February 22, 2010


Guitar virtuoso Al Di Meola rocked the Ovation room at Green Valley Ranch Resort on Saturday, February 20th. Di Meola has visited the Vegas valley before, but this was his debut at this particular resort, owned by Stations Casinos.

Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns will record live in the Tiffany Theater at the Tropicana Hotel on Monday, February 22nd. The band is booked every Monday through April.

The Lon Bronson band performs on Thursdays in the Ovation Room at Green Valley Ranch Resort with their brand of funk and R & B, similar to Tower Of Power. In fact, members of TOP are frequent guests sitting in from time to time.

Saxophonist Brandon Fields took a leave of duty from Barry Manilow's gig to perform at Frediani's on Saturday, with fellow group members Joe Melotti and Tony De Augustine. Fields had several albums in the '90s that made smooth and mainstream jazz airplay.

Posted by Danny Desart at 2:50 AM | TrackBack

February 20, 2010

Chris Botti in Boston – 2009 Grammy Nominations, PBS Special & Tour

Text by Val Vaccaro

In December 2009, Chris Botti In Boston (Columbia Records/Sony Music) received three Grammy nominations for: 1) Best Pop Instrumental Album for the CD, 2) Best Long Form Music Video (Jim Gable - video director; Bobby Colomby - video producer, and 3) Best Instrumental Arrangement for the song “Emmanuel” (arranged by Jeremy Lubbock; performed by trumpeter Chris Botti and violinist Lucia Micarelli). Although these nominations did not win in their respective categories on January 31, 2010 during the Grammy Awards, the honor of being nominated was added to Chris Botti’s track record which includes two previous Grammy Awards and a prior Grammy nomination. (Note: In 1995, Botti produced the Brecker BrothersOut of the Loop album, which won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance. In 2006, Chris Botti’s collaboration with Sting on the song “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life” (from Botti’s CD To Love Again – The Duets) won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) (arranged by Billy Childs, Gil Goldstein and Heitor Pereira). In addition, Botti’s 2007 CD Italia was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album.)

The shows for the current Chris Botti In Boston DVD were originally videotaped on September 18th – 19th, 2008 in high definition at Symphony Hall, a beautiful venue in Boston. The DVD and CD of Chris Botti in Boston feature Chris Botti with special guests performing delightful, entertaining renditions of songs that are often pleasantly unexpected including genres from jazz, classical and pop music. The performers included: Sting, John Mayer, Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), Josh Groban, Katherine McPhee, Lucia Micarelli, Yo Yo Ma, Sy Smith, Dominic Miller, and Botti’s top-notch band: pianist Billy Childs, drummer Billy Kilson, guitarist Mark Whitfield, and bassist Robert Hurst, supported by the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart.

On the DVD, Botti is a charming host and performer, and it is a pleasure to watch the guest artists and band members’ spirited rapport with him and with each other. Botti said he’s been around a long time, paid his dues, and that it’s a “very big thrill” to have all of these big stars guest on his DVDs and CDs. According to Botti, “the artists that performed in Boston are my friends. They’re not just people that I called up because they’re big stars. I’ve known them socially and I think that shows on the DVD and how everyone’s just kind of loose and we’re all having fun.”

Botti also said: "The real fun stuff is taking these artists out of the arena that they're normally heard in. It will be like, oh my goodness, I can't believe I just heard Steven Tyler or Yo-Yo Ma do that." (quote from the Associate Press)

On the back cover of the Blu-ray DVD of Chris Botti In Boston, Botti wrote: “To the brilliant artists that participated in these shows: Thank you for the gift of your friendship and for taking the time to come to Boston and be such an important part of the most magical and memorable nights of my life.”

The DVD of Chris Botti in Boston truly is a special compilation filled with many shining moments which add up to a big achievement in Botti’s career. The CD, a CD/DVD package, and a Blu-ray edition of Chris Botti in Boston were released in March 2009, to coincide with the exclusive televised premiere during the March Pledge Drive for PBS. (PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service – a network of 356 television station affiliates in the U.S. reaching 65 million viewers). Botti recorded the shows in Boston as gratitude to Boston’s local PBS station WGBH, which co-sponsored the concert. WGBH was the first PBS station to take a chance on broadcasting his first PBS special concert which led to other PBS television station affiliates to air the show. His first successful PBS special was Chris Botti Live With Orchestra and Special Guests (which was released as a CD and DVD in 2006)

Both the CD and DVD Chris Botti In Boston include the following songs: "Ave Maria," "When I Fall In Love," "Seven Days," "Emmanuel," "I’ve Got You Under My Skin," "Cinema Paradiso," "Broken Vow," "Flamenco Sketches," "Glad To Be Unhappy," "Hallelujah," "Smile," "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You," and "Time To Say Goodbye." The full-concert DVD and Blu-ray configurations of Chris Botti In Boston also include the bonus performances of "Caruso," "The Look of Love," "Cryin’," "Indian Summer," and "Shape of My Heart."

