BY SIMON YAFFE
SAXOPHONIST Dave Koz has performed alongside such huge names as Burt Bacharach, Barry Manilow, Ray Charles, U2, Luther Vandross and Rod Stewart.
But the most memorable moment of his life - and certainly the most fulfilling - was when he came out as gay 10 years ago.
"Nobody was forcing me, but there came a time where I thought, 'I can't do this anymore'," the musician told me.
"I didn't want to live two different lives - I needed to say to my fanbase, 'This is who I am'.
"My friends, family and colleagues already knew. And you know what? Nothing happened - and everything improved.
"I felt for the first time in my life, I was playing with a full deck of cards. I felt like a whole person for the first time and now I am a much happier and content person.
"From that moment on, I was able to relax in my own skin and fully walk in the shoes which were given to me."
Dave is a nine-time Grammy Award nominee and has hit the top spot seven times on the Billboard jazz chart.
Next month, he will accompany legendary singer Manilow on his UK tour.
However, Dave initially gave himself six months to succeed when he started out.
"Otherwise, I was going to get myself a 'job'," he recalled. "My parents were as supportive as you would hope to be about their kids following their passions.
"But they asked me what I was going to do and if I had anything lined up.
"Two weeks later I got my first real gig and I have been on the road ever since."
He was raised in the Tarzana neighbourhood of Los Angeles by dermatologist dad Norman and pharmacist mum Audrey.
His mother played piano and wrote songs - and encouraged Dave, brother Jeff and sister Roberta to take piano lessons.
Dave said: "We all hated that, so I rebelled and started playing the drums, but I was even worse at playing them.
"When I was in seventh grade in middle school, I picked up the saxophone and the instrument just felt right in my hands.
"This was when I was 13 and the saxophone became the love of my life. I found it to be an amazing vehicle for self-expression.
"Like a lot of kids of that age, I was going through a lot of different stuff and found it hard to find the words to deal with it.
"The saxophone became my best friend.
"I would put everything I was feeling into it and it would respond - it became my most trusted ally.
"We forged a relationship early on and it has become perhaps the primary relationship in my life."
Dave graduated from UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) with a degree in mass communications in 1986.
Deciding to make a go of becoming a professional musician, within six weeks he was asked to join American singer Bobby Caldwell's tour.
For the rest of the 1980s, he was a session musician in several bands and toured with Jeff Lorber.
He was also a member of Jewish singer-songwriter Richard Marx's band and toured with him throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"Bobby encouraged me to go to the front of the stage," Dave recalled. "I didn't realise I would love it so much, as I am quite a shy person off-stage.
"But something happens on stage and I have the opportunity to flourish." Bobby was also instrumental in encouraging Dave to make his own records, with his self-titled album released in 1990.
Lucky Man, The Dance and Grammy Award-nominated Saxophonic followed.
Vandross accompanied Dave on Can't Let You Go (The Sha la Song) on The Dance, as did Bacharach on Don't Give Up, from the same album.
"To record with Luther was such a great experience and to write a song with Burt Bacharach was a moment I will never forget," Dave added.
"Burt is arguably one of the best songwriters of all time."
Manilow also joined Dave on his 2001 album At the Movies, which celebrated music from classic films.
He accompanied him on Moon River, and was also joined by Johnny Mathis and Vanessa Williams on other tracks.
Dave will open the shows on Manilow's upcoming tour.
Manilow's kicks off his tour on May 13 and 14 at London's Wembley Arena and will include Manchester's Phones4U Arena on May 18 and The SSE Hydro, in Glasgow, the following night.
"Barry is in a different stratosphere as an entertainer and he is a great communicator on stage," Dave said.
"He is a great friend and to be asked to perform on his tour is a dream come true. We will have a blast together and I know that audiences will, too."
Dave loves performing in the UK. He said: "I have found that UK audiences are much more musically knowledgeable than American audiences.
"They have an appreciation for all kinds of music and an openness towards it, too.
"It is really refreshing to see that kind of passion."
Manilow spoke at Dave's Hollywood Walk of Fame induction in September, 2009.
"Barry sang at it, too," Dave recalled. "I honestly had to pinch myself that I was receiving a star.
"I was surrounded by my family and friends and it really makes you think about life in general.
"My career has never been about accolades and awards, but it was a chance to stop and reflect on it that day."
He hasn't just found success with his saxophone either - Dave has also found fame behind the microphone.
For the last 20 years he has hosted the award-winning The Dave Koz Radio Show.
"A friend of mine offered me the chance to be a radio host, but I was not so sure at the beginning," Dave added.
"At first, it was embarrassingly horrible, but we are still doing the same show 20 years later. It is good fun."
Dave, who describes himself as "culturally Jewish," was barmitzvah and grew up celebrating the High Holy Days.
"We were not overtly religious," he said.
"I have played in Israel and three years ago, we decided to go on a family trip there.
"My sister's kids studied there, but my sister had never been, neither had my brother or his kids.
"We travelled the whole country and it was one of the most memorable vacations I have been on.
"Being Jewish means we have certain pillars which hold us together.
"I may not go to the synagogue all the time, but Judaism for me is about family and how I approach life."