January 30, 2005

Chris Botti Shows His Star-Making Skills at Jazz Alley

Chris Botti sparkled during a gig at the Jazz Alley.

Smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti is a musical superstar who has successfully crossed over in the pop and jazz worlds on the strength of his new album, When I Fall in Love. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Oprah Winfrey sang his praises on a show on which he performed, or that Gotham City’s tabloid newspapers now report every sighting between New York-based Botti and his girlfriend, Today show co-host Katie Couric.

The world is opening up a little more for Botti now as he opens for Josh Groban, the phenomenally popular young singer whose fans of all ages swoon over his classically inspired music.

ChrisBotti_live.jpgBut none of all of this seemed to matter recently when Botti performed at the intimate Jazz Alley in Seattle with his crack band, keyboardist Frederico Pena; bassist Jon Ossman; guitarist Marc Shulman; and drummer Billy Kilson. Botti was the focus of the show, of course, but he also gave bandmembers plenty of time to share in the glory.

Botti opened the show with a quiet version of the new album’s title song, a gorgeous ballad by Edward Heyman and Victor Young. He then neatly segued into the more contemporary sounds of “Streets Ahead,” a groovy trip thanks to Pena’s extended organ solo. Botti later dipped into to the past for a spirited reading of “Miami Overnight,” using the muted trumpet and letting Schulman take off on a long improvisation guitar jam.

He tuned it down for a mellow reading “My Funny Valentine,” which featured only the accompaniment of Pena’s piano. On this song, Botti likes to perform very personally in front of a young audience member. This is no doubt due to his devotion to his idol, Miles Davis, with whom – as luck would have it – he shared a brownstone with on West 77th in New York City during his formative days. He dedicates that song to Davis. It was included on Botti’s A Thousand Kisses Deep CD and foreshadowed his desire to remake the classics.

Of course, the contented and well-fed crowd at Seattle’s premier jazz club wanted to hear more of Botti’s new classics. He only did two, however, adding Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” to the title track he opened with. Since Paula Cole was nowhere in sight, he substituted her vocals from the CD with the expressive “vocals” of Pena’s keyboards. It worked wonderfully.

Botti only played seven songs over the course of the 75-minute set (ending with “Why Not?” from Slowing Down the World), but that seemed to be OK since all songs came packed with extended jams. It’s a good bet no one at Jazz Alley felt cheated.

At one point, the handsome trumpeter joked that many of his former girlfriends are starting to appear at his shows. Only one hasn’t shown up, he explained – the one who turned him down at the senior prom.

What was she thinking?

Posted by Brian Soergel at January 30, 2005 8:43 PM