The DVD also includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling the making-of-the-concert, along with a bonus performance of “Fragile” featuring Sting, Yo Yo Ma, and Dominic Miller. (The Blu-ray DVD version of Chris Botti in Boston has Dolby TrueHD audio providing master quality, high-resolution, 7.1 surround sound.) In the documentary footage, Bobby Colomby (Botti’s manager and producer) said that “Chris is so serious about the music.” Colomby noted that Botti was involved in every aspect of the production – including selection and arrangements for all eighteen songs. Also behind the scenes, Botti reflected on the huge task, saying that it was crazy that they rehearsed all eighteen songs (with the Boston Pops Orchestra, Botti’s band, and all of the guest stars) in ONE day! Botti joked “I feel like I’m psychotic” in the documentary because of the compressed rehearsal time and large selection of material, but it all worked out just great. In the documentary, Sting also said that Botti’s success as a soloist “is a testament to his virtuosity and brilliance.”

Highlights from the DVD Chris Botti in Boston

Throughout the show, Botti's warm and graceful tones were beautiful, his high notes were exuberant, cool and crisp, and his improvisations (including trills and riffs) were tasteful and entertaining. Botti was a charming and humble host – who kept saying in his introduction for each of the artists how “honored” he was to have them there. In return, Botti received lots of hugs from the special guests, who all looked genuinely thrilled to be there for this special event. Regardless of the musical genre, it seemed like every song was showered with a standing ovation from the highly appreciative crowd. The combination of Botti with his guest stars, along with band and the Boston Pops Orchestra all provided a phenomenal entertainment experience.

The band members all had a chance to show off their chops with a number of solos throughout the show. Pianist Billy Childs, an eight-time Grammy winner, who also received a 2009 Guggenheim award, did a great job. (Childs also performed on and work on some of the arrangements for Botti’s recordings of jazz standards on previous CDs). Guitarist Mark Whitfield showed off his diverse range of sounds on his red archtop guitar, as well as some sort of Stratocaster (with an unusual neck partial animal design). Whitfield was featured on a number of tunes with Botti, and, as usual, added his brand of humor and antics to the entertainment mix. Billy Kilson was his typical incredible self – his amazing master-class fast and furious ‘acrobatics’ and unique style and grace on ballads should earn him an Olympic title for one of best and most tasteful drummers in the world. (In their live show which I saw in May at the Bergen Performing Arts Center, Botti joked that he has put Billy Kilson in the “Witness Protection Program” so that Sting will not steal him away for his band.) The song list was set up well, wisely alternating between ballads and more upbeat musical selections, to emotionally balance things out.

On the Chris Botti in Boston DVD, the first song of the show – the beautiful, spiritually moving instrumental version of the Schubert composition “Ave Maria” features Botti’s perfectly focused, beautiful, meditative tone - quiet, introspective and serene, lushly backed by the string section of the Boston Pops Orchestra. With Botti’s long tones and the spotlight shining on him, it was vision of pureness of music and spirit. The breathy, melancholy, pristine sounds of Botti’s trumpet were also found on the musical selection “Caruso” (originally sung by the late opera star Luciano Pavarotti). The quiet beauty of Botti’s phrasing on “Caruso” is also reminiscent of his breathtaking interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” (recorded on his 2003 CD A Thousand Kisses Deep.)

The sentimental jazz standard “When I Fall in Love” starts out with a warm, expansive introduction by Whitfield, and Botti works his way expertly through an enjoyable, exciting, and unexpectedly complex arrangement of mixed tempos, dynamics and “cool jazz” improvisations infused with influences of traditional, contemporary jazz, R&B/pop, and even rock. The song swayed from swinging in the middle, to ending as sweetly as it began with Botti’s trumpet resolving back to a slow, sentimental and sweet take on the song’s melody.

There was also the melancholy magic of Botti’s musical muse – Miles Davis with “Flamenco Sketches” (which Botti described to the audience as a song with five chords and no written melody so that each band member could improvise his own). The DVD went from color to black and white to create a “1950’s” film vibe, with Botti playing his trumpet with the mute.

