The signature sound of Mannheim Steamroller makes the spirit of the Season come alive when its Christmas tour debuts at the VanWezel on Friday, November 16. The Van Wezel’s will be the first of 90 performances which will include stops from Sarasota to LasVegas (where they will showcase nightly performances for 6 weeks). Last year the Mannheim Steamroller tour was among the top 20 tours in the nation!
In 1984, the group established its dominance of the season when it released “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,” an album that changed the sounds of Christmas. Already a multi-platinum recording group through its “Fresh Aire” series, Mannheim Steamroller decided to record an album of Christmas music combining the group’s signature mix of Renaissance instruments with rock and roll beats. The resulting album became a runaway hit and Mannheim Steamroller went on to become the biggest selling Christmas music artist in history. The group’s Christmas tour has become an annual holiday tradition right along with decorating the tree, exchanging presents, and creating unforgettable moments with friends and family.
The origins and name of Mannheim Steamroller are as unusual and innovative as its sound. Its name began as an alias for record producer and composer, Chip Davis. The name Mannheim Steamroller comes from an 18th century German musical technique, Mannheim roller, which is a crescendo passage having a rising melodic line over an ostinato bass line(a musical figure repeated at the same tone/frequency throughout a composition), popularized by the Mannheim school of composition. Using this technique, Davis produced an unusual album of classical music performed entirely by Davis and musical collaborator and keyboardist Jackson Berkey, using electric bass (played by Eric Hansen) and synthesizers. Since it was considered to be “too innovative,” no major label would handle its distribution, so Davis founded his own music label, American Gramaphone (a play on the classical record label, Deutsche Grammophon) to release the album. The result, “Fresh Aire” was released in 1975 under the pseudonym, Mannheim Steamroller, in the hope that the album would be a best seller. The resulting astounding success of the “innovative” sound of the Fresh Aire disc led to “Fresh Aire” II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII — all 8 recordings achieving “Gold” status.
Beginning in 1984, Steamroller found its niche. Davis released his first holiday album “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,” featuring modern contemporary interpretations of Yuletide favorites. This was followed by “A Fresh Aire Christmas” and “Christmas In The Aire,” which showcased creative approaches to old carols, as well as some new carol-like compositions. All three of these albums achieved 6X Platinum RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) Certification. Steamroller had now become the most requested Christmas music artists of all time! Beginning in 1984, until 2011, Steamroller released 12 Christmas albums, of which 7 received Platinum certification. The group’s 2009 “25th Anniversary Collection” Christmas box immediately rose to Gold status. The group’s newest release, “Christmas Symphony” is already #19 on Billboard’s list of top 200 albums. Mannheim Steamroller has added to its reputation as America’s Christmas icon by producing “An American Christmas,” a 12-hour nationally broadcast special holiday radio program featuring music and narrated stories, heard on over 250 stations across the United States.
Musically, as the 1990s progressed, Davis and Steamroller moved into the mainstream of “New Age” music, with a heavier reliance on synthesized instruments. Their music became closer to the “light jazz” style that gained prominence in the 1990s. They also branched out into motion picture production and scoring, and backing spoken-word recordings. However, remaining true to their origin, they have never deviated from their contemporary style of musical innovation which has become synonymous with the name Mannheim Steamroller!