By Alan Sculley
Mannheim Steamroller brings a little ‘Fresh Aire’ to holiday tour.
Fans of Mannheim Steamroller and its career-making series of Fresh Aire albums can ring in the season with a special surprise.
Two different Mannheim Steamroller ensembles are crisscrossing the country on the annual holiday tour, playing some 80 cities combined. In addition to Christmas music from the half dozen Mannheim holiday albums, the show will feature something extra for Fresh Aire fans, according to the group’s founder and songwriter, Chip Davis.
“I’ve added in some more Fresh Aire,” Davis says. “We’re getting a lot of requests from the fans because we don’t do Fresh Aire tours. And they’ve been saying could you add some to the Christmas show? A third of the show is probably Fresh Aire sprinkled around throughout different parts.”
The same fans will also want to keep an eye out for the release of Exotic Spaces, the new Mannheim Steamroller album planned for release in March.
“I didn’t call (Exotic Spaces) Fresh Aire 9 because most composers, when they’ve written a ninth symphony, usually die right after that,” Davis says with a chuckle. “Like Beethoven – the guy’s like ‘Nine symphonies, bye.’”
Davis, obviously, is very much alive and well. He celebrated his 70th birthday in September with a barbecue attended by nearly 100 of his best friends and family. Far from slowing down, he’s looking at a particularly busy winter with his Christmas tour.
The enduring career of Mannheim Steamroller didn’t begin with Christmas music, but rather with the release in 1975 of the first Fresh Aire album. Combining classical music and pop, and using orchestral instruments and synthesizers and other synthetic tones, Fresh Aire helped usher in the New Age music genre.
Between 1975 and 2000, Davis released eight Mannheim Steamroller Fresh Aire albums, which enjoyed major popularity considering they were marketed in a niche genre.
But today Davis and Mannheim Steamroller are best known for Christmas music. Davis entered the holiday fray with the 1984 album Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, at a time when such seasonal albums were largely seen as something artists released when they were on the downside of their careers.
Instead, that first Christmas album became a huge hit, selling five million copies, and Mannheim Steamroller has become the best-selling Christmas act, with combined sales of more than 28 million albums.
After this year’s holiday season, Davis will return Mannheim Steamroller to its Fresh Aire roots with Exotic Spaces. The unique album features songs that were inspired by famous – and exotic – sites, such as Egypt’s Pyramids and the Taj Mahal. Modern technology played a key role in helping Davis realize his vision for Exotic Spaces.
“Really it would almost have been impossible or extremely difficult to do if it were not for today’s virtual instruments,” he says. “Like some of the crazy instruments, ancient Egyptian instruments, I have access to this stuff now through… different programs.
“So (in) Exotic Spaces, when I’m doing (the song) ‘Pyramids,’ I’m using a lot of (computer-created) ancient Egyptian instruments, then partway through, Steamroller kicks in and starts driving it. The same deal with ‘Taj Mahal.’ I’m using like sitars and things for ‘Taj Mahal’ and once again ‘Mannheim’ it.”
In addition to his musical projects, Davis has co-authored with writer Mark Valenti a book trilogy aimed toward kids and young adults inspired by a timber wolf and horse he has on his 150-acre property near Omaha, Nebraska. Davis, who has written several children’s books, hopes the trilogy will hit stores sometime next year.
“The thing that inspired it was watching them play together, and they’re not supposed to do that. But they grew up together, since they were 8 weeks old,” Davis says.
“They race back and forth. It got me thinking, because I can see them from my sitting room. I was like, ‘I wonder what’s going through their minds?’ So we started making up stories of what we thought was going through their minds. That was the inspiration for it.”