doing Christmas tours. They're quick and furious. The audience gets decked out and it's all very jolly and joyful.

It's hard to make an interesting Christmas album anymore because there's so many already out there.

That's true and there's such a small window to get it out there. But for this one, I'm just thrilled to be among such stellar artists and to make great music with them.

Past the holiday tour, what's next?

Oh I have plenty to do. I'm starting to work on a new musical and a second movement for a choral piece. They said, 'Have you considered writing a symphony?' And nobody has ever said that sentence to me, so you never know. I'm still in the studio and lately I've actually been re-recording a lot of my hits and some new originals, too. So it's all unfolding and it's all lovely.

How does it feel to go back in the studio and re-do those now-familiar hits?

It actually feels really good. A lot of artists are doing it these days. Part of the reason why we do it is it's the only way we'll ever own our masters. The record companies didn't really anticipate this world we work in now so most of our old masters are locked up. But it's also great fun to do and I'll put in a little tweak here and a little tweak there. Now I'm trying to figure out how to release it all - maybe as a ten-song album or a five-song thing. It's been really interesting to go back and look at them again in the studio.

What did you learn about them in retrospect?

Well, I've actually found that I don't believe in fades anymore. Why does a song have to fade out? It's such a weird and funny thing. That's the part that's so luscious about playing those songs on stage. I believe a song should have a beginning, a middle and an end. When it's over, you stop playing. And who knows, hopefully it gives the audience a chance to applaud.

Dave Koz and Friends' Gifts Of The Season tour arrives in Atlanta at 8 p.m. on Friday, December 6 at Cobb Energy Center. For tickets and info, visit davekoz.com.

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