The newest Holiday EP from internationally acclaimed jazz artist Spiros Exaras is here, and The Knockturnal got the inside scoop. Exaras’s first ever original holiday single “The Magic of Christmas”, released on December 1st, brings joy to the world. Exaras is known for his impressive fusion of different musical elements, notably in his Greek- Cuban collaboration with Elio Villafranca, “Old Waters, New River” as well as in his signature Blue Note album “Phrygianics”. Along with title “The Magic of Christmas”, Spiros Exaras also released a second Christmas track titled “Christmas Wish”. In the title track, “The Magic of Christmas”, Spiros’ resonant guitar sound meets with Don Braden’s distinctive sax, and Eugene Ruffolo’s smooth vocals to create what is sure to be a future Christmas classic.
Inspiration for “The Magic of Christmas” struck when Spiros’ daughter was studying abroad and was unable to join the family in decorating the Christmas tree. With love and imagination, Spiros and Ileana decided to co-write a song expressing the holiday cheer that magically unites people, no matter the distance. A jolly journey of two solos is followed by a line in Spiros Exaras’ native language, Greek. “Ding, dong! Christou’genna pantou,’” (Christmas is everywhere), wishing happy holidays from his home to the world. Indeed, The Magic of Christmas knows no borders. The second track, Christmas Wish, is a heartfelt song about lending a hand to those less fortunate. It is a wish for a world where holiday joy is not a privilege for the few, but can spread to all people. Amanda Homi’s soulful voice along with Caryl Paisner’s stunning cello interpretation blend with Spiros’ dynamic arrangement to create a song that is both touching and hopeful. The Magic of Christmas EP is a joyful sleigh ride, a cheerful stroll through a sparkling city, and gift of heartwarming melodies that once opened, will bring smiles to all its listeners.
Check out our interview with guitarist, composer, producer Spiros Exaras below and don’t forget to check out the music video for “The Magic of Christmas” along with “Christmas Wish” now on YouTube and Spotify.
Tell us about your new song
In my family, we have a tradition of decorating the Christmas tree together while listening to Christmas songs- jazzy Christmas songs. One year my daughter, Ileana, was studying abroad and couldn’t join us for this annual tradition, so we decided to unite in a different way: by writing a song that we could look forward to listening the next holiday season we’d get to spend together as a family.
It had to be Christmas song- a jazzy Christmas song. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll get to hear holiday spirit from four cities, all of which Ileana and myself have travelled to: Paris, London, Moscow, and of course, New York. “The Magic of Christmas” is about the joy- bearing holiday energy that knows no borders, and that brings us together no matter the distance.
It’s available on all streaming services, but Apple subscribers exclusively can also listen to the Atmos mix for a more cinematic and immersive experience.
What was the creative process behind it?
You would think that after being exposed to so many holiday songs in one’s life, writing them would be second nature, but its not so! If it’s a Christmas song, you want it to “sound” like Christmas. The challenge then, is trying to think about the song rationally- as in trying to come up with festive harmonies and thinking about traditional instruments like bells, while also trying to make it come from the heart- and that’s when all the thinking you’ve put in finally translates into emotion. After weeks of thinking and writing nothing, my daughter, Ileana, sent me a picture of herself in front of Saint Basil’s Church in Moscow, a historic landmark. As if by magic, memories came back to mind and the first lyrics landed: “Christmas in Moscow’s Saint Basil, Ding Dong, Saint Patrick’s in New York”. I sent the draft to the ‘master’ to finish it brilliantly. This is the first time Ileana and I wrote lyrics together.
What are some of your favorite holiday songs?
Holiday songs are more than just melody: they are memory, they are hope, and they can inspire comfort even in not so comforting times. Some songs that are timeless for me are “I’ll be Home for Christmas” “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, and “Carol of the Bells”. I believe these songs have the power to bring moments of heartwarming unity. Joni Mitchell’s “River” is also an important and beautiful song, showing the angst that can be hidden behind the lights and ornaments of the season.
How was collaborating with your daughter?
Being able to work with Ileana is a blessing. I trust her and take her opinion very seriously. She is in touch with her generation, and her academic and experiential knowledge from living in different countries ensures that I stay up-to-date with the times, and reconsider any ideas that may be old fashioned, both in the music industry and in life. It is important to build a relationship of honest communication and respect with your children. You grow together, and most importantly, these are values that your children will export to society. It all starts in the family. Of course, at times we are both “stubborn Greeks” but that’s because we set the bar high. She has a great gift for translating the emotion I want to communicate into lyrics.
What’s next for you?
Next up, I’m working on a concept album with 11 songs inspired by ancient Greek mythology. You’ll be able to hear exotic rhythms, ethnic instruments, and progressive harmonies mixed with cool electronic sounds. It’ll be performed with my band, World-Jazz Ensemble. If you’re into myths, heroes, gods, and goddesses, stay tuned for a “mythical” jazz twist!
In the meantime, you can get an acoustic glimpse of a Greek-folklore fusion, featuring santurist Loukia Valasi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vz63BOf0frk). Finally you can check out another very important project from this past year: a video for “La Ruta”, a song co-written with Jeremy Ryan dedicated to refugees who risk their lives for a better future, with original images from the Syria- Turkey Border, Greece, Serbia, and the United States, by acclaimed photographer Craig Ruttle and original text from NYU psychoanalyst Dr. Spyros Orfanos. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3-68KxF-bY)
What about “Christmas Wish”, the second holiday song you released this season?
The holiday season in New York City is a gift in itself, bringing in a rush of love, compassion, and gratitude. Not everybody, however, receives this love and compassion. “Christmas Wish” is a reminder not to lose sight of our consideration for others amidst the shopping and the sparkling spectacles. It’s a song that I hope will inspire those with a big enough hand, to lend it to those who do not have their basic needs met, physical and emotional. I hope that everyone will have something to feel grateful for this season. That is my wish.
Cover art by Pau Yaniz Gonzalez