2009 Grammy nominations & topping Billboard’s jazz charts
By Val Vaccaro
There has been an incredible evolution of American-born trumpeter, composer, and charismatic performer Chris Botti. At 47 years young, Botti has experienced many transitions. Overall, trumpeter Chris Botti has gone from young brown-haired, ‘smooth jazz’ male ingénue to blond jazz/pop/classical crossover music icon, who is one of the world’s best selling instrumental artists. With the pure warmth and graceful beauty of his tone, like his trumpet, Botti seems to have loyal fans in the palm of his hands.
Chris Botti is ending 2009 with 3 Grammy nominations for his current CD and DVD Chris Botti in Boston (which is also #1 on Billboard magazine’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart). The Grammy nominations are for: Best Pop Instrumental Album for the CD (Columbia/Sony Music), Best Long Form Music Video for the DVD (Jim Gable - video director; Bobby Colomby - video producer [Columbia/Sony Music], and Best Instrumental Arrangement for the song “Emmanuel” (arranged by Jeremy Lubbock; performed by Chris Botti and violinist Lucia Micarelli). (See separate review of the DVD Chris Botti in Boston by Val Vaccaro on SmoothVibes.com)
For the end-of-the-year Billboard charts, Botti is also #1 on the Top Contemporary Jazz Artists charts. On Billboard’s Top Jazz Artists chart which lists both traditional and contemporary jazz artists, Botti is #4 – the only instrumentalist among great vocalists – following Michael Bublé (#1), Harry Connick Jr. (#2), and Diana Krall (#3). Two of Botti’s inspirational role models are listed after Botti - the late great Frank Sinatra is #5 and the legendary Tony Bennett is #6 on that chart). Also, Botti’s CD Italia (released in 2007) is #15 on the 2009 end-of-the-year Billboard Top Traditional Jazz Albums chart.
In smaller steps, Chris Botti’s transitions are still impressive. From touring with Frank Sinatra in 1981 to sideman and opening act for Sting in 2001. From appearing on Oprah to performing at Oslo at the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Concert. From an obscure newcomer, to one of People Magazine’s most Beautiful People in 2004. From session studio musician, to consummate live performer. From introspective soloist with his own band in 1996, to charming collaborator, sensational showman, and tour veteran in 2009. From headlining performer, to Blue Note bobblehead doll in 2009 at the renowned NYC jazz club. From Botti’s smooth-jazz/chill music debut CD First Wish in 1995 to the eclectic mix of crossover music in the 2009 Grammy-nominated Chris Botti in Boston CD and DVD. From Oregon native to NYC transplant to LA homeowner.
From studio musician and sideman, to consummate frontman.
Chris Botti has received both critical acclaim and is a fan-favorite with mainstream audiences around the world. In the past few decades, Botti is one of a handful of trumpeters to successfully reach a larger base of fans. In his own unique way, Chris Botti is following in the footsteps of pop/jazz trumpeters that have reached widespread audiences such as Herb Alpert, Chuck Mangione, Doc Severinsen, Chet Baker, and Botti’s main inspiration, Miles Davis, as well as other instrumentalists such as Kenny G and Yanni. Chris Botti said he admires jazz musicians who successfully crossed-over from jazz to the rock world such as David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, Michael Brecker, and Mark Isham, and felt that he would like to pursue a similar path. Further, Botti has garnered success as a multi-media star, due to a combination of talent, charm, providence, and good looks. For sure, Botti has been lucky and blessed, but he has also dedicated almost four decades of his life with a single-minded determination to get to where he is now.
Around the world, Chris Botti has sold nearly three million albums. He has recorded over a dozen CDs as a solo artist ranging from contemporary jazz and “chill” music to American jazz standards, classical music and pop music. From 1995 to the present, many of Botti’s CDs and DVDs have gone gold or platinum (certified by the RIAA). Botti has also received numerous Grammy nominations and awards.
Chris Botti got his first experience on the road touring with Frank Sinatra in 1981 (he said in a recent show (on May 14th at the Bergen Performing Arts Center) that he took a “leap of faith” and left college early to do that). In the past twenty years, Botti has also worked as a studio musician with many top producers (such as Arif Mardin and Hugh Padgham) and dozens of renowned artists. Chris Botti has recorded and/or performed with a diversity of renowned music artists such as Sting, Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli (Botti’s appeared as a guest on some of Bocelli’s PBS special Vivere: Live in Tuscany), Paul Simon, Natalie Cole, Gladys Night, Chaka Khan, Burt Bacharach, Julio Iglesias, Yo-Yo Ma, Ennio Morricone, Paula Cole, Steven Tyler, John Mayer, Joe Cocker, Linda Eder, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Rod Stewart, Marc Cohn, Thomas Dolby, Roger Daltrey, Natalie Merchant, Joshua Bell, Jill Scott, The Brecker Brothers, film composer John Barry and more.
In addition, Botti has recorded with jazz artists such as: Michael Bublé, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Gerald Albright, Dave Koz, Jeff Lorber, Philippe Saisse, Peter White, Spyro Gyra, Angela Bofill, Reneé Olstead, Jill Scott, Rachel Z, Bob James, David Benoit, Dave Grusin, David Mann, Andy Snitzer, Eric Marienthal, Lee Ritenour, Russ Freeman, Chris Standring, Jimmy Sommers, Dominic Miller, Brian Culbertson, and others.
While on tour from 1990-1995 with Paul Simon, Botti met saxophonist Michael Brecker, which led to Botti producing the Brecker Brothers’ Out of the Loop CD. The album won a 1995 Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance. In recent years, Botti has opened for and/or toured with Michael Bublé, Josh Groban, Dave Koz, Diana Krall, Al Jarreau, Bob James, and Joni Mitchell.
