Chris Botti continues to be in command of his legendary show

Published on March 31st, 2021

By Jim Dail

Ask trumpeter Chris Botti about the key to his playing and his response is not just finesse, talent and practice, but a lot of command.

“On the trumpet, it’s not just the feel, but the command,” said Botti, who will perform August 3 as part of Thornton Winery’s 2019 Champagne Jazz Concert Series. “When you are able to have command of the instrument, that’s like being a body builder. You don’t just one day wake up, take protein powder and go do it. It is a lot of work”

For Botti, the drive to advance his craft has included 4-5 hours of practice a day for years.

“You get pride of being able to learn stuff and sound polished,” he said. “It transmits to the audience because you can play more challenging things or faster tempos. You can play real sensitive, and it allows you to play at a whisper and the next note just ‘boom’ and bring in all the muscularity of the music. It’s very important to me to have that finesse.”

The show has always been the lifeblood of Botti’s career, a musical run that has featured a Grammy award, five nominations and four albums that topped the Billboard jazz albums chart.

He began performing with Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich while attending Indiana University, and wound up performing with Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Sting and others. In 1995, he recorded his first album, “First Wish,” and the career that fans know and love was off and running.

Anyone who has seen a Botti shows know it is not just music but an experience, which is a deliberate effort.

“You set it up in a way that hopefully makes it flattering,” he said. “It never shocks me how musicians think about their own singular instruments or what goes on around them, but not the show. For me, I want the musicians to have the best possible frame for their strengths and weaknesses. You want to show off your strength and everyone else’s. A lot just do their own thing, and it’s important to me that not only do I look well, but also the rest of the band.”

It is part musicianship and part production. And the setlist, while featuring a few staples, is often changing. While there are songs such as “Emmanuel,” “The Very Thought of You” and snippets of “Kashmir,” other songs could be classical numbers, Michael Jackson songs, even songs by The Carpenters.

“My gig is equally two-fold: playing and producing the whole show,” he said. “It’s very much a part of my trip.”

One thing that veterans of Botti’s shows know well is the talent that comes to town with him. Typically, there is a vocalist and a violinist to be showcased, as well as other musicians who are at the top of their craft, as there will be this time around at Thornton.

“I’ve added a saxophone, added new stuff to the set, along with some of the older material,” he said. “There will be more free blowing with a sax in the band. The big thing is people will fall in love with the sound and the showmanship, which can be funny.”

There’s also a new album in the works, though the very early stage.

“I’m going to start a new record in the fall with brand new stuff, and I know it’s going to be minimalist,” he said. “The ‘Impressions’ record was the height of excess. We’d rework the arrangements and orchestra sound constantly. Now, I happily made that record, but it’s been 5 years since and in that time I’ve moved to New York.”

One of his goals in his move to New York was to hone his craft even further.

“I’ve made a conscious effort that I was going to try to get better,” he said. “I’ve put in 5 hours a day of practicing and I made it the most single important thing in my life. I wanted to be able to document a record. I want to be able to do that. So that’s going to be the main thing for this one.”

Of course, Botti is cognizant of the way things are in the music business, but the success and spectacle of his live show is a perfect fit.

“You know the live thing is the thing, not like in say 1984-85 when you had a big influx of cash with people buying CDs, and MTV and all these great artists in the record business,” he said. “Now, the only thing is can he play live. It’s awesome for me because I don’t have to rely on the record sales. It used to be can I get on ‘Oprah’ or ‘Ellen,’ or ‘The Tonight Show,’ but now I can play a show and people will Tweet and that promoter looks at it. For example, I recently played in Bolder and it was my first time there and people were live Tweeting. The promoter came to me and said he wanted me back next year.”

He’s been at Thornton Winery since the early part of the century.

“I always look forward to Thornton for many reasons,” he said. “I walk out on stage and familiar faces greet me and there’s all this enthusiasm. Everyone is in a great mood. It really is the gig of the calendar I look at the most.”

It’s also a nostalgic place for him.

“One of my first gigs was there and there is a sentimental aspect to coming to Thornton,” he said. “Just so many great memories. I love the place.”


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