Botti’s round, warm, ethereal tone was also found on a poignant version of the sacred song “Hallelujah” (composed by Leonard Cohen), while guitarist Whitfield played a simple lullaby-like, acoustic-sounding riff throughout the tune. Botti told some stories related to “Hallelujah.” The song was the love theme to the Shrek movie, and it was covered by both U2 (they devoted a tour to it) and Peter Gabriel. Botti said he was inspired by the powerful version recorded by Jeff Buckley, the late singer (whose life was cut short by an accident). Buckley happened to be recording that song for his1995 CD Grace in the same studio (in upstate New York) as Botti when he was working on his first solo release, so for Botti, in a way, he dedicates “Hallelujah” in part as a moving tribute to Buckley, and to the memory of the artist and his maiden voyage.

After the serious nature of “Hallelujah,” there was the joyful DVD highlight of Katherine McPhee (from American Idol’s Season Five) singing a crowd-pleasing rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” McPhee looked stunning in her black cocktail dress and her shiny brown locks (Botti mouthed the word “Wow” under his breath). With her lovely phrasing, McPhee had a grand time in a playful, flirtatious way to both Botti and Whitfield. Botti joked to Whitfield to “stay in his corner – that she’s my guest.” (It may have all been staged in advance, but the audience had a lot of fun with the scene.) The Frank Sinatra-style arrangement of Cole Porter’s tune was great with the band and Boston Pops Orchestra there to back up McPhee’s singing with Botti’s trumpet playing (he did the swinging bridge with the loud, bluesy, expressive improvisation). Whitfield also did a nice guitar solo directed at McPhee.

Botti gave an honored introduction to world-renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma calling him an “Ambassador for what’s good in the world of music education. I’m proud to share the stage with the one and only Yo Yo Ma.” For the Italian film composer's Ennio Morricone's romantic “Cinema Paradiso,” Botti played round, tender tones with pensive focus on his trumpet (with the mute - channeling his inner Miles Davis). Yo-Yo Ma who played a beautiful, truly inspiring, and masterful duet with Botti, while the audience heard whispers of the sounds of soft brushes on Kilson’s drums in the background. The captivating, moving duet with Botti and Yo Yo Ma had a dramatic tear-jerker type of ending back by strings from the Boston Pops Orchestra, with Botti concluding on a sweet note. After the standing ovation (there were many other ovations for other songs too), Botti asked “Where’s that saké? I need a drink!” Lo and behold, someone brought him that sake, Botti held up the cup and said “Salud” to the audience and then took a sip.

After the emotional turmoil of “Cinema Paradiso,” it was great to break the tension with a happy tune. Next up was another high point of the show with vocalist Sy Smith (a back-up singer from American Idol and cousin of guitarist Mark Whitfield). Sy Smith’s big smile, and confidently glowing demeanor (Botti described her as “so radiant – such a vibe”), and her smooth-as-the silk-of-her-dress voice was wonderful. Smith did a wonderfully soulful version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David pop song “The Look of Love.” (Botti originally recorded two version of this song previously on his 2003 CD A Thousand Kisses Deep and on a previous DVD from his first live show for PBS.). There was excellent support by Billy Childs on piano, Mark Whitfield on guitar, and Bob Hurst on electric bass. The song was given a dynamic, exciting ending with the fast and emphatic drums of Billy Kilson, while Smith scatted in unison with Botti’s high, funky notes. Big cheers and a standing ovation followed in the DVD. (The same could be said in the live shows – Sy Smith has been a special guest on tour with Chris Botti and his band – including appearances during Botti’s reign at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City in December 2009-through the first weekend in January 2010).)

After this pop music delight, the show turned to perhaps its most serious moment – one that was a major highlight of the show. There is incredible emotional intensity in the exquisite song interpretation of “Emmanuel.” The poignant interpretation is a penultimate, profound duet (like a confession of love from a dramatic scene in an Italian or French film). Chris Botti’s trumpet sounds were soaring beautifully and classical violinist Lucia Micarelli’s gorgeous and magnificent solos were mesmerizing. (Micarelli wore a sparkling black gown to complement her sweet and innocent face and spectacular solos - Botti refers to her as a “rock star”). The Boston Pops Orchestra and the band did a wonderful job with the lush arrangement for this musical piece (as mentioned earlier, Jeremy Lubbock ‘s arrangement was nominated for a Grammy). Micarelli’s facial expressions matched her musical intensity and Botti’s brilliant breadth of sounds were a dynamic mixture which go directly to the core of one’s being and totally blew away the audience. Micarelli has worked with Josh Groban and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Violinist Micarelli has also been a special guest on some of the shows during Botti’s 2009 tour (including the show I saw in May at the Bergen Performing Arts Center).