From 1999-2001, Botti put his own contemporary jazz band on hold, so that he could go on the road as a member of Sting’s band on the Brand New Day tour. Botti credits Sting with boosting his career, and giving him his big break when he asked Botti to be his opening act. In 2001 after the concert All This Time (which was recorded for a CD/DVD and webcast at Sting’s estate in Tuscany on September 11, 2001). That show was broadcast as a part of an A&E (Arts & Entertainment) cable channel “In Concert” series in the U.S. and received six Emmy nominations.
In 2005, Botti collaborated with Sting on the sweepingly dramatic and poetic ballad “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life” (composed by Marilyn Bergman, Alan Bergman and Michel LeGrand) which appeared on Botti’s CD To Love Again – The Duets. The recording won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), arranged by Billy Childs, Gil Goldstein and Heitor Pereira.
In 2007. Botti released the CD Italia inspired by the romance of Italy and his own Italian heritage, included classical, jazz, and pop music such as "Ave Maria", "Venice", "Estatè", and the title track "Italia." The CD Italia, which included duets with Andrea Bocelli, Paula Cole, and (a posthumous recording of) Dean Martin, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
From Headlining Performer, to Blue Note Bobblehead
From December 15, 2009 through January 3rd, 2010, Botti was the headline act for a 3 week run at the legendary Blue Note jazz club in New York City. in the past few years, this has become somewhat of a holiday tradition for Botti at the Blue Note. Botti said the shows at the Blue Note “are always fun for me, and the only other artist to play at the Blue Note for three weeks was Dizzy Gillespie. So I feel quite honored." During Botti’s reign at the Blue Note jazz club in NYC, he was accompanied by his touring band: Billy Childs (piano), Robert (Bob) Hurst (bass), Billy Kilson (drums), Mark Whitfield (guitar), along with special guests: Andy Ezrin (piano), Susie Park (violinist), and Sy Smith (vocals) (according to a Tweet from Sy Smith). On December 24th, the Blue Note gave Chris Botti an early Christmas present – a Chris Botti Bobblehead Doll. The custom-made Bobblehead Doll is merely a token of the admiration and adoration for Botti. (The bobblehead photos were posted by BlueNotenyc on TwitPic.
As part of other end-of-year festivities, Botti pre-recorded a countdown to 2010 with some of his favorite songs, share some stories and new year’s resolutions which was broadcast on New Year’s Eve in 2009 from 8pm to midnight EST on Sirius/XM satellite radio on the Watercolors 71 channel in the U.S. (www.xmradio.com).
From Brown-haired ingénue soloist
The first time I saw trumpeter Chris Botti perform in 1998 at the Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania, I knew I watching a very special artist. I listened and watched in amazement and awe at Botti’s beautifully ethereal tone and the performance of his musical persona as he played with purity of sound and great breath control, while walking up the aisle into the audience of the Sheraton Reading hotel ballroom. Later in August of 1998, I saw Chris Botti perform at the Mount Hood Jazz Festival (in his native state of Oregon). There was a unique opportune moment when I went backstage and remember saying with a big smile on my face – how lucky I was to say hello to two of my favorite trumpeters standing and talking there together – Rick Braun and newcomer Chris Botti). That same month, I also saw Chris Botti open for Bob James’ smooth-jazz supergroup Fourplay (with Larry Carlton starting his tenure there). I remember watching the two shows on a summer evening under a spectacular full moon at an outdoor theater at a winery in the San Francisco area, where I sat with smooth jazz guitarist Joyce Cooling and her musical director and partner, keyboardist Jay Wagner, who were also fans of all of the performers. At that time on tour in 1998, Chris Botti was promoting his second CD Midnight Without You (released in1997) which was a follow-up to his debut as a solo artist with the 1995 CD First Wish. Little did anyone know that fate had in mind for Botti to be catapulted to worldwide acclaim transcending boundaries as a pop/jazz/classical music crossover artist and multi-media star.
Secrets of Botti’s Tone
Physical fitness and dedication to practice
After the Berks Jazz Fest show in March 1998, I asked Chris Botti what was the secret to his incredible tone and breath control – he said he attributed it in part to doing yoga. In an interview with the LA Daily News in July 2009, Botti said: "I do yoga, but to be honest with you, because I play the trumpet I have to practice that thing three, four, five hours a day. So when I'm not on the road, that's what I'm really trying to do, get better."
Recently, Botti humbly said that after all of his accomplishments, the one goal he continues to nurture is continuing to become a better trumpet player – everything else can simply just fall into place. In a 2005 interview for www.bandn.com, Botti said “ultimately, I think the thing that's most recognizable for me is the actual tone of my trumpet. The way that I phrase and play, the actual sound of my trumpet is very recognizable.” Botti is proud of his special sound, which he refers to as “dark” and “melancholy” tone, rather than a bright one, which really lends itself perfectly when Botti is playing ballads.
Botti attributes his sound to “a natural progression just from years and years of practice…. always trying to achieve a more polished, beautiful, round trumpet sound….Since I was a kid I’ve been trying to do that. So it didn’t just happen overnight at all. It’s been a long journey and something that I’ve dedicated my whole life to.” Botti has also (jokingly or may not jokingly) said: "The trumpet is a bit of mistress….You have to be physically on your game."
Botti also used the sports analogy of how a trumpeter is “like being a baseball pitcher. I think every baseball pitcher would love to paint the outside corner at 95 miles an hour. But it’s just not like that. You just physically can’t do it all the time, and so with the trumpet it’s very similar. Your biggest enemy is the trumpet. Everyone would love to have that kind of dark, beautiful trumpet sound because it’s more rare than getting a bright, brittle trumpet sound.” That sports analogy is a great reflection of the risk that happens every time a trumpet player gets out there to play livea – they put themselves out there on the line. It can be a scary thing for all horn players – and reminded me of a story that was echoed by trumpeter Jon Faddis in an interview at a Jazz Times magazine convention in 1998. Faddis told a story of all of the practice he had to put in (since he was 9 years old) to avoid embarassment to make sure he could confidently hit the high notes (without fail) - inspired by his muse – Dizzy Gillespie. (On December 29th at the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors show, Jon Faddis recently played as part of a moving tribute to honoree, 89 year old legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck – the same show in which Sting performed a tribute to honoree Bruce Springsteen at that event’s finale.)
