Sweet Lu Olutosin opens JAS Café winter season with holiday show
IF YOU GO …
Who: Sweet Lu Olutosin
Where: JAS Café Downstairs at the Nell
When: Friday, Dec. 21, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 22, 7 & 9:15 p.m.
How much: $40 ($105 for dinner package)
“Sweet” Lu Olutosin was born to sing.
From his childhood in church choirs, through a long military career when singing was a private source of solace and into his ascendant career as a professional jazz musician, Olutosin has been carried by his voice.
This weekend, the Atlanta-based singer makes his Colorado debut with three Christmas-themed shows at the JAS Café Downstairs at the Nell. The show opens the eight-artist 2018-19 winter season at the JAS Café, which runs through late March.
Playing holiday classics, Olutosin said in a recent phone interview from Atlanta, brings him back to his roots performing in church during his boyhood in Indiana and Mississippi.
His first public performance came in East Chicago, Indiana, as a boy, when the precocious young Olutosin was chosen to sing with the adult choir.
“I was so small they picked me up and put me on the table so that I could be seen by everybody as I was singing,” Olutosin said. “I was on top of the world, singing and sharing the gift that God has given me.”
Those experiences began a life enriched by music, though full-time professional singing was decades off. Before his career as a blues and jazz singer and songwriter, Olutosin had a 36-year career in public service — serving in the U.S. Air Force for four years, then as an Atlanta policeman and in the U.S. Army that included tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He retired as a colonel in 2015.
“I remember plenty of times when I was serving in uniform in combat zones and the music was what allowed me to keep my sanity,” he recalled. “It was always in the background, but it was also my backbone. It was what allowed me to move forward.”
As he prepared for retirement, Olutosin eyed a new career in song. He released his first album in 2010 and quickly drew national notice.
For these Aspen shows, Olutosin will be playing with a six-piece combo including saxophone, trumpet, upright bass, piano and drums. He and the band have tackled Christmas classics and reimagined them.
“I’ve got some nice arrangements of some traditional Christmas tunes,” Olutosin said. “Some of the old favorites with a different flavor to them.”
His “O Come All Ye Faithful,” he noted, retains some of the traditional Latin verses but adds jazzy flourishes like a melody from the horn section.
“I think people will recognize there is something different going on here,” he said. “Hopefully it reaches their spirit and gives their heartstrings a tug. For me, that’s what it’s all about. You combine the magic of music with the magic of this time of year and you have something special.”
While the weekend’s concerts are billed as a “Hot Holiday” show, Olutosin is mixing his original material in with the seasonal songs. Olutosin has released three albums, most recently “Meet Me At the Crossroads” last year.
In the new year, he’s launching a new project celebrating the centennial of Nat King Cole’s birth. Collaborating with Cole’s brother, Freddy, Olutosin is aiming to showcase the jazz genius of Nat King Cole beyond his pop music hits and ballads.
“I’m focusing on making sure that artists that have been the vanguard, who have taken jazz music and really turned it into an art form, that they are not forgotten,” Olutosin said.
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