When an almost unrecognizable John Mayer walked onto the stage dressed in a dark suit (more formal than his usual rock or blues attire) with a short haircut (more mature-looking than usual), it was an audience surprise. Botti said “I’m so very, very privileged to have him here.” The song started off with a perfect introduction with Botti on trumpet quoting the song “In the Wee Small Hours” and then Mayer and Botti did a great rendition of “Glad to Be Unhappy.” The song is in a similar vein to “One for My Baby” (Botti recorded the latter tune on his 2004 CD When I Fall in Love.) John Mayer was an unexpectedly superb smooth crooner in his phrasing and tone on the saloon song (with a slight nasality – reminiscent of Sinatra as well as the current keeper of Sinatra’s flame, Michael Bublé). Botti did a fantastic solo and ending -bright and cool - with bluesy high notes, staccato notes, and swinging riffs which were a great contrast to Mayer’s smooth styling. There was also beautiful support on piano from Billy Childs. Amazingly, John Mayer said he had never sang that type of tune before, so it was a new and impressive direction for him. Botti told the story that he had met Mayer about six months before the Boston show. Botti had talked with Mayer about Frank Sinatra’s classic album In the Wee Small Hours. Mayer said afterwards, he couldn’t get Sinatra’s music out of his head. Glad to be happy we got to hear Mayer do the song. In the “Behind the Scenes” documentary on the Chris Botti in Boston DVD, John Mayer said that the first thing he noticed about Chris Botti when he heard him play is his tone. I second that – it was Botti’s amazing tone that most impressed me when I first saw him perform at the 1998 Berks Jazz Fest.

Steven Tyler (from the rock group Aerosmith), a native of Boston, sang a wistful, poignant version of the ballad “Smile” from the heart with powerful vibrato in a velvety voice. The song was quietly and brilliantly supported by Botti’s tender trumpet tones, Childs on piano, Kilson on brushes, and the strings from the Boston Pops Orchestra. Part of what made it special was that Tyler sang the song to his elderly father who was seated in the front row of Boston’s Symphony Hall, saying enthusiastically to the crowd with a smile “that’s my Daddy!” At the end of the song “Smile,” Tyler’s father Vic struggled to get out of his seat, but he managed to stand, and then he smiled and clapped along with audience’s standing ovation. Botti then cleverly joked “they don’t prepare you for that in jazz camp.” Tyler had recorded the sentimental song for Botti’s 2005 CD To Love Again. Long ago, the song “Smile” was co-composed by Charlie Chaplin for the movie Modern Times, but is still imprinted in my childhood memory as the theme for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon on TV (a celebrity-filled show) back in the 1960s and 1970s.

The show’s finale on the DVD is “Indian Summer” which was originally recorded with a steady medium tempo for Botti’s 2003 CD A Thousand Kisses Deep, and was a smooth jazz radio hit. The new version of “Indian Summer” played at the 2009 Boston show (and at the live shows on the 2009 tour) has a faster tempo and would be great for a thrilling car chase scene in a James Bond type of movie. The song’s remake has a big, expansive arrangement which drove Botti, Botti’s band and the Boston Pops Orchestra to “rock out.” With Botti on melody, everyone playing at a frantic pace, the song featured a fast and impressive intro and drum solo from Kilson. “Indian Summer” ended after a thrilling jam with Botti’s high note trills, Kilson’s beating on the drums and Whitfield’s adept guitar riffs, with Kilson getting the last word (e.g. beat).

After “Indian Summer,” Chris Botti said “Thanks Boston for making tonight so special. Please give all of these great musicians a round of applause.” Then Botti, Botti’s band, conductor Keith Lockhart and all of the guest artists took a bow together. Botti then asked the audience (still in standing ovation mode) if they would like to hear one more.

The encore for the show on the DVD Chris Botti in Boston includes three songs.

There are two Sting songs with special guest, Dominic Miller on acoustic guitar and background vocals, and Russ Irwin on background vocals. On the haunting ballad “Shape of My Heart” pop music mega star Sting and classical crossover sensation Josh Groban traded moving lead vocals, with Botti playing trumpet with the mute. “Shape of My Heart” which Botti described in the show as “one of the most elegant pop songs” was composed by Sting (Gordon Sumner) and Dominic Miller, appears on a number of Sting’s CDs and was the theme to the movie The Professional -also known as Léon: The Professional.

Sting and Botti shined on the upbeat Sting pop-rock song “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,” with both of them smiling (probably feeling like old times from the years when Botti was on tour with Sting - who Botti says is “like a brother to me.” They got the audience (which included Sting’s wife Trudie Styler) up on their feet clapping enthusiastically to the song, which ended with Botti getting into a funky groove.