Another part of the equation that helps create the special tone is made via the instrument itself. Chris Botti plays a rare 1939/1941 Martin Committee trumpet with a slightly larger bell. The horn was popular from the late 1940s until the mid-1960s played by legends such as Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Al Hirt, Kenny Dorham and Clifford Brown. Botti purchased the trumpet in 2003. Botti has said that “it was like finding a rare Jaguar or a rare Porsche. The sound is just so dark and beautiful, with a really soft and inviting tone." Botti also uses a 3C silver plated mouthpiece from Bach made in 1926, after retiring his 1920 3C Bach mouthpiece. He also uses a Leblanc Vacchiano Harmon mute from the 1950s.
Chris Botti has the dedication and discipline to stay on track - striving to be the best he can be - playing a challenging instrument that not many artists get to master in a lifetime. In admiration of his muse, Botti referred to Miles Davis this way: “Like a great athlete, he could get all around the horn and his sound was brilliant and moody and dark when it needed to be." Botti candidly has expressed his concerns about playing one of the most difficult musical instruments. Botti said "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to look at the history of trumpet players and see how quickly the instrument can make you humble. …Last year, we lost one of the greatest trumpet players of all time in Freddie Hubbard…You just never know, something can go wrong — have your wisdom tooth pulled out — and it just messes up your whole apparatus. Or you cut your lip, and it never heals properly, which is what happened to Freddie. Those things I'm painfully aware of and want to make sure that they don't happen."
For Chris Botti, It is much more than just yoga or playing the right horn that makes him a special musician. It’s the artist himself, the sound, the trumpet, his muses… the sum is much greater than the parts. Chris Botti’s sound seems to derive from the depths of heart and soul. Ask any fan listening and watching trumpeter Chris Botti focus and play the dramatic, religious aria “Ave Maria,” “Hallelujah” or “Time to Say Goodbye,” and you might suspect that there is some sort of divine intervention.
Botti’s Early Roots
Christopher Stephen Botti was born in Portland, Oregon and grew up in Corvallis. As a child, he also lived for two years in Italy. Born on October 12, 1962, that makes Botti a Libra. Even if you are a skeptic about astrology, Botti seems to fit the description of Libras. Being hardworking, idealistic, an archetypal romantic, and valuing beauty and balance appear to be in alignment with Botti’s philosophy on music and life. Consider the balance of his practice regimen and the discipline of being on the road 250+ days a year, his dedication to creating a beautiful tone and lush music on the trumpet, and view his persona – including his taste in designer clothing. A 2005 New York Times article noted that Botti’s taste included “Prada, Gucci, … leather jackets and expensive … jeans (which) make him something of a Sting style-alike.”
Since he was about 10 years old, Botti was already a dedicated musician practicing and playing trumpet. He said he chose music partly because he was not good at sports. Initially, Botti was influenced by his mother, a classically trained pianist and part time piano teacher. According to Botti "I can't really sit down and play a song on the piano. But I know harmony, and generally I compose on the piano rather than on the trumpet."
At 12 years old, he says he had the good fortune of listening to the live album by trumpeter Miles Davis (with saxophonist George Coleman and pianist Herbie Hancock) which included Davis’ recording of "My Funny Valentine." After listening to Davis play, Botti had an epiphany when he realized that he wanted to be a musician, play jazz on trumpet as a way of “doing something meaningful with my life."
In 1980, when Botti was 18 years old, he was chosen as a member of McDonalds’ All American High School Jazz Band, and played at Carnegie Hall. Botti finished his high school senior year credits at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, and arranged it so he could also play music at night at clubs in Portland. After that, Botti attended Indiana University and studied with jazz educator David Baker and trumpet professor Bill Adam. Botti also received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts which enabled him to study with trumpeter Woody Shaw and saxophonist George Coleman during two summer college breaks.
While in his senior year at college, Chris Botti had the golden opportunity to tour for two weeks with singer Frank Sinatra, and with drummer Buddy Rich. Botti was also a member of Bruford Levin Upper Extremities, an experimental, jazz fusion-oriented group. In the 1980s, Botti relocated to New York City, under the guidance of producers including Hugh Padgham and Arif Mardin. According to Botti, "After I came to New York "I realized I didn't want to be a jazz musician. I love improvising, but you really need to live the bebop tradition in order to play it. That kind of music--the kind that Woody Shaw, for example, played so brilliantly--just moves a little too quickly for me.”
In 1995, when Chris Botti embarked upon his solo recording career, he knew he needed to steer his own course and hone his own musical style. Botti was not interested in competing with traditional jazz trumpeters and playing bebop, although he says he admires trumpeters like Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard. From 1995 to 2003, Chris Botti’s first five albums had an ‘atmospheric’ quality, produced with “electronic underpinnings.” Botti’s music was marketed as “smooth jazz” although his music had other influences such as alternative, funky pop music and chill music – Botti said he was influenced by pop artists such as Peter Gabriel and Bryan Ferry. In 1995, Botti released his first solo album, First Wish. His second CD Midnight Without You was released in 1997, and included vocalists Paul Buchanan (from Blue Nile) and Jonatha Brooke. In 1999 (when he also began touring with Sting) Chris Botti released Slowing Down The World with vocals from Sting and Jonatha Brooke. Also, in 1996, between his first two CDs, Botti composed the score and recorded a soundtrack for the 1996 Robert M. Young film Caught. In addition, a Best of Chris Botti CD was also released.
