Dave Koz Saxophone Play-Along Book Review

Today, I am reviewing a saxophone play along book by Hal Leonard.  This is the Volume 6 play-along entitled Dave Koz.  Dave Koz is a smooth jazz saxophone player and I thought it would be interesting to check out this book.  I was a little nervous in reviewing this book because talking about smooth jazz can cause an avalanche of opinions to descend on even the best of saxophone blogs out there.  Just look at the comments and arguments on any of the million Kenny G threads out there as examples.

The truth is,  for most working professional sax players,  you have to learn how to play smooth jazz and perform in that genre.  When I was at Berklee,  I was practicing what I thought were the most “outside” “hippest” lines to be played on the alto saxophone.  I was starting to really make progress in that area and was proud of my “modern” playing. Three experiences opened my eyes to the reality of being a working musician:

1.) A teacher of mine offered me a gig in his band which I accepted and was thrilled about. (I would actually make money for playing!)   On one of my first gigs (it was a wedding),  I was playing my usual awesome modern lines and taking the standard we were playing to another level when the band leader leaned into my ear and said angrily “Stop playing that s***!”……Ok.

2.) I was repeatedly hired to play Kenny G’s Silhouette and Song Bird at more weddings than I can count or remember……..Ok.

3.) I was hired for an hour gig playing my sax to dance music in the “Combat Zone” of Boston.  I took the gig because I took all gigs back then and when I showed up the guy said he didn’t really need me to play the sax but rather to stand on a 5 foot high block and gyrate to the dance music while “pretending” to play my sax in a sexy manner………Ok……….

After these three experiences I realized that being a working sax player was more than just being able to solo on Giant Steps at 300……..

I tell you all this personal history as a background so that you understand what I am about to write:

In my opinion, smooth jazz is a style of music, and being able to play in that style increases your chances of working and making a living as a musician.  I made a ton of money off of all those renditions of Kenny G’s music back in the day. Putting smooth jazz down or saying you won’t play it is your right but to me it makes as much sense as me showing up for my first wedding gig in the 80’s and saying I don’t play Polka’s, Hava Nagila, Chicken Dance or Song Bird.   If I did say that, you can bet I would have been fired immediately………(…and of all those I hate the Chicken Dance the most…..ugh!)

Now, years later, I think it is important for young sax players and students to learn some smooth jazz. At the very least, to be well rounded.  In my day it was Grover Washington Jr. and Dave Sanborn. Today, it’s players like Dave Koz, Candy Dulfer, Richard Elliot, Boney James and many more…….

Dave Koz Saxophone Play-Along

The Hal Leonard Dave Koz play along book is a great introduction to this style of music.  It has eight songs in it of different tempos and styles. The songs are comprised of four alto songs, 3 soprano and one tenor song.  Even though the audio tracks are on different saxophones, the book is written out in Eb and Bb so  you can play along on alto, tenor or soprano saxophone.  The songs are probably on Youtube if you want to look them up. They are All I See Is You,  Can’t Let You Go,Emily, Honey Dipped, Know You By Heart, Put the Top Down, Together Again and You Make Me Smile.

The audio tracks can be downloaded from a Hal Leonard website with a code that is in the book. They include one version of the song with Dave Koz playing and one version that is the play along.

One of the great aspects of this book is that all the nuances of Dave Koz’s playing are written out for you. Every grace note and bend. Grace notes are a huge stylistic technique in smooth jazz and this book has tons of them to learn from and practice.  I think the book is worth the price just to get the “grace note” effect down solid.

Another great aspect is the books focus on 16th note rhythms.  Every song has a multitude of 16th note rhythms that many young jazz band students might not have much experience with.  This is a great way to practice some of these complex rhythms.

Although looking at the notes on the page is a huge help, the real work is done by listening closely to every note and nuance of Dave Koz’s playing and really trying to get it down and master it.  Rather than just playing along with the whole song, I would suggest working with each lick one at a time. Listen to it closely, turn off the player and then try reproducing it exactly. Copy the vibrato, the articulation, the exact way he bends the note, etc…….this process is where the real magic happens………

Dave Koz Saxophone Play-Along

The tunes in this smooth jazz play-along book are catchy and melodic in my opinion.  As a teacher, I think this is a great book to use to pick up many of the stylistic elements of smooth jazz so that you can have them available to you when and if you choose to play this style of music. If you don’t like smooth jazz then you can skip this book but if you are like me and want to be a well rounded saxophone player that can cover a multitude of styles and genres then this book is one to add to your collection in my opinion.