The last (eighteenth) musical selection of the show on the DVD is the classical song “Time to Say Goodbye” (Con Te Partiro) (which also appears on Botti’s 2004 CD When I Fall in Love. Trumpeter Chris Botti’s beautiful, pure tones soared perfectly above the lush Boston Pops Orchestra strings, woodwinds, and horn sections for a spiritually-moving, melancholy version of “Time to Say Goodbye”. On the last note of the song, Botti’s index finger off the key of the trumpet fittingly pointed upward (as if to the heavens). The song - composed by Quantantotto and Sartori - has been also dramatically sung by pop/opera phenomenon Andrea Bocelli (as part of a duet with Sarah Brightman on Bocelli’s PBS television special and DVD Vivere: Andrea Bocelli Live in Tuscany - Botti also appeared as a guest on that DVD playing “Italia” –from his 2007 CD of the same name.)

After Botti finished the song “Time to Say Goodbye,” knowing it was the end of the show and the end of a great musical journey, his face filled with emotion. There was a moving moment when he said “Thank you so much everyone. Good night. Take care.” The gravity of his accomplishments were about to take hold, and probably with a bit of a lump in his throat, he graciously said his “goodbye” in both music and words.

In the “behind the scenes” documentary on the DVD, Botti candidly said, that the thing he was most nervous about – the ultimate test – was the trumpet itself and having an upper register that is free and sounds good after playing so many different musical styles. Trumpeter Chris Botti achieved that, and so much more, making musical history, in addition to being a gracious host of the program. As an artist, Botti met the huge challenges of short rehearsal times, bringing all of these great artists together for show filled with wonderful arrangements, and creating an entertaining, unforgettable show which is captured well on the excellent DVD Chris Botti in Boston.

2009-2010 Television Appearances & Tour

Through at least May 2010 Chris Botti has plans to continue touring with his band (as he has done for much of 2009) to support the new DVD and CD Chris Botti in Boston. During the tour with his band, Botti has been bringing some special guests such as vocalist Sy Smith and violinist Lucia Micarelli from the original DVD (it varies by show and location).

During the 2009 tour, Botti also did a few live performances on national television in the U.S., including The TODAY Show on April 3rd, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on April 15th, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on April 22nd. On May 16th, Botti and Micarelli performed the Grammy-nominated, exquisitely beautiful and moving musical selection “Emmanuel” backed by Billy Kilson (drums), Billy Childs (keyboard), and Tim Lefebvre (acoustic bass) on CBS TV The Early Show Saturday Edition's "Second Cup Cafe" in between tour dates in New Jersey and New York.

In March 2009, Botti made personal appearances at numerous PBS television affiliates to support the pledge drive, when they aired the show Chris Botti in Boston. According to Botti, "The musicians like Sting or Steven Tyler are all doing it for nothing. ... These guys are doing it for the music. The real reason we're doing it is to support PBS and try to get music on television which television normally doesn't cater to apart from rock 'n' roll and pop."

Show at Bergen Performing Arts Center

In March and April 2009, the PBS television station NJN Channel 50 in New Jersey broadcast Chris Botti’s wonderful show to help raise money to benefit the nonprofit organization. One of the special promotional offers was a preshow “Meet and Greet” and two orchestra seats to the show at the grand old red and gold Bergen Performing Arts Center (a nonprofit organization which I attended on May 14, 2009.

After seeing both the PBS special on TV, and watching the DVD Chris Botti in Boston, I was wondering how Botti was going to be able to top that level of enjoyable entertainment in a live show. Well, Botti did just great on his tour stop at the grand old Bergen Performing Arts Center (and from reading reviews of shows around the U.S. it seems he continues to maintain a high level of audience satisfaction). The absolutely fantastic Bergen Performing Arts Center show received numerous ovations, loud cheers (in between the audience’s rapt attention so quiet you could’ve hear a pin drop).

Botti recently said: “when I play live it’s much, much more energetic than the records because we want it to be an entertaining, fun night and also filled with the roller-coaster of energy that a live show can give you.”

Since I’ve seen Botti’s live show this year, I can attest that it’s true – the live show is fun and exciting. Chris Botti and his band - pianist Billy Childs, guitarist Mark Whitfield, drummer Billy Kilson, and special guests: bass player Tim Lefebvre, violinist Lucia Micarelli, and vocalist Deja Gomez provided a wonderful entertainment experience. The often serious and focused Chris Botti was in high spirits- and the audience was delighted by the wide range of great music and jovial stories and atmosphere. Botti and his band and musical guests all sounded fantastic and the show included jazz standards, classical music, contemporary jazz, a film theme, pop, and more.

With the live show, Botti plays material from a wider repertoire of his recordings, including the current Chris Botti in Boston release. For the show that I saw at Bergen Performing Arts Center we got to experience live the intensely beautiful, moving duet of “Emmanuel” with violinist extraordinaire Lucia Micarelli. The audience was treated to the sweet beautiful tones of Botti’s trumpet on Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” (from the 2004 CD When I Fall in Love). Botti performed with vocalist Deja Gomez an enjoyable version of “Good Morning Heartache.”