In 2001, Night Sessions became Botti’s first release on the Columbia Records label. The CD was well received by music critics. Night Sessions was inspired by the sounds of the late-night European club scene. Some highlights from the CD include the following songs. "Streets Ahead" was the first radio single, an upbeat tune with Botti along with Jeff Lorber on keyboards. Grammy-winner Shawn Colvin sang "All Would Envy" an unrecorded composition by Sting (similar to Sting’s tune "It’s Probably Me"). "Blue Horizon" is a mixture of funky, hip, with jazz fusion and Miles Davis-like influences with pianist Billy Childs’ playing style for that tune in Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunter” mode. Other guest musicians on the CD were: Christian McBride, Vinnie Colaiuta, Luis Conte and Dominic Miller.
In 2002, Chris Botti released a holiday-themed CD called December with songs including “Little Drummer Boy” and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Botti sung (his only recorded vocals to date) on two of the tracks – “Perfect Day" (a tune composed by Richard Marx with the season-appropriate line, "With you, it's Christmas every day") and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The CD also included Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
In 2003, Chris Botti released the CD A Thousand Kisses Deep which contains originals and covers that emphasize Botti’s crossover appeal as both a jazz and pop musician. Botti described the CD as "a more mature and expansive version of the kind of thing I started doing eight or nine years ago. I'm chasing the ultimate chill-out vibe. I'm trying to create music that is beautiful and sophisticated at the same time."
The CD included a breathtakingly beautiful, tender interpretation of the classic jazz standard “My Funny Valentine” accompanied by pianist Billy Childs. That’s the song recorded by trumpeter Miles Davis that most inspired Botti when he was only about 10 years old to become a trumpeter. Botti’s version also happens to be my favorite for the tune. I’ve also seen Botti perform “My Funny Valentine” at the old IMAC Theater in Huntington, New York. I continue to savor his beautiful arrangement and improvisations on that song from his 2003 CD.
It seemed for a while that “My Funny Valentine” was Botti’s “signature” tune in concert, but he did not include it on the 2009 DVD release Chris Botti in Boston (hopefully in the future, Botti’s solo version will also be captured on a DVD). Chris Botti, with Sting on vocals, recorded a version of “My Funny Valentine” on his 2006 DVD and CD Live: With Orchesta And Special Guests. (Sting also recorded it for a movie called Ashura (and it appears on Sting’s CD My Funny Valentine: Sting at the Movies.) During Chris Botti’s tours, audience members would often be treated to him playing a poignant version of “My Funny Valentine” – to highlight his pure, warm tones ‘acapella’ (i.e., solo-no band). Botti would usually pick a special person to play the tune to in the audience. In October 2003, I had the pleasure of seeing Botti pick a young boy about 9 years old (about the same age as Botti was when he started playing trumpet). Before he played the song, Botti spoke about the importance of early music education for children. Botti then performed “My Funny Valentine” to the boy, his parents, and the hushed crowd during a Dave Koz show at the Westbury Music Theater in New York. (That same night, in contrast to his beautiful balladeering, Botti showed off his chops performed with Dave Koz on alto sax a memorable, fantastic version of the very funky, hip, quick tempo song “Sounds Of The Underground” which samples the ultra-hip, cool Lee Morgan tune “Sidewinder“ (the song appears on the Dave Koz CD Saxophonic).
Another cover Botti did on the 2003 CD A Thousand Kisses Deep was “The Look of Love” (an exhilarating rendition sung by Chantal Kreviazuk) which was a hit on smooth jazz radio. Botti also later recorded a “live” version of “The Look of Love” with singer Paula Cole and composer/pianist Burt Bacharach on the 2006 CD/DVD Live with Orchestra & Special Guests. In 1967, “The Look of Love” was a popular hit sung by Dusty Springfield as the theme song for the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
In 2004, Chris Botti released his breakthrough, most pivotal CD of his career to date, When I Fall in Love, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, and a number of notable artists such as Paula Cole, Billy Childs, Jeff Lorber, Brian Bromberg, Billy Kilson, Dean Parks, and Vinnie Colaiuta. The 2004 album was ‘a dream come true’ for Chris Botti, and the CD was certified gold in sales by the RIAA. The 2004 CD has some of the most romantic jazz standards ever composed from the American Songbook (which appeared in some of my favorite old movie musicals such as those with Fred Astaire singing and dancing to these great songs). With wonderful arrangements by Marc Shulman, Gil Goldstein, Billy Childs, and Jeremy Lubbock, the songs included are: the title track “When I Fall in Love, Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” (featuring Paula Cole on vocals), Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” Ira and George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Nearness of You,” “Make Someone Happy,” and the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer tune “One for My Baby” (covered by artists such as Frank Sinatra). The CD also features the song “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets” sung by Sting (composed by Sting and Dominic Miller). “How Love Should Be” is sung by Paula Cole (and composed and arranged by Jeremy Lubbock). There is also a cover of the song “No Ordinary Love” (made famous by vocalist Sade) which was arranged by Bobby Colomby, Jeff Lorber and Brian Bromberg) with vocals by Jill Zadeh. Botti also included two dramatic selections by Italian composers influenced by classical music: “Cinema Paradiso” and “Time to say Goodbye” (Con Te Partiro).