You can get the book from the Hal Leonard website and a multitude of others.  If you get it, please come back and let us know what you think in the comments below.  If you’re a smooth jazz hater, that’s ok. We understand. You don’t need to let us know all your reasons why…………there are already a ton of Kenny G threads out there that you can jump into to express your feelings and frustrations………….Have fun with that……..

Disclosure: I received the book mentioned above for free from Hal Leonard in the hope that I would perhaps review it here my blog. Regardless, I only review saxophone related products that I enjoy and believe will be good for other saxophone players to try also. Steve
Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.


  1. You know bird was made fun of and laughed at when he started. Then he Became the in thing then he got laughed at again for not being a rock and roll player. Now we look back and think that he played he was it. The majority of people just don’t appreciate bebop which is fine. Even though I loved playing bird and cannonball and Coltrane I also enjoyed playing with Dave sanborn, spyro gyra and Dave koz when I was growing up…But…. don’t think I couldn’t play some Kenny g songs for when the girls where around, I wasn’t a dummy.

    I have enjoyed alternative, hairbands and classical music. In the middle of that I remember watching Dave Koz on Arsenio Hall and Dave Sanborn on Dave Letterman and Branford Marsalis on the Tonight Show. I thought they were all cool.

    Now I am listening to a bunch of Michael Brecher Lenny Pickett and Joshua Redman

    At the end of the day you can learn something from all these musicians and they can all play better than I can, but I’m sure that the most important thing for all these guys was to be able to lay their head down at night knowing they could pay the light bill. I actually think the Dave koz book would be pretty cool to check out. Thanks for the review

  2. Thanks again Steve. Ordered this from Amazon for $11. Looking forward to giving it a go.

  3. Avatar Frank Zona says

    I’ve had this book for a few weeks now, it’s really done very well. Totally agree that it is a great training tool for the smooth jazz stylistic elements and the songs are fun to play. I plan to incorporate it into lessons for my students. Also, Rich Maraday has a great smooth jazz play along on MMO which those interested should check out. This book is on the self next to my Bird, Trane and Getz transcription books and all the Jamey Abersold books as well.

    I’ve met Dave Koz, even got to play with him, Candy Dulfer, Richard Elliot and Najee on stage for a real audience. It was a fantastic experience. All great players with great careers playing music which many many people enjoy. To me, that’s the point. For those players wanting to get a handle on this style, The Dave Koz book is a good place to start.

  4. Avatar Kevin Ledbetter says

    Steve, I use the smooth jazz style almost every time when I play a song in church. It just goes over so well, as a player you just have a decision to make…. I either play just for myself and my chosen artistic style, or I play (at least sometimes) for what the audience will most appreciate. I think being able to do both is a great path to pursue.

    • Kevin, I agree. I’ve done Amazing Grace quite a few times and I always put those “smooth jazz “grace note in there all over the place……..

  5. Avatar John Carlo says

    I studied under Lou Marini Sr at BGSU. He even played keyboard for me on on some of my quintet gigs. After teaching band from 1970 to 1983 I started to loose my hearing and struggled with the inner voicings. I got out of music and moved into technology. I sold my Mark 6 tenor way back when. Many years later I got involved in contemporary Christian with some great musicians. I had purchased a Mark 6 alto for a grand about 20 years ago. I have to say that one of the nicest compliments I ever received was when a gal came up to me and said she listened to smooth jazz on the radio every day while driving to work. I wouldn’t say I play the smooth jazz style but to her my contemporary Christian jazz/rock style suited her just fine. They settled on our church after attending many. I quit playing totally two years ago when my hearing dropped to 500 Hz in my right ear and 2000 Hz in my left. Recently I bought some incredible new hearing aids and I am once again playing but for my ears only as James Bond might put it. Last Friday I bought a Super Action 80 series 2 Jubilee tenor. I love the sound but I may exchange it for a Reference 54. I want to try them side by side. I haven’t played a tenor since 83! I sent a recording to my friend John Hill who plays drums all over Michigan with the best of jazz players. He said I sounded great and invited me to sit in next week with his trio. As I said for my ears only right now!

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