Before the encore, Chris Botti walked off stage with his trumpet into the audience without his microphone. Instead, told the Frank Sinatra story, said he wasn’t going to play “Fly Me to the Moon” (probably too campy for Chris) and joked fondly that his pal Michael Bublé could be the keeper of that tune “until hell freezes over). Instead, Botti played a cheerful rendition of Sinatra’s ‘saloon’ song “One for My Baby” (from the 2004 CD When I Fall in Love) accompanied by the audience’s finger snapping (at Botti’s request). Members of the audience left ‘walking on air,’ with some of them singing and dancing as they emptied their seats in the theater. Right after the show – just to make the audience smile once again – over the theater’s sound system – guess what song was (deliberately) played – “Fly Me to the Moon”. With Chris Botti’s penchant for American jazz and pop standards, I wouldn’t be surprised if Botti might be “Caught” playing that tune and more Sinatra songs in the future.

Wide Audience-Appeal & Acts of Kindness on Tour

After countless performances on television, Chris Botti’s audience has expanded from typical smooth/contemporary jazz multi-cultural baby-boomer demographics, to include many pop music and classical music fans. The audience at a typical concert (and for those who enjoy the PBS specials, DVDs and CDs) includes a wide age spectrum, from listeners who bring their young preteens, to those in their late 20s to 70s.

There was a special group of about 40 people at the Bergen Performing Arts Center back in May during the preshow “Meet and Greet” hosted by NJN’s Winifred “Freddie” Chisholm, Director of Membership for NJN Public Television and Radio. As Chris Botti graciously does on a regular basis at “meet and greets” across the world, Botti took photos and signed posters. One man in his 70s who said he played trumpet asked to take a photo with Chris Botti. The rest of us watched and smiled while Botti posed for a photo with him.

As one article put it, Chris Botti’s appeal stretches from pre-teens to grandmothers. In 2009, there was also a poignant story in the news of 77 year-old grandmother Nancy Blacklin, (who lives in St. Petersberg, Florida and had recently lost her husband of 46 years). Her granddaughter had asked her to visit her in Ohio to see a Chris Botti Show. At the show, Botti surprised the grandmother by saying “Where’s that beautiful grandmother from Florida? Nancy, where are you? What are you doing way up there?” Botti then invited her and her granddaughter to move from their balcony seats to two front-row seats to see the show (her granddaughter had helped arrange it), and then Botti dedicated a song to her. Not long afterwards, grandmother Nancy Blacklin also later got to see Botti perform back in her hometown on October 16th during the Clearwater Jazz Holiday smooth jazz festival. It is apparent that Chris Botti’s music and persona touches a lot of lives.

Trumpeter Chris Botti appears to be having the time of his life, along with his fans on this current tour. For Chris Botti 2010 TOUR DATES across the U.S., Canada, & Japan, and more see: http://www.chrisbotti.com/home.html#location1 [Special Note: Trumpeter Chris Botti opens the 20th annual Berks Jazz Fest on Friday, March 19th, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. at the Reading Eagle Theater at the Sovereign Center.]

Posted by Peter Böhi at 6:05 PM

February 18, 2010

Michael J Thomas - City Beat

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Raised in Cecilia, Kentucky and now domiciled in Destin, Florida, sax player Michael J Thomas may yet turn out to be the smooth jazz find of 2010. His debut CD, City Beat, which hits the streets on March 2, is a tremendously accomplished piece of work and, given that Thomas writes or co-writes all but one of ten choice tracks, proves also to be a wonderful showcase for his art. Thomas’s writing partner is guitarist Shannon Wallace who co- produces and performs with him throughout. Together, with a tight group of backing musicians, they deliver a tremendously commercial collection that has every prospect of doing very well.

The album opens with the sophisticatedly cool ‘Midtown Manhattan’. With an enticing mid tempo groove it is an early indication of the accessibility that Thomas routinely builds into his music and more of the delicious same comes in the form of ‘Cali Trippin’ which has a brassy, easy paced swagger and features moody trumpet from Paul Scurto. In fact whether the pace be relaxed or intense the smooth jazz essentials of rhythm and melody are never too far away. This is demonstrated by the urban tinged ‘Mind Your Step’ which balances Thomas’s cool playing with an underlying horn infused urgency and when he cranks up the tempo even further for the feel good title cut the result has ‘radio ready’ written all over it.