Chris Botti’s follow-up CD was the 2005 To Love Again: The Duets, produced by Bobby Colomby, which also became a gold album. The CD included jazz standards and other popular love songs, also following the successful formula of artists such as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Kenny G with some duets. The 2005 release included instrumentals by Botti on “Embraceable You,” “What’s New,” “To Love Again,” “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The duets included “What are you Doing the Rest of Your Life” sung by Sting (which won a Grammy award), “My One and Only Love” with Paula Cole, “Let There Be Love” with Michael Bublé, “Good Morning Heartache” with Jill Scott (which became a big smooth jazz radio hit), “Are You Lonesone Tonight” with Paul Buchanan, “Lover Man” with Gladys Knight, “Pennies from Heaven” with Renee Olstead, “Here’s that Rainy Day” with Rosa Passos, and the CD’s moving conclusion, “Smile” sung by Steven Tyler.
The 2006 CD/DVD Live with Orchestra & Special Guests was the first of Chris Botti’s highly successful PBS specials recorded at the Wilshire Theatre in Los Angeles (for the public broadcasting system’s TV network 2006 pledge drive). The popular DVD went platinum in sales. The show included six instrumentals, including songs like “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “When I Fall in Love,” and Leonard Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep” with Botti and his band (including pianist Billy Childs and drummer Billy Kilson). There were eight duets including Sting on vocals for “What are you Doing for the Rest of Your Life” and “My Funny Valentine.” Jill Scott sang “Good Morning Heartache,” Renee Olstead sang “Pennies from Heaven,” and Paula Cole and Burt Bacharach performed on “The Look of Love.” Other guest artists included Gladys Knight and Paul Buchanan.
In 2007, Chris Botti added more of a classical music influence to his themed record called Italia. On the title track, Botti collaborates with opera/pop crossover singer Andrea Bocelli (Italia was composed by Chris Botti and David Foster). (Botti and Bocelli performed that song on Bocelli’s 2007 PBS television special/DVD Vivere: Andrea Bocelli in Tuscany). Botti’s CD Italia also contains duets with Paula Cole, and (a posthumous recording of) Dean Martin. Italia was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album (as previously mentioned). As noted earlier, Botti’s most recent release is the 2009 Grammy-nominated CD Chris Botti in Boston.
To Blond-Crossover-Music Icon: Lucky Breaks, the Media & the Botti Brand
New York City was Botti’s adopted hometown for many years after he graduated college to gain experience as a studio musician in the 1980s, so in a way, it’s a type of homecoming while he played for three weeks at the Blue Note jazz club, even though he recently purchased a house in Los Angeles. While in NYC, on December 23rd, 2009, Botti did the honors of ringing the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange. It’s these kinds of unusual items that continue to keep Botti in the press.
For Botti, it seems providence leads to a series of events from one lucky break to another, and whatever challenges and surprising new experiences offered to him, Botti has adeptly handled these events with finesse, grace, humility, and with a sense of humor to top it all off.
One fortunate event for Chris Botti was when Bobby Colomby (who became his producer and manager), brought Botti to Columbia Records (he released the CD Night Sessions on Columbia in 2001). Colomby was the drummer and original founder of the mega-pop group Blood, Sweat & Tears. About three years later, Columbia Records would help change the course of Botti’s career to include covering jazz standards from the American Songbook, and that would make him a rising star. Botti wrote (in his liner notes) that Don Ienner, President and CEO of the parent company of his record label Sony Music Label Group U.S. (Columbia Records) made “a suggestion that is also a personal dream, I know that I am truly blessed. We agreed a recording of romantic music allowing an escape from life’s everyday anxieties would be a timely remedy for listeners and truly extraordinary at this point in time.” The idea was for Chris Botti to record a CD of jazz standards with an orchestra (an expensive initial investment which proved a wise decision for Botti’s career (and from a marketing and sales perspective). That CD became the 2004 release When I Fall in Love (which was later certified as a gold record).
A 2007 New York Times article once described Chris Botti as “Sting-endorsed and Oprah-approved.” Botti always credits his first lucky break to touring with Sting from 1999-2001, which helped get Botti’s solo career to the next level. Botti once told the Palm Beach Post that “He (Sting) calls me his evil younger brother. I gotta tell you, all my big breaks lead back to Sting, every last one of them. Going around the world with … (Sting), he gave me so many fans. ... It all leads back to him and his constant friendship."
According to Botti, “I was opening for Sting. 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.” In November 2004, veteran talk-show host Oprah Winfrey quickly became an enthusiastic fan of Botti’s music, and then invited Botti to be a guest on her show where he played the song “When I Fall in Love” for a special fantasy wedding (supposedly at the request of the bride) on the show. Botti also performed on a TV special in May 2005 at Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball honoring her African American heroines. After Chris Botti initially appeared on Oprah’s talk show, on November 12, 2004, he performed “Someone to Watch Over Me” and was interviewed by Al Roker on the national program the Today Show on NBC, which further increased his exposure to American audiences watching daytime television. By reaching a new, larger audience (just one week after the appearance 50,000 CDs of Botti’s were sold), Chris Botti’s CD When I Fall in Love shot to the Number 1 Album spot on Amazon.com, and was Number 1 on Billboard’s jazz charts (as www.SmoothVibes.com reported back in November 2004).
Just one month later, in December 2004, Oprah Winfrey was co-host with Tom Cruise at the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslow, Norway. Botti had the privilege of performing alongside artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Patti LaBelle, Cyndi Lauper, and Joss Stone at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert which was broadcast to over 100 countries. Botti was quoted in the Seattle Times as saying “I just thought, what did I do to deserve this?”
Botti’s 2004 CD When I Fall in Love was later re-released as part of a package with a DVD. In addition to the music, the DVD When I Fall in Love also includes a documentary about the making of the album and a video of Botti's performance of "Someone to Watch Over Me" at the 2004 Nobel Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway. The CD/DVD combination has proved to be a winning marketing formula for promoting Botti as an artist.
