DAVE KOZ AND FRIENDS CHRISTMAS TOUR 2023 At Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos CA

One of the great joys of being a longtime smooth jazz enthusiast is the opportunity every so often
to share the festive, ever-grooving magic of my favorite artists in a live setting with friends who
haven’t yet had the pleasure. Early in his Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2023 Saturday
show at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, the saxophonist and always engaging host
mentioned it’s been an annual tradition since 1997 – over 25 years! I’ve lost count of how many
I’ve attended – 10, 12, maybe – but one thing’s for sure. It’s always the musical highlight of the
season. Still after attending so many great performances, there’s always the possibility of taking
them for granted, like comfortable annual rituals rather than the fresh, marvelous evergreen
events they truly are.
So it was a unique pleasure for me to share the evening with a wonderful friend new to the Koz
Christmas experience and to experience through her eyes the wonder and nuance of every
exciting performance, each fresh arrangement of a holiday classic, the mix of R&B/funk,
intimacy and uplifting gospel energy. A fusion of exquisite beauty and ongoing party, the Koz
version of Santa’s workshop, drew my friend into the holiday spirit - and made me appreciate
every detail of just how special and essential the show is to, to borrow a familiar lyric, making
the season bright.

While the “and friends” Koz usually invites to join the fun of his cross-country December tours
are usually other genre A-lister stars, he switched things up delightfully this year, complementing
the core of him and “my brother” Jonathan Butler with equally brilliant but slightly lesser known
performers like saxophonist Marcus Anderson, vocalist Rebecca Jade and 16-year old South
African born multi-instrumentalist phenom Justin Lee Schultz, whose 2023 debut album Just In
The Moment is one of the genre’s best of the year.
Koz and Butler kicked off the nearly two-hour show showcasing their dynamic sax-guitar-vocal
chemistry on an engaging medley of freshly arranged classics, seamlessly flowing through
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “White Christmas,” “We Need a Little Christmas,”
“Joy to the World and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Everything seemed like a
“normal” but of course wonderful Koz Christmas show until Schultz popped in with a soulful
version of “This Christmas” that featured him, in rapid succession on vocals, fiery electric guitar
and acoustic piano. Then came the blazing sax and stage commanding charisma of Anderson,
followed by Jade performing (with Anderson and Schultz on harmonies) a fascinating, funked
out twist on “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” with a completely new melody.
Likewise, Anderson played one of the peppiest spins through the usually staid and sacred “Silent
Night” that I’ve ever heard.
After Koz and Butler joined them for a full cast romp through a playfully choreographed “Santa
Claus is Coming to Town,” Koz took center stage (with Schultz on piano) to share his new
single, “When You Wish Upon A Star” (part of an upcoming Disney themed EP), easing from
lush balladry to a whimsical, percussive samba arrangement. The one aspect of the show that set
it apart from previous Koz extravaganzas was when the five principals gathered around the piano

for intimate talk (and of course, brief performances) of their very favorite holiday songs. These
ranged from Anderson’s perky “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and Jade’s sweet “Merry
Christmas Darling” to Koz’s hilarious “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch!”
The cultural-religious balance of a Koz holiday show is always a treat as well, this time
manifested with Koz complementing his folksy dance “Eight Candles” with snippets traditional
Hanukah songs; Jade and Butler offering a shimmering, goose-bump inducing duet on “Mary
Did You Know?”; Jade making a joyful noise to the Lord on “O Come All Ye Faithful” with a
faux stained glass church window on the screen behind her; and Butler’s showstopping “O Holy
Night,” performed with a meditational grace that invited everyone in the audience to feel each
word on a soul-deep level.
Energy-wise, the flip side of that was when the whole cast joined forces as Butler took the
congregation to church on his fiery gospel jam “Brand New Day.” Koz and Friends closed the
evening on a thoughtful note, with some Beatlesque messaging for a world in need, starting with
a thoughtful rendition of “Imagine” topped with a swelling chorus of “All You Need is Love.”