When pianist George Burton was growing up in Mount Airy, his parents took him downtown to the Gallery every winter to hear professional jazz and classical musicians play Christmas music in the mall.
That series doesn’t exist anymore but, decades later, Burton is attempting to create that cherished experience for a new generation.
“George Burton’s Yule Log” — complete with a jazz trio, string section and a pair of accomplished vocalists — sleds into Chris’ Jazz Cafe this weekend. But don’t expect “Jingle Bells” or “White Christmas” in the set list. Burton wants to challenge your notion of this tinsel-coated genre.
“Over the years, I kept hearing the same Christmas songs pretty much played the same exact way,” he explains. “I wanted to see if I could take some of the cheesiness out of it. Like, what’s worth listening to in this, underneath all of the cheesiness?”
A self-described recovering “classical Nazi,” Burton spent his adolescence listening to classical music almost exclusively while training on the viola. It wasn’t until college that he converted to piano — and jazz. His Christmas project provides a unique chance to hold his passion for keys and strings together in the same space.
“It’s all about the intricate interplay between the two. It’s not like the strings are playing these long flowing parts for no reason,” says Burton. “People have a misconception that string players can’t be aggressive. I hope this changes that for some people.”
And Burton has dug deep into cultural vault, looking for the oft-overlooked, under-celebrated strokes of genius within the genre, like “Some Children See Him,” by Alfred Bur; the traditional Catalan song “Fum, Fum, Fum”; and an experimental take on “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
“At this point commercial Christmas music has kind of ceased to have any effect on us,” he says. “I think the Christmas songs musicians tend to avoid are the ones that are, actually, really meaningful, because they don’t want to come across too heavy. But those are the exactly the songs I wanted to tackle.”
‘George Burton’s Yule Log’
Chris’ Jazz Café
1421 Sansom St.
Dec. 21, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.