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Dave Koz brings ’25th of December’ here — a little early

Calling from his California home the other day, musician Dave Koz joked about the fact that his new “The 25th of December” is his fifth holiday album — an achievement that has some of his many fans calling him “Santa Koz.”

“Not bad for a nice Jewish boy, too,” quipped the saxophone sensation. “What’s wrong with this picture? It’s kind of a strange thing, and I don’t know exactly how that happened, but I do love Christmas music. I love the holidays.”

Koz will bring that holiday cheer to Our Town with his “Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2014” — featuring special guests Jonathan Butler, Christopher Cross and Maysa — to the Chicago Theatre for an 8 p.m. concert Saturday.

“I grew up celebrating Hannukah, but I’d go to my friends’ houses to celebrate Christmas. Trimming the tree and all the music kind of got under my skin at an early age.”

That love of Christmastime melodies has carried over into his professional career as well. “I love performing holiday shows, because everyone comes in the spirit — with open arms and open ears, ready to celebrate and looking forward to the New Year.”

While “The 25th of December” is only the latest Koz holiday disc, it actually is his first full-length Christmas album since 2001. “So a long span between those two,” said Koz.

It’s also his first that includes duets with other artists — and a pretty impressive list of stars it is, including Johnny Mathis, Gloria Estefan, Heather Headley, Kenny G, Indie.Arie, Stevie Wonder and Chicago’s own Richard Marx.

Koz explained the concept behind the album was to stage “the greatest holiday party ever.”

“I wanted it to seem like I had invited over some of my very talented friends for dinner, a little wine and then some beautiful desserts. Afterward, everyone then retires to the living room and I’ve got my sax. Everybody does a song.”

Koz said making the album was a big learning experience for him, pointing to Stevie Wonder as an example.

“We simply asked him to come in and play harmonica [on ‘All You Need is Love’]. I mean, what does Stevie Wonder have to prove at this point in his life? Nothing! But he not only showed up as a great favor to me, when he heard the track, he got really inspired. He played his first harmonica pass — and it was perfect. But he said, ‘Let me go again. I can do better.’

“He must have done it like 10 times. Each time was perfect, but he wasn’t satisfied. Then he got behind the mic and sang. Again, his first time was perfect, but he wasn’t completely happy with it. So again, he must have done like 10 vocal takes.

“That was an amazing lesson for me that someone like Stevie Wonder — at his age and with all he has accomplished — is still striving for personal excellence. That’s still the most important thing for him. … The funny thing? The irony? We ended up using his very first takes on both the harmonica and his vocals.”

The musician often finds it’s that initial performance — both for himself and others — that tends to be the best. “There’s a spark of creativity that comes out first that’s not tampered with. That burst of inspiration. That’s why I love playing live shows, because you don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Oh, let me do this one more time.’ You do it and it’s done!”

When asked about playing the sax, Koz said, “You know, the saxophone was not my first instrument. I already had played the piano — really badly — and even worse, the drums. I remember my drum teacher telling my dad, ‘You might want to consider sports for Dave, because it’s not going to happen with the drums!’

“I was crushed. I wanted to be like my older brother and wanted to be a musician more than anything. I gave it one more shot in seventh grade. I tried the sax. Little would I know that instrument would not only become my primary source of income in my life, but my most trusted friend and confidante.

“Not to get all strange and dramatic, but it has really been that constant companion for me. I didn’t have the words to express myself with how I was feeling — like most kids — but the saxophone was that thing I could go to and put all my emotions through that horn. It’s still that way almost 40 years later.

“The other thing about the sax: It can be the most melancholy, most gut-wrenching sound you ever heard, but then you turn around and it can make the happiest music you’ve ever heard.”