‘Wedding Song’ shows off a more sensitive side to Thomas’s musical persona and in similar vein is the contemplative ‘Back Home’ that benefits from the enchanting synthesised strings of Diki Ross and excellent soprano sax from Thomas. Elsewhere Jonathan Davies on drums and Eric Lampley on bass lay a funky foundation for Thomas’s restrained yet compelling rendition of ‘30-A Degrees’ while in terms of personal favourites there is much to commend the Michael J Thomas - Shannon Wallace arrangement of Michael Jackson’s seminal ‘Billie Jean’. Starting out slowly and quickly hitting a familiar beat this could well be one of the best covers of the year whilst just as good is the original composition ‘Amante Del Vino’. This easy paced gem checks every contemporary jazz box imaginable but just shading it as Secret Garden top track is the tranquil ‘Pretty Skin’. With Ross sublime on keys and Thomas at his delightfully melodic best this is one that will play and play.

For more on Michael J Thomas go to www.michaeljthomas.net

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 2:25 PM

February 5, 2010

The Party Starts Early for 20th Annual Berks Jazz Fest

The following information has been recently released from the Berks Arts Council.

READING, PA -- A 20th anniversary is certainly something to celebrate, and the VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, is starting the party early, with a full schedule of events counting down to the biggest, best festival yet. Concerts, educational programs, films and jazz jams are just some of the events slated to celebrate the 20th annual Berks Jazz Fest.

Saturday, February 20, 8 p.m.
The Manhattan Transfer is performing a pre-festival concert at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. For more information and tickets, visit www.sovereigncenter.com.

Sunday, February 21, 4 p.m.
As part of their Downtown Performing Arts Series, the Miller Center for the Arts is presenting the Hot 8 Brass Band. The Miller Center is located on the Reading Area Community College campus in downtown Reading. Hot 8 is a New Orleans-based brass band that blends hip-hop, jazz and funk styles with traditional New Orleans brass sounds. For more on this concert, visit www.racc.edu/MillerCenter/events.html.

Sunday, February 28, 5 p.m.
Anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment can get his or her fill at the Gospel Jubilee at Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in West Lawn. Featured are the mass choir, youth choir and local musicians. Good-will offering. For more information visit: www.gtaog.org/.

Saturday, March 6, 1 p.m.
Free community concert
VF Outlet is once again title sponsor of the festival, and is joining in the celebration with Berks Jazz Fest Day at the VF Outlet Complex. Shop the complex and enjoy the 20th Anniversary Preview Concert featuring Swing House with opening act GAMUT at 1 p.m. at Designers Place.
For more information visit: www.vfoutlet.net/.

Wednesday, March 10, 6 p.m.
Free community event.
Prepare to be inspired.
The Miller Center for the Arts is hosting a screening of the documentary "CHOPS," followed by a special Berks Jazz Jam with guest musicians Larry McKenna, Larry McKenna on tenor sax, Tony Miceli on vibes, Dave Brodie on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. Hosted by Mike Eben, the jam is open to anyone. Bring your instruments and join in, or come to learn!

"CHOPS" tells the story of a group of kids with extraordinary musical ability who learn to make the most of their gifts in an acclaimed public school jazz program in Jacksonville, Fla. You follow their musical journey from Florida to New York City, where they compete against the top high school jazz bands in the nation at the prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival.

Friday, March 12, 8 p.m.
With the festival a week away, what better way to get in the mood for great music than a high-energy Tribute to Tower of Power?

Join Dance Hall Docs and special guest Brent Carter at the Inn at Reading as they bring down the house with TOP's legendary tunes. A former TOP lead singer of nearly 6 years, Brent Carter promises to touch the hearts and souls of all who attend. The Dance Hall Docs are a 10-piece band that performs in a style reminiscent of the horn bands of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Get more info at www.berksjazzfest.com/docstowerofpower.htm.

Gerald Veasley's Jazz Base at the Crowne Plaza Reading will play host to several shows before the fest, all on Thursday nights at 7 p.m.:

February 11: West Chester University Faculty Group, featuring David Cullen, Terry Klinefelter, Chris Hanning, Greg Riley, John Swana and Peter Paulsen
February 18: Steve Smith's Vital Legacy, featuring Steve Smith, Vinny Valentino, Baron Browne, Andy Fusco and Mark Soskin
February 25: The Art of Strings, featuring John Blake, Jimmy Bruno and Gerald Veasley
March 4: WEEU Big Band Night with The Last Big Band, directed by Lee Southall, Roger Morgan and Jimmy Zoller
March 11: Dave Posmontier Quintet, featuring David Cullen, Bob Howell, Erick Johnson, Chico Huff and Dave Posmontier
March 18: Guitar Summit: Remembering Les Paul with Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden and Frank DiBussolo
For more information on Jazz Base shows, visit: www.geraldveasleysjazzbase.com.

