The trumpet-playing Oregon native earns kudos from jazz critics for his virtuosity and his rich, distinctive tones, but it’s the familiarity of Botti’s romantic melodies and the accessibility of his arrangements that appeals to most fans.
Botti is gearing up for three weeks of radio station appearances starting February 28, 2009, followed by a spring/summer tour in conjunction with the airing of his PBS special and forthcoming album, Chris Botti in Boston.
Botti’s session work with artists like Paul Simon, Sting, Joni Mitchell and Aretha Franklin broadened his familiarity and appeal to pop audiences, while his cinematic good looks and Oprah’s stamp of approval helped shore up a large contingent of female fans.
But Botti is not simply the new millennium’s version of Kenny G.
“I think there’s a huge appetite for jazz-influenced music which is melodic, accessible and reins it in, but doesn’t dumb it down at all,” the 46-year-old Botti said in an interview for the Associated Press last year.
Take Botti’s 2007 release Italia, for example. The songs on Italia are drawn from sources ranging from classical opera, to standards, to the soundtracks of film composer Ennio Morricone. Guest on the album include Paula Cole, Andrea Bocelli, and, through the death-defying powers of studio magic, Dean Martin.
“I think in your mind, you want to have an approach that threads the sound together, even if it’s a very loose thread,” Botti said in an October 2008 telephone interview. “I mean, Italia is a very loose thread, but you just want to have something that you can hang your thoughts on.”
At the time of the interview, Botti was mixing tracks that were recorded last Sept. 18 and 19 during his performances with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Chris Botti in Boston is scheduled to be released on CD and DVD March 31, 2009.
Featuring guest appearances by John Mayer, Josh Groban, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee, classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and Sting, the shows with the Boston Pops were typical of the eclectic star-studded projects for which Botti has become known.
Botti’s touring band is a mix of old and new musicians. In addition to long-time bandmembers Billy Kilson (drums), Billy Childs (piano), and Mark Whitfield (guitar), violinist Lucia Micarelli, known for her work with Josh Groban and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, recently joined the group.
“She comes in and does some of the more classical things that the audience really likes,” Botti says. “She’s a rock star to say the least. So it’s been really fun to have another voice that plays that way. We’re slowly but surely adding her to more songs.”
Botti says that growing up he admired jazz soloists who had crossed over into the rock world like David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, Michael Brecker and Richard Tee.
“All these guys were original sounding on their instrument,” he says, “but they also played with people like Paul Simon, James Taylor, and the Rolling Stones. They were musical and interesting to me, and they had something to say. I thought that [a similar career path] would be a great avenue for me.”
Through his work as a session musician, Botti not only had the opportunity to play with a number of music legends, he also gained valuable studio production experience.
“One of the reasons why I know my way around the studio is because of the training I received sitting in a room watching producers like Arif Mardin make a record,” Botti says. “I got the opportunity to work with every great producer of the last 20 or 30 years.”
Botti released his first solo album, First Wish, in 1995 at the age of 33. At the time, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis had burst upon the scene with an album of standards, but Botti knew he had to set his own course.
“That atmospheric quality is what I really loved about jazz,” he says. “On my earlier CDs I tried to marry that feel to the textures and melodies you might hear on a record by Peter Gabriel or Bryan Ferry.”
In the years since, Botti has stayed extremely busy. Not including Chris Botti in Boston, he’s released a total of 10 albums, as well as a live DVD. He’s produced and guest starred on numerous projects. He was the leader of the house band on "The Caroline Rhea Show" from 2002 to 2003, and he hosted a weekly radio show called "Chill with Chris Botti." He even did a brief acting stint on the daytime drama, "One Life To Live."
Botti already has tentative plans for his next studio album, which he expects to begin working on in June.
“What it’s going to be, I don’t know,” he says. “One of the great things about being successful is the ability to widen your palate and work with orchestras and great arrangers that are very flattering to the trumpet. That ability to make those kind of more classy records as far as the ingredients used — the players, the studios and the arrangers — is something that I don’t want to lose. The key is figuring out what’s the theme, what’s the vibe, what’s the main thread to the album — and that I don’t know yet.”
All Roads Lead Back to Sting
Ask Chris Botti to name the person who has had the biggest influence on his life besides his parents, and he won’t hesitate to answer. “Sting,” he says. “He’s like a brother to me.” Sting hired Botti as the featured soloist on his 1999-2001 "Brand New Day Tour." The last performance of the tour occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. The date is memorable to Botti for more than the obvious reason.
After the show, Sting did Botti the biggest favor of his career. He fired him.
“Actually, he asked me to leave the band, and to become the opening act on his tour in the same breath,” Botti says. Shortly thereafter, a week of shows were booked at New York’s Beacon Theatre.
“I was opening for Sting,” Botti says. “At one of the shows there was some guy in the audience who listened to the show, then went out, bought my album, and sent it to Oprah.”
Oprah liked what she heard, and invited Botti to be a featured guest on her show. The appearance helped jump-start Botti’s career.
“Sting’s the guy that’s responsible for breaking the sound of my trumpet to the world,” says Botti. “All my roads lead back to Sting’s involvement in my career.”
Chris Botti 2009 Tour Dates (as of February 2009):
31 Mexico City, MEXICO Teatro la Ciudad
04 Atlantic City, NJ Tropicana Hotel & Casino
08 Harrisburg, PA Whitaker Center TICKETS
11 Easton, PA State Theater TICKETS
16 Daytona Beach, FL Peabody Auditorium
18 TV APPEARANCE: CBS Saturday Morning Show
23 Sarasota, FL Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall TICKETS
24 Birmingham, AL BJCC Concert Hall w/ Alabama Symphony Orchestra TICKETS
25 West Palm Beach, FL Kravis Center TICKETS
26 Miami, FL Fillmore
28 Clearwater, FL Ruth Eckerd Hall TICKETS
29 Durham, NC Carolina Theatre of Durham
30 Charlotte, NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center
02 Columbus, OH Ohio Theatre
03 Ventura, CA Ventura Music Festival TICKETS
07 Tarrytown, NY Tarrytown Music Hall TICKETS
08 Great Barrington, MA The Mahaiwe Theatre
10 Chicago, IL Chicago Theatre TICKETS
13 Wilmington, DE Grand Opera House TICKETS
14 Englewood, NJ Bergen Performing Arts Center TICKETS
15 Red Bank, NJ Count Basie Theatre TICKETS
16 Utica, NY Stanley Theater TICKETS
21 Meridian, MS MSU Riley Center TICKETS
22 Atlanta, GA Symphony Hall
23 Atlanta, GA Symphony Hall
30 Cerritos, CA Cerritos Center for the Arts
03 Boston, MA Symphony Hall w/ Boston Pops
04 New York, NY Beacon Theatre
06 Monterey, CA Monterey Conference Center-Sierra Ballroom
02 Montreal, CANADA Montreal Jazz Festival
09 Los Angeles, CA The Greek Theatre
10 Sparks, NV John Ascuaga's Nugget-Celebrity Showroom
11 San Francisco, CA Davies Symphony Hall
12 San Francisco, CA Davies Symphony Hall