It's a complete dream come true. It's like flying first class on the Concorde."
That's smooth-jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, talking about his latest album, At the Movies. A lush, star-studded affair, the CD "combines music and the movies, two things I love the most," he says.
His enthusiasm for the indelible lyrics and melodies of iconic tunes such as "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz and "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca shines through every note Koz blows.
It's a grand, stylish album the artist has wanted to record for years. But selecting which movie themes to interpret wasn't easy.
"It was basically impossible to pick the songs," says Koz, who kicks off his national summer tour at Merriweather Post Pavilion during the Capitol Jazz Fest on Sunday. "We picked 12 songs that were so important to the success of the movie that if you took the music out, the movie wouldn't be the same. The music is like a character in the movie."
Indeed it's hard to imagine The Sandpiper without its wistful theme, "The Shadow of Your Smile." On At the Movies, Koz's supple sax caresses the melody as his personal friend, pop legend Johnny Mathis, croons the lyrics.
"I approached him with the project, and he wanted to do it," says Koz, sounding amazed. "He's been such an amazing support system for me as a true artist. The fact that he's in my life is such a blessing."
For the album, Koz recruited an array of interpreters, including Barry Manilow ("Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's), Anita Baker ("Somewhere" from West Side Story), India.Arie ("It Might Be You" from Tootsie) and Donna Summer ("A Whole New World" from Aladdin).
"For these artists, especially those who are attached to their own styles, this gave them an opportunity to do a style that's different, to sing with a big orchestra," Koz says.
It also gave the San Fernando Valley, Calif., native an opportunity to flex his skills in a fuller musical context. Since the release of his acclaimed self-titled 1990 debut, the artist's fiery, David Sanborn-influenced style has been mostly showcased in sleek, pop-oriented productions.
Koz isn't exactly an inventive improviser on the sax. But unlike his much-maligned, multimillion-selling pop instrumentalist peer, Kenny G, Koz has garnered critical kudos for his intense style.
Over the course of eight albums for Capitol Records, Koz has reworked the same formula -- background vocals, synthesized instrumentation and minimal solos -- with varying degrees of success. Two of his releases, 1993's Lucky Man and 1999's The Dance, have been certified gold.
With At the Movies, his ninth album, Koz breaks away from the stylish, modernized arrangements. Legendary producer Phil Ramone surrounds the musician with a majestic 40-piece orchestra and a vibrant big band to enliven the movie themes.
"In the end, it was worth the wait to do this project," Koz says. "We had to work around a lot of different schedules with so many artists involved, but when it all came together, it didn't feel like work at all."
The musician certainly wouldn't mind the experience again.
"It would be my highest dream to do a sequel," Koz says. "It is a movie album, you know."
See David Koz at Capitol Jazz Fest at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, Sunday starting at noon. Tickets are $43.50-$149.50 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or going to ticketmaster.com.