Interview: Michael Lington Discusses His Beautiful Holiday-Themed Album, ‘A Foreign Affair Christmas’
In his more than two-decade career as saxophonist, songwriter and producer, Michael Lington has released more than ten solo albums, toured extensively and even manages his own wine and cigar companies. But the one thing the multi-talented, Copenhagen-born artist had never done is record a Christmas-themed album. That is until now.
On A Foreign Affair Christmas, Lington serves up a plethora of holiday favorites and is joined by an arsenal of contemporary music heavyweights, including Vince Gill, Dave Koz, Rick Braun and Russ Freeman.
Christmas classics like “Silent Night,” “Silver Bells,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” take on new life with fresh and unique arrangements. Other treasures include a tasty medley of “Winter Wonderland” and “Let it Snow,” with Koz, a silky and sultry take on George Michael’s “Last Christmas,” with Phillipe Saisse on vibraphone, and an inspired version of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” featuring the legendary Vince Gill.
There is much to love about A Foreign Affair Christmas, making it the perfect soundtrack for a festive holiday season.
I recently spoke with Michael Lington about A Foreign Affair Christmas, his upcoming tour with Dave Koz and more in this exclusive new interview.
What made you decide to do a Christmas album at this point in your career?
Michael Lington: I’ve been thinking about doing one for a very long time. At first, I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to take, but then one year I was invited to Barbados to perform a show with a band that had worked up some really interesting, island-flavored, jazz Christmas songs. That got me to thinking: what if I based an album on the same concept. Taking familiar Christmas songs and flipping them around to do something unique with interesting arrangements. Then I took it a step further and incorporated musical friends from around the world and decided to call it A Foreign Affair Christmas. Once I had the vision, it all came together.
What was your criteria for choosing songs for A Foreign Affair Christmas?
ML: I knew I wanted to have a variety as well as do some of the classic ballads. I started out by writing down all the songs I could think of and then going down the list, narrowing it down to what was the cream of the crop for the arrangements I wanted to achieve. It quickly became clear which ones rose to the top.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from the new album and get your thoughts on them, beginning with the track, “Silver Bells.”
ML: That was the song that sparked it all for me and the arrangement we used is based on the one we did in Barbados. It definitely has that vibe. I originally intended for it to be vocal track but I loved the sax and guitar so much I decided to make it a duet.
“This Christmas” with Vince Gill.
ML: There’s an interesting story behind that one. “This Christmas” was originally one of the songs on my list but, for some reason, had gotten knocked off. I’ve been a big fan of Vince Gill for a long time and had the chance to meet him at the Grand Ole Opry. I remember he said that if I ever wanted to do something with him to give him a call. So, when the opportunity to do this project came along, I called him up, thinking he’d probably want to cover a traditional or spiritual Christmas song. He loved the idea of the album but told me he’d already covered many of the songs I was doing. Then he said there was a song he does at his Christmas shows that he’s never recorded — Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” The song was immediately put back on the list [laughs]!
“Last Christmas” with Phillipe Saisse.
ML: I wanted to incorporate a few modern songs and Marc Antoine and I came up with an idea for this one. Years ago, there was a song called “More Than Words,” which was a huge hit for the band, Extreme. It was just a single acoustic guitar and singing harmony. We started with that intimacy and then Phillipe came in and added a touch of string lushness. It fit perfectly.
What can you tell me about your involvement in this year’s Dave Koz And Friends Christmas Tour? What can fans expect?
ML: Dave is the master of putting these tours together. It’s a spectacular show and an all-in experience. This year will be Dave, myself, Jonathan Butler, Melissa Manchester, Chris Walker and a fantastic band. It’s going to be a great variety of new and classic music as well as the hits.
Did you always know that music would be your calling?
ML: I did, but I like to say that I didn’t seek out music. Music found me. I grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark and my grandfather was an accomplished band leader, composer and musician. The two of us spent a lot of time together. I also had a love affair with America and wanted to come here. When I decided to move here in 1990 to pursue a career in music everyone thought I’d be back after a few months. Here we are now, thirty years later!
What excites you the most about this next phase of your career? What are you looking forward to about the future?
ML: I love performing and am so blessed to have this wonderful life. Everything comes at you at once and it’s exciting and fun to see what’s next. I just turned 50 and am going to be a daddy for the first time in February, so in the immediate future the most exciting thing for me will be getting to meet my son.
A Foreign Affair Christmas (Track Listing):
Last Christmas — featuring Philippe Saisse
This Christmas — featuring Vince Gill
Oh Holy Night — featuring Russ Freeman
Silver Bells — featuring Chris Standring
Winter Wonderland / Let It Snow (Medley) — featuring Dave Koz
A Child Is Born In Bethlehem — Featuring Adam Hawley
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas — featuring Sheléa
Silent Night — featuring Rick Braun
Mary Did You Know