Saturday, March 13, 7:05 p.m.
Berks Jazz Fest Night at the Reading Royals
Watch as the Royals take on the Toledo Walleye at the Sovereign Center, and hang around for the post-game auction of player-worn jazz-themed jerseys. For more, visit: www.royalhockey.com.

For updates on 20th Anniversary countdown events, visit: Stay tuned! Information on a vintage film series is coming soon, and more events are in the works.

The VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest is proud to bring fans 20 years of great music and lasting memories. Join in the celebration!

The 20th annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest, presented by the Berks Arts Council, runs March 19-28, and features an expansive array of musical styles featuring contemporary and traditional jazz and blues artists. Over 130 events at major venues, clubs and restaurants throughout Greater Reading make this a truly unique music festival. For more information, including ticketing, artist bios and archived releases, visit www.berksjazzfest.com. For more information on the Berks Arts Council, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to promoting the arts in Greater Reading, visit: www.berksarts.org.

To order tickets:
Visit the Sovereign Center box office, Seventh and Penn streets, Reading.
Call Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 to charge by phone; or visit ticketmaster.com.
Order online at berksjazzfest.com.

For a complete schedule of concerts, visit: www.berksjazzfest.com.

Dana L. Hoffman
Publicity Director
VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest
610.236.4744 office
610.401.4914 mobile

Beth Renfro
Marketing/Public Relations Director
Berks Arts Council
201 Washington St. Suite 523
P.O. Box 854
Reading, PA 19603

Phone: 610.898.1930
Fax: 610.898.1932

Happy Jazzin' and hope to see you at many of the shows!!

Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council

Posted by Beverly J. Packard at 3:52 AM

February 4, 2010

Terje Lie - Urban Vacation

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Norwegian born saxophonist Terje Lie first came into prominence in 2007 with his debut release Traveler. The title seemed to authenticate his relocation to the contemporary jazz friendly confines of southern California and the album quickly established his credentials as a ‘serious’ musician. Lie’s latest release, Urban Vacation, that is due to hit record stores on February 16, does nothing to tarnish that reputation but, with the input of Yellowjackets mainstay Jimmy Haslip and the ubiquitous Jeff Lorber, has resulted in a collection that is by far his most commercially appealing to date.

With the exception of the colorful reworking of Roy Ayers ‘Red Black And Green’ the remaining nine tracks are a consequence of the various writing permutations of Lie, Halsip and Lorber. In addition, Haslip and Lorber play on all tracks and produce throughout. With Tony Moore exquisite on drums and guest performances from Mike Landau, Dwight Sills and bass player Ernest Tibbs, Urban Vacation really is a collector’s item in the making. Sharon Perry adds soulful vocals and the entire piece is underpinned by the Lorber arranged horn section of Ron King and Gary Meek.

Lie began his career with a blues tinged rock band during high school in Norway. At age seventeen he appeared with them as lead vocalist on Norwegian television and over time became part the country’s scene of up coming jazz musicians. Featuring as both singer and saxophonist, Lie toured Norway, Sweden, and Finland with different bands and appeared on the jazz shows of the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Urban Vacation is replete with funk infused tracks that are often groovy and invariably catchy. In fact any number of them could have been plucked for radio exposure but in the event the first to be so is the opening ‘Bail Out’. Written by Lie and Lorber, it’s fluidly flowing horn arrangements set the tone for much of what is to follow and show off Lie’s penchant for funky driving sax. ‘Blue Funk’ is another Lorber – Lie composition that does much the same while Lorber’s tight keys provide a platform for the infectious, brass enriched, ‘Parlophone’ which is rapidly becoming a real Secret Garden favorite,. The equally captivating ‘Crazy Groove’ finds keyboard antics from Lorber that are nothing short of sensational and as the intensity stays ridiculously high it is the sometimes melodic yet often funky ‘Dance On The Water’ that allows Mike Landau on electric guitar to really shine.

Both the the lusciously brassy ‘So Retro’ and the similarly structured ‘Coral Dream’ provide an enticing flashback to the jazz fusion of the early eighties whilst the sultry
‘Sedona’ gives Lie a rare opportunity to ease down the tempo. The fact he does so with aplomb is due in no small part to a breathtaking solo on acoustic guitar from Landau and Lie remains in mellow mode for his own composition, the reflective ‘Tonight’. It proves to be a wonderful tune with which to close out the album yet, despite the magic that drips from every note, the lasting memory of Urban Vacation will be that of funk drenched urgency. This is certainly an album that is worth checking out.

For more on Terje Lie go to www.terjelie.com

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at 6:38 PM