As part of popular culture, in 2004, Botti was also voted on People Magazine’s Top 50 most Beautiful People. (The only other ‘smooth jazz’ artist I can recall who has been on a People Magazine list is saxophonist Dave Koz – who was on the 2004 list of People’ Magazine’s ’50 Hottest Bachelors’.) In 2005, a New York Times article described Chris Botti this way: With his sculptured blond hair and crinkly eyes, Mr. Botti, a boyish (looks), is a modern-day jazz heartthrob.
Botti has also been described (sort of tongue-in-cheek) as looking like “a Greek surfer god… Botti the brand is Adonis with a trumpet in his hand” by Minneapolis/St Paul Magazine. From an art history perspective, aficionados might also find some resemblance of Botti to the classical beauty of a marble bust of ancient Roman Emperor Tiberius. (What do you think?)
In 2004, the same year his CD When I Fall in Love was moving up the charts, Chris Botti was covered by the entertainment gossip media for his new relationship with television news reporter Katie Couric, who was then co-anchor of the Today Show on NBC. After sometime, Botti reported to the press that they were no longer an item, and remained friends.
From 2004-2005, Chris Botti also had appearances on numerous American television shows. Botti appeared on the daytime TV variety program The Tony Danza Show, entertainment news programs Access Hollywood and The Insider, and on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. Botti performed a song with Paula Cole on the CBS Early Morning Show and also on The View. Botti also played on the Sharon Osbourne Show where Botti and Jeff Lorber played “My Funny Valentine.” On March 5, 2005, cable news channel CNN aired an interview they did with Botti about what his success meant to him.
Trumpeter Chris Botti has also performed at fundraising events. On March 21, 2005, Botti performed a show at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in NYC ($1000 per plate). Interestingly, Botti had also been invited to play at George Bush’s Presidential inauguration. According to SmoothVibes.com, Botti’s manager said Botti turned down the opportunity to play at the Bush event due to conflicts with his touring schedule, but another source –Toby Rogers, author of book on Bush The Blue and The Red, claimed that Sting had influenced Botti’s decision to decline the invitation. In April 2005, Chris performed a show at the First Annual Diamonds For Humanity Gala to benefit the International League for Human Rights at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center in New York City (sponsored by Gemesis Cultured Diamonds and Harper's Bazaar magazine).
According to SmoothVibes.com, on October 23, 2005, the week that Chris Botti released his 2005 CD To Love Again, Botti had the honor of playing “God Bless America” at Game 2 of the World Series baseball game in Chicago with the Chicago White Sox versus the Houston Astros. This opportunity was to make-up for a lost one the previous year, when Botti was originally scheduled to perform at Game 5 of the 2004 World Series – a game that never happened because the Boston Red Sox beat the Cardinals in their home town of St. Louis in four games, winning their first championship in 86 years.
The marketing of various products and services have also been associated with Chris Botti, which is atypical for most jazz and pop artists. In 2003, Chris Botti appeared in a national advertising campaign for Christian Brothers Brandy (Heaven Hill Distilleries) (notice the brand cleverly has the same initials and shares the same letters of Chris’ first name). The campaign actually was for a "Smooth As Jazz" summer sales promotion, where consumers received a $6 mail-in coupon towards the purchase of Botti’s Night Sessions CD; the firm also sold the brandy with the sampler CD as an on-pack promotion. Also in November, 2003, the U.S. electronics retail chain Best Buy released a limited edition special CD (not sold to the public) as a reward only for members of its frequent-buyers program “Reward Zone.” The CD called Sweet Tracks was packaged in a festive holiday container that looks like a peppermint candy, and included Chris Botti (accompanied by Billy Childs) on the song “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The CD also included vocals by Sting on “Bethlehem Down”, Jewel on “Blue Christmas,” Seal on “Make Someone Happy” and Coldplay on “2,000 Miles.” (Botti was the only instrumental artist on that CD.) On December 21st, 2004, Chris Botti and his band performed a one-hour concert on the QVC Home Shopping cable television channel in their U.S. studio in West Chester, Pennsylvania. QVC broadcasted the show to be available for viewing throughout the world on the internet at http://www.qvc.com/ On November 9, 2005, Botti performed on television at the opening of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in New York City. Back in 2004, Botti’s website also sold tee-shirts and other merchandise, and his website often ran contests for visitors to win prizes.
Also, Chris Botti had the honor of performing “My Funny Valentine” on the televised PBS broadcast (which was released in 2007 on a DVD/CD) on pianist Ramsey Lewis’ show: Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis: Season One, Vol. 1, on a program with the subject “The Golden Horns” alongside trumpeters Clark Terry and Roy Hargrove. Botti also hosted a nationally syndicated “Chill music” radio show Chill with Chris Botti (in 2007, the show got a new host and changed its name to Chill with Mindi Abair.) From 2002-2003, Botti was the house band leader on the nationally syndicated daytime talk show The Caroline Rhea Show. With a laugh, Botti once said: "You just never know what will happen in this business!" Botti even did a brief acting stint on a daytime drama (either “The Young and the Restless” or "One Life To Live” – depending on the reported source).
In recent years during his concerts, trumpeter Chris Botti has often picked a young boy in the audience to play a song to (asking if the child plays an instrument) and talking about encouraging young people to play musical instruments and to dedicate themselves to the craft. In this day and age when most schools in the U.S. educational system have cut music programs, trying to promote music as an essential part of education and personal growth, and to keep the industry going is an important goal. In June 2009, Botti took the time from his busy schedule to conduct a special “master class” for young musicians at the Britt Institute. One of the questions Botti asked of the students at the instrumental jazz camp was "What do you do when you practice?"
(Photo credit: Josh Morell)
(To) New “themes” for Botti’s future
By jazz industry standards, trumpeter Chris Botti is somewhat of a pop-culture icon. Yet, there is still plenty of room for Botti’s career to grow.
