By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
John Tesh did not think he would be able to tour again.
In 2015, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given 18 months to live.
“I fought that and won,” he says. “Then COVID hit, and touring was really sporadic. We started again about a year ago on and off.”
Now he’s playing “everywhere,” and ready to switch gears for Christmas. He’ll bring “John Tesh: A Jazzy Swingin’ Christmas” to Desert Diamond Casino in Sahuarita on December 2.
“This one is a little different for us,” Tesh says.
“I turned 70 in July. I grew up with all the old-school arrangements of Christmas songs like Glenn Miller and Dean Martin. I’m bringing a big band crew so we can do swing versions. People will recognize a lot of the arrangements.”
Tesh is quick to add that the show isn’t scripted.
“It’s a very loose show,” he says. “I’ve had such a bizarre life and people have been through a lot of it with me. I played a big Red Rocks show in 1994. I worked on the Olympics. We talk a lot about that. Two-thirds of the show is synchronized to video.
“We show how songs were written. We take people on a journey of old school Christmas songs. It’s not 15 songs, ‘Merry Christmas. Good night.’ We really engage.”
With such a talented band, Tesh says he can go anywhere with his show. He can stop in the middle of a song and have a conversation with the audience. He can move songs around.
“It’s not like a Broadway show,” he says. “If you’re playing with an orchestra, you’re the locomotive and you have 80 cars behind you. It could be a mess.
“We take the temperature of the crowd. You can tell if the crowd wants more power ballads or whatever.”
Tesh hosts his “Intelligence for Your Life” radio program from midnight to 5 a.m. Tuesdays to Sundays, and 8 to 11 a.m. Sundays on 94.9 MIX FM.
Tesh spent 12 years as an investigative journalist for the CBS network and was an anchor on “Entertainment Tonight” for a decade. He has six music Emmys, two Grammy nominations, four gold records and seven public television specials; has sold 8 million records; and is married to actress, producer and former model Connie Sellecca.
Christmastime is joyful for Tesh. His fondest holiday memory is when he unexpectedly received a puppy for Christmas when he was 7, living on Long Island.
His most “visceral memory,” however, is when his nephew was 6 and spending Christmas with him 20 years ago. Donning a Santa outfit, Tesh climbed on the roof and threw pebbles down the chimney so his nephew would believe St. Nick was coming.
“He screamed and ran inside,” Tesh says with a laugh. “He was worried that if Santa caught him not sleeping, he wouldn’t get presents. He dove into bed and pulled the covers over his head. It took me forever to get off the roof.”
His cancer diagnosis has made him appreciate life just a bit more. Treated at MD Anderson in Houston, Tesh frequently saw kids 8 or 10 years old seeking medication.
“You have a line of chemo in your arm, and they have six,” Tesh says with a sigh. “I talk about this onstage. I do talk about perseverance and obstacles as a way of learning. Suffering can produce greatness. I’ve studied that and understand it. But this is two hours of, ‘Hey, let us take you on a journey and talk about when life used to be simpler — and Christmas when it was simpler.’”
“John Tesh: A Jazzy Swingin’ Christmas”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, December 2
WHERE: Desert Diamond Sahuarita Diamond Center,
COST: Tickets start at $49.50