Dave Koz Calls New Holiday Album “A Communal Experience”, Features Johnny Mathis, Eric Benet, Gloria Estefan, Heather Headley, Kenny G, BeBe Winans, india.arie, Jonathan Butler, Fantasia, and Stevie Wonder

by Michael P. Coleman

By the time an artist gets to their 5th Christmas album, you might assume that said artist is scraping the bottom of the barrel creatively.  You don’t assume that the resulting album will be filled with exceptional performances with an all-star list of collaborators.  In sum, you don’t expect Dave Koz & Friends’ new The 25th Of December.

“Christmas songs already have, inherently, in their DNA, all the things you want in a piece of music,” says Koz.  “Why do we want to hear these same songs year after year?  Because they’re more than just lyrics or notes on a page.  They are the musical doorways that enable us to go back and visit times in our lives that were much simpler and much more innocent.”

But when recording an album like The 25th Of December, how do you make a group of timeworn songs sound fresh, while giving a broad group of listeners something to enjoy?

“We wanted to have a good chunk of traditional Christmas songs that everybody knows,” he says, “and then a handful of newer Christmas songs that maybe not everybody knows, but have become popular in the last few years.  And then it was important to me as an artist to say, ‘Here are a couple songs that you’ve never heard before that we’re going to throw into the mix.”

The beautifully jazzy, eclectic holiday project begins with a sublime instrumental version of “The First Noel”, with Koz’ sax setting the tone for the album. Next up, he and the legendary Johnny Mathis do the impossible: they make “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”, one of Mathis’ signature songs, sound brand new.

“Johnny’s original version of the song is iconic,” says Koz, “so I was a little concerned about going to him and saying, ‘Would you mind recreating a song that you’ve already made famous the world over?” And he said, ‘I’d love to.’ Being in the studio with him that day was one of the greatest days of my career.”

Things get sexy with a sublime “This Christmas” sung by Eric Benet.  “I’ve known Eric for more than 20 years,” says Koz.  “We had this idea of taking this great Christmas song by Donny Hathaway and really taking the tempo down.  I knew when Eric was in the studio that he would want to make it a sexy Christmas song.  It’s pretty romantic.  You know exactly what’s on Eric’s mind when he delivers this song.”

Vocal phenomenon Heather Headley had special inspiration for her reverent, hopeful “My Grown Up Christmas List”.  “This is one of the songs that’s not as well known as some of the more traditional Christmas songs on the album,” says Koz.  “We sent it to Heather, and she said ‘I’m on this. And by the way, I’m pregnant, so this is something I can really relate to.  This song is about my wishes for the world that my baby will grow up in.””

The 25th of December‘s title track is sung by the gospel great BeBe Winans.  “I think this is an absolutely gorgeous piece of music,” Koz says.  “The first time I heard the demo – just BeBe and piano – it sounded like a classic that we already knew.  BeBe is a very devout man, and that comes across in the song.”

india.arie covers “I’ve Got My Love To Keep You Warm” in the spirit of Ella Fitzgerald, who had a hit with the same song decades ago.  “This is a classic, but it hasn’t been recorded all that often,” says Koz.  “india was really excited about doing an Ella song.  We put this very retro track together, and I think she turned in one of the greatest vocal performances ever.”

Jonathan Butler’s “O Holy Night” was an opportunity to record the arrangement of the song that’s been featured for years on the annual Dave Koz & Friends Christmas tour, during which Butler regularly brings the house down.  “There’s such a poignancy when this man delivers this very pure, transparent song,” says Koz.  “But up until now, that arrangement had never been recorded. He came into the studio with his guitar, the band was all there, we cut it live and what you hear on the album is his first take.  This man owns this song.”

Fantasia goes to church on a medley that includes “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.  “One of the keyboard players on this record, Jason White, is also the music director of the West Angeles Church, one of the most popular gospel churches in Los Angeles.  Fantasia just catapults it to another place through sheer energy and emotion.”

Everyone returns for the album’s final track, a cover of the inspirational Beatles’ song “All You Need Is Love”, with Stevie Wonder joining the party.  “With Stevie, you never know what’s going to happen,” says Koz.  “He plays harmonica, and then he ends up singing the whole back half of the song.  There are very few people in life who can take the message of this song and deliver on it, and he’s one of them.”

Other collaborations on the album include Gloria Estefan’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, Richard Marx on the exceptional original song “Another Silent Night”, and Kenny G’s “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

Koz says The 25th Of December is a communal experience, a moment to connect with those we care about most.

“I wanted this album to be like the best holiday party, to make listeners feel like they had been invited to my house, along with all these phenomenally talented artists,” Koz says.  “I pictured us all retiring to the living room after dinner, where there’s a big grand piano, and everybody got up and did a song, and I played a little bit of saxophone with them.  With this album, I wanted to reaffirm the ties that bind us all.”

The 25th Of December is available at iTunes and retail everywhere.

Dave Koz & Friends‘ 17th Anniversary Christmas Tour stops in San Francisco‘s Warfield Theatre on December 21.  Tickets for all tour stops are available at davekoz.com.


Michael P. Coleman is a Sacramento-based freelance writer.  Connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com, via email at mikelsmindseye@me.com, or on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP



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