New Career Strategies
There are always going to be new, interesting media opportunities to conquer. How about playing at the Grammy’s as well as on some other TV shows? What about a role in the right noir-ish, moody, romantic movie? When he’s older, perhaps Botti might get involved with some organizations or causes that champion music education, as well as organizations that help bring jazz to more mainstream audiences – he’s already working with PBS on this - these are issues close to his heart. The possibilities are limitless, the same way Chris Botti’s music crosses boundaries.
There are also new audiences to reach (e.g., more baby boomers, younger music fans, more international). An article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine once cleverly joked that “if you’ve never heard of Chris Botti, don’t be surprised. All it means is that : a) you’re probably a man, b) you don’t watch daytime television, and c) your iPod deosn’t contain a folder labeled ‘romantic’.”
New Music Themes
Of course, there is also new music to cover. According to Botti, “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,” Botti said in a 2008 interview for the Associated Press. That seems to be Botti’s philosophy or niche – to meet that criteria, no matter what he decides to record. From a brand personality viewpoint, according to Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine, “the product he (Botti) sells is rooted in a kind of unabashed, love-struck sentimentality that’s simultaneously old-fashioned and daring.”
In the liner notes of Botti’s pivotal 2004 CD When I Fall in Love, Botti wrote some insightful comments that would seem to apply to his career for many years to come: “I have often been seduced by the melody of a beautiful song. That these melodies often play to our notion of what romance is, or how it feels, is something that captivates and inspires me when I play.” In a recent interview, Botti also said: “Well, I think that my whole life I recognized that the great trumpet players primarily did ballads. Those are the kind of records that people relate to.”
Right now, the key question remains… So musically - where to, Chris Botti? With Botti’s talent, the Botti brand and his team of top industry support, Botti has found a recipe for continued success as he evolves as an artist. Botti’s manager/producer is Bobby Colomby, former drummer and founder of the famed pop/rock/jazz-influenced 1970s group Blood, Sweat & Tears. Botti also has the support of the great publicity ‘machine’ at Columbia Records (Sony Music)… the separate public relations firm of Rogers & Cowan. (In the 1980s, Rogers and Cowan was Frank Sinatra’s PR firm and in 1981, Botti left college to tour with Sinatra – an opportunity that he could not pass up.) Obviously, Botti has some musical connections in his music and career with Sinatra.
Earlier this year in February, Botti said he is planning to record a new CD and that “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.” Also, Botti mentioned (back in 2005) that that he has a ton of Sinatra songs on his iPod. Botti has already covered a number of songs associated with Sinatra – “One for my Baby,” (composed by Arlen and Mercer) “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” performed with Katherine McPhee and “Glad to be Unhappy” performed with John Mayer (composed by Rodgers and Hart) (the latter two on the current CD/DVD Chris Botti in Boston.)
There is a similar Frank Sinatra-like air often found on Chris Botti’s moody tone on trumpet that delves into the depths of listeners’ emotions. Like Sinatra, Botti is a great interpreter of ballads, only in the instrumental realm; there is a melancholy sound which runs through much of Botti’s music (whether it’s ‘contemporary’ jazz from his early CDs, or jazz standards, classical music and pop songs that Botti has recorded in more recent years). The timing also could be right. Eleven years after his passing, “Ole’ Blue Eyes” also know as the “Chairman of the Board” Frank Sinatra is still popular, appearing on Billboard’s 2009 year-end charts with two CDs on the Top Traditional Jazz Albums, as #4 on the Top Traditional Jazz Artists chart and as #5 on the Top Jazz Artists charts, plus Sinatra has influenced top-selling artists such as Michael Bublé (who reached #1 on the Top Jazz Artists chart).
One new theme perhaps could be “Chris Botti’s Bossa Nova.” Bossa Nova has a “cool jazz” vibe, with beautiful melodies, rich harmonies, and understated rhythms which could be a good match for Botti’s musical style. Back in March 1998, when I first met Botti after the Berks Jazz Fest performance, I mentioned to him that I thought it would be great if he would consider recording some of the great love songs from the classic 1967 album Francis Alpert Sinatra-Antonia Carlos Jobim album (in my view – the album is one of the most romantic song collections of love and longing ever recorded).
Also for inspiration, Botti could check out the classic 1963 Getz/Gilberto album which won 4 Grammy awards covering Jobim’s songs, featuring the gorgeous, perfectly-balanced production with Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Joao Gilberto, with the hit song “The Girl from Ipanema” sung by Astrud Gilberto). Botti (and perhaps his manager/producer Bobby Colomby) might also take note that in1962, saxophonist Stan Getz released an album called Jazz Samba with American guitarist Charlie Byrd which, according to Amazon.com is the only jazz album to reach number one on the pop charts of Billboard magazine. Botti certainly has the potential to cross-over onto the pop music charts from the contemporary jazz domain (perhaps in a similar way to Herb Alpert or Kenny G).
As a jazz journalist, musician, and a Botti fan, I could definitely imagine Botti recording Bossa Nova tinged arrangements of some of those great American songbook tunes from the 1967 Francis Alpert Sinatra-Antonia Carlos Jobim album. Perhaps Botti could record some duets with Michael Bublé or John Mayer singing Cole Porter’s tune “I Concentrate on You,” Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners” as well as the classic “Bubbles, Bangles and Beads.” (Bublé sung “Let There Be Love” on Botti’s 2005 CD To Love Again: the Duets). Perhaps Botti could also have some female jazz vocalists work with him on songs such as “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” (Corcovado). Recently, Diana Krall found success with her recent CD titled Quiet Nights – which was the Number 2 Top Traditional Jazz Album on Billboard’s charts. (Botti toured with Krall in 2007.)
