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Chicago on Why the Christmas Music Market Is 'More Open to New Material'

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Chicago on Why the Christmas Music Market Is 'More Open to New Material'

11/27/2019 by Gary Graff

Last month's release of Chicago Christmas, the veteran group's fourth seasonal set, was, as the song says, only the beginning for its holiday festivities.

This week the brassy troupe begins a triumvirate of events that includes riding the Hallmark float and performing during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, an appearance on NBC's Today show where Chicago will announce its 2020 summer tour and co-headliner and a performance at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting, filming Dec. 3 and airing the following night on NBC.

"I usually try to check in with what’s going on with the holidays and try to get into the festivities with the family," trumpeter Lee Loughnane, who produced Chicago Christmas, tells Billboard. "If there's a football game on I'll usually watch that, but it's good to feel a part of everything this year."

Chicago Christmas, which hit No. 1 on the Holiday Album Sales chart, was something of a surprise for the band according to Loughnane and singer-keyboardist Robert Lamm. The group was initially approached by Rhino Records to create a bonus track or two for a re-release of a previous Christmas effort. Loughnane put the call out, and the result was eight new, original songs to go along with three seasonal staples -- including "Sleigh Ride 2019," the second time the group has taken on that song.

"Everybody was excited about it," Loughnane says of the set, which Chicago recorded while touring with a mobile studio it used for 2014's Chicago XXXVI: Now. "Instead of just one or two (songs) coming 11 came in and it was great writing, great playing, great arrangements. It was just one song at a time, and in three months we had an entire record done."

Lamm adds that he initially "thought we had done all the holiday songs a group could do. But the songs kept coming, and they're decent songs. I have peers who have heard some of these songs and are like, 'These are so great. They're another reason why Chicago should continue to make new, original music albums whenever you can.'" And both Chicago co-founders note that the commercial prospects for a holiday album are perhaps better than a standard set of original material.

"Y'know, so much of our repertoire is played all the time on classic radio, so that negates our efforts to try to record new material," Lamm says. "But (Christmas) music has its own market that's more open to new material." Loughnane agrees that "a holiday album gives you a leg up. But this to me is an original album, very similar to what we would do anyway -- it's just holiday lyrics instead. But it's the same creativity we would normally put into any Chicago album. Each song has its own personality, and that's one of the things I love about (Chicago Christmas) the most; It's really where we are, creatively, at this point."

Chicago returns to the stage Feb. 28 when it begins its next residency at the Venetian Theater in Las Vegas, and both Loughnane and Lamm say the summer tour will be extensive. And though they're dubious about how another new studio album might fare, both predict that it won't prevent Chicago from making another one. "It's exhausting right now to think about it," Lamm says, "but I think that there's enough music and enough new music, potentially, for us to do an album from top to bottom. And now that we have the ability to record while we're touring, it's that much easier. So we'll see."






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Gary Graff, Khareem Sudlow