The two had written the 10 original songs for the project over four days in February 2020, assuming they would be part of a “Yesterday and Today,” where he’s been, where he’s headed style double CD collection celebrating Koz’s three decades as a smooth jazz icon. The pandemic lockdown necessitated a logistical and creative shift, and the concept evolved from a Dave Koz project featuring Cory Wong to a full-on dual album.
Besides the social distancing aspect of recording ten people at once in a relatively confined space, one of the most unique aspects of the live recording experience at Creation Audio in Minneapolis was documenting every detail with a crew working with four cameras – an element intrinsic to artists of Wong’s generation, and one that Koz had not only never worked with, but could scarcely imagine having back when he launched his career.
In addition to the 10 original tracks, the ensemble jammed on an amped up version of Koz’s trademark hit and showstopper “Together Again,” complete with a blistering extended drum/sax improvisation with Petar Janjic. Wong and Koz had played it live once before, blowing away a packed house at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom.
“Recording The Golden Hour was the most fun I ever had in the studio, and also the most terrifying, but in a good way because it was all about being vulnerable and having to stand on my own musical instincts with everyone jamming on the arrangements at the same time,” the saxophonist continues. “Add to that those four cameras in my face, making me aware that I better nail every note and make it look effortless even though it was not. The key was rising to the occasion while trusting Cory and the musicians...they did not let me down.”
Every superhero tale, even the musical ones, have an origin story, and the saga of how Koz and Wong came to be aware of each other, do a deep dive, develop a mutual admiration society and a musical and personal friendship is an inspiring one for the ages. Growing up in Minneapolis, Cory’s dad exposed him to classic rock and jazz and, fascinated by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus, decided to play bass and start a punk band. Smooth jazz was hardly on his radar, yet he remembers watching a late night dating show on MTV, seeing Dave’s musician brother Jeff Koz trying to impress a date by telling him about his famous sibling and taking her to a show. That was Wong’s first exposure to Koz, and he grew up aware of Koz as “that sax guy” in the cultural zeitgeist.
A longtime fan of ‘sax and drum’ duets due to his obsession with Maceo Parker, Wong was on the road at an Airbnb with band members one night in 2018, scouring the internet for such performances. He came across a video of Koz jamming with a drummer at a festival. His response: “Dang! This dude is dope!” One of the musicians scoffed, “Isn’t he the smooth jazz guy?” Wong was vaguely aware that Koz specialized in slickly produced radio hits, but saw and heard a whole other side of him crushing it on the soprano. The guitarist started that deep dive into the Koz catalog and watched more videos and became a quick fan of the live charisma and energy the saxophonist put into those performances.