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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisJust because Dave Koz & Friends' annual Christmas tour is on its 14th year doesn't mean its getting stale by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, a constant shuffling of the guest list, plus an ever rotating set list always adds to the excitement, as does the leader's generous helping of holiday entertainment that spanned no less than two-and-a-half hours.
Along with collaborators Rick Braun (trumpet), Jonathan Butler (guitar) and Candy Dulfer (saxophone), the leading sax man kicked off the classy evening with "White Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," two of the many from Koz's recently released "Ultimate Christmas" (Capitol/EMI). As the show continued, so did the split between tag teams and solo segments with highlights including Butler and Braun's African-influenced "Little Drummer Boy" and a playful duet between the beautiful Dulfer and colorful Koz throughout "Baby It's Cold Outside."
After an intermission, the foursome also saluted old time luminaries closely tied to the holidays with big screen cameos from Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and Frank Sinatra. Braun gave a tender-hearted treatment to "White Christmas," Bulter soulfully sang and played "The Christmas Song," Dulfer spiced up "Santa Baby" and Koz charmed with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Given the expansive scope of the night, fans were also treated to several non-holiday hits, including a breezy glance at Koz's latest chart topping CD Hello Tomorrow (Concord), which just earned a Grammy nomination in the "Best Pop Instrumental Album" category and already took home a 2011 Soul Train Award for "Best Contemporary Jazz Album." Several covers spun in that genre's tradition included everything from the brass-stacked unity of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to Butler's take on Bob Marley's equally timeless "No Woman No Cry," plus group jam sessions on Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and the Average White Band's "Pick Up the Pieces."
Throw in a finale of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" and the night was truly the perfect way to kick off the Yuletide season (possibly even prompting repeat customers for next year). Of course, there's still plenty of touring for all four artists between now and then, and if Koz has it his way, another Grammy to add to the already crowded trophy case.
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