As a fan, I would also enjoy hearing Botti doing instrumental versions of sweet, classic Bossa Nova tunes (co-composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim). Two songs that could be an absolutely perfect match for Botti’s pure, warm tone are the beautiful “Dindi,” and the melancholy “Once I Loved” (O Amor en Paz – maybe he could also do a duet version of this with Andrea Bocelli). Botti might also consider covering songs such as “Meditation” (Meditacao) and “Desifinado,” Some other “fun” more upbeat Jobim tunes for instrumental covers for Botti could be: “One Note Samba,” “Water to Drink” (Agua de Beber), “Wave,” “Só Danco Samba” and of course, the classic and popular “The Girl From Ipanema” which could become crowd-pleasing favorites with their catchy melodies for Botti fans in the live show).
A second new “theme” that Botti could pursue is more music from Burt Bacharach’s extensive popular songbook. Botti has already covered two Bacharach songs on his 2003 Thousand Kisses Deep CD: “The Last Three Minutes” and “The Look of Love,” the latter received heavy radio airplay for its catchy production. He also worked with Bacharach on two Grammy- nominated songs (in 2005) "To Love Again," and a separate collaboration with Burt Bacharach, "In Our Time." Perhaps Botti might consider covering some of my favorite Bacharach tunes: “Alfie,” “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “(They Long to Be) “Close to You,” “Stronger than Before,” “A Message to Martha (Kentucky Bluebird),” “Do you Know the Way to San Jose,” “Always Something There to Remind Me,” “Anyone who Had a Heart,” “April Fools,” “Arthur’s Theme,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and “God Give Me Strength.” (Herb Alpert has already done “Casino Royale and "This Guy’s in Love with You"… but you never know…)
A third new “theme” for Botti’s future recordings might be to pay tribute to Blood Sweat & Tears, Botti’s manager, Bobby Colomby’s old band. Botti could do great versions of tunes such as the beautiful ballad “Sometimes in Winter,” “God Bless the Child,” (BS&T did a great version of the Billy Holiday classic) and upbeat tunes such as “Spinning Wheel” and “You Make me So Very Happy.” How popular would that be with baby boomers!
No matter what Chris Botti chooses to do, whether it’s Botti does Bossa Nova, Burt Bacharach’s songbook, or Blood Sweat & Tears (notice all of the good vibes alliteration – i.e. from “Boston” too), or something else completely unanticipated, it will most likely be enthusiastically welcomed by his fans.
This is just the beginning. Botti is able to play music in any genre – so the inspirational evolution of Chris Botti continues. So here’s a summation of the secret to success for Botti – being true to himself, playing to his strengths – following his heart and his musical muse – his love of the music, hard work, dedication, good luck, gratefulness, and a healthy mix of humility, humor, and musical bravado to keep things fresh also keeps his audiences entertained … with surprises… old and new. As Botti told the LA Daily News earlier this year in July, his “greatest musical weapon over the last couple of years… is the ability to change things up.”
Sort of like Madonna – with her transitions and transformations, Botti knows how to keep the audience guessing and delighted. Chris Botti’s successful collaborations seem to also be on a path similar to another Italian icon who is an interpreter of pop and American Standards, Tony Bennett - who has graciously grown as an artist and a collaborator over time in a timeless way. Botti’s no musical boundaries approach also seem to serve him and his audiences well. Wherever Botti wants to go, his audiences seem sure to follow.
King of the Road
Trumpeter Chris Botti has been on the road touring almost non-stop, 250-300 days a year, for about nine years across the world, and around the U.S., from the Hollywood Bowl to New York City's Carnegie Hall and Blue Note jazz clubs, living in hotels. Botti once owned a duplex apartment in the Soho area of NYC which he bought from Sting, which he later sold. In June 2009, he purchased a home in California.
During his early years touring as a new artist to introduce his original “atmospheric” style of smooth/contemporary jazz to audiences, as a frontman of his own band, he appeared more of an introspective soloist. Between 1998 to 2009, I saw Botti perform at shows numerous times. In more recent years, Botti has become a consummate live performer and collaborator with major artists in jazz, pop, and classical music. Botti appears more relaxed and outgoing on stage and has a great rapport with the audience as a host and telling stories and jokes. Botti credits his transformation to observing pop mega-star Sting perform, as well as touring with other pop artists.
According to Botti: “By being around so many popular singers like a guy like Sting, and seeing him firsthand night after night for years and being on stage with him and making music, you start to see how you can play sophisticated music but still make it accessible to the first two rows as well as 15,000 people. That’s something that you learn through osmosis. Nobody can teach you that or tell you that. You’ve got to see it and be around it and those kinds of artists.”
In addition to showmanship skills, Botti has learned from Sting things like the discipline of being on the road - like how to run a band, and how to manage his own routine of doing yoga, practicing the trumpet, and getting ready for the show, and the motivation to reach a fan base every day.
During the Bergen Performing Arts Center show in May 2009, Botti said a fan recently asked him if he was in the “middle” of his current five-year long continuous tour. Botti cleverly answered that he hopes that he is just at the beginning (the audience’s enthusiastic response was resounding applause). Based upon success of all of Chris Botti’s work, I’m sure that (millions) of fans around the world can’t wait to see what Botti does next! Trumpeter Chris Botti is at the top of his game – or maybe just scaling the peak.
Botti also once was band leader of a daytime talk show. Perhaps someday Chris Botti will host his own variety show – hey – he’s already sort of doing that now live and on the past two DVDs originally recording for American television broadcast PBS. As the 70’s Sonny and Cher variety TV show song goes, “And the beat goes on….” From Breath to Breadth: You’ve Come A Long Way, Chris Botti. Looking forward to the next phases of your journey for many decades in the future.
For upcoming shows and TV appearances, check www.chrisbotti.com. Botti already has over 40 concert dates around the U.S., Japan, and Canada booked through May 2010.