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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisSixteen years into the tradition, Dave Koz and Friends' annual Christmas tour sounds just as fresh as did the first round. Aside from completely shuffling up the set list, the contemporary jazz veteran is an absolute master of putting together an entirely unique combination of guest artists, while the production grows exponentially with each year that passes.
For the 2013 installment, the famed sax favorite was accompanied by longtime collaborator/acclaimed South African guitarist Jonathan Butler, frequent Tears For Fears vocalist turned solo star Oleta Adams and Japanese born pianist/composer/producer Keiko Matsui. Nonetheless, Koz popped the cork off the festivities by walking solo from the back of the beautiful Chicago Theatre up the center aisle to the funky beats of The Temptations' "Get Ready" mashed up with "Winter Wonderland," hinting at the unconventional celebration that was to come.
From there, each of the guests arrived one by one bringing additional holiday cheer and talents, starting with Butler's assistance on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," Matsui's accompaniment on "Sleigh Ride" and Adams adding her silky touch to "Let It Snow." The creative interplay continued throughout the next two hours in a variety of different combinations and solo segments, which also extended beyond the season in several instances.
For example, Adams took to the piano to belt out the beauty "Circle Of One," while the headliner lead a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's arrangement of "Got To Get You Into My Life" off Koz and Friends' new Grammy-nominated collection "Summer Horns," which reinterprets brass-centered rock n' soul classics from the past. After the intermission, the cast continued showcasing additional sides of their personalities in a stripped down segment, including Matsui's medley of Beethoven and Chopin, alongside Butler's tribute to Louis Armstrong.
Koz also used the introspective setting to salute the late great Nelson Mandela and America's brave troops before Butler launched into the spine chilling "O Holy Night." Their fearless leader joked it was a tough act to follow, but had no trouble with his past instrumental smash "You Make Me Smile," while Adams continued to astound with her R&B breakthrough "Get Here."
Though technically not a Christmas song, the night closed with its recurring treatment of Kenny Loggins' "Celebrate Me Home," which Koz sentimentally remarked was the perfect soundtrack to enjoy the season with family and friends. And as he was flanked by so many famous friends of his own, the soulful sing-a-long served as an ideal toast to happiness and prosperity until everyone meets again right around this time next year.
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