Botti grabs his dreams by the horns

Chris Botti

BY JESSICA A. BOTELHO

After recently wrapping up a six-week tour with legendary entertainer Barbara Streisand, Grammy-nominated trumpeter Chris Botti, the world’s best selling jazz instrumentalist, will be taking the stage at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center this Sunday, Nov. 4th.

For Botti, performing in the area is exciting. In 2009, he recorded a DVD, “Live in Boston,” which he thinks helped him generate New England fans.

“It’s become one of the most successful parts of my touring world, so we love coming up there,” he said. “That upper part of the United States is a really good market for me, so we visit there quite often.”

The set will include singer Lisa Fischer, who has been gigging with The Rolling Stones for the last two decades. Not only will the show incorporate jazz to the mix, it will feature other genres, as well.

“If anything has defined my touring in the last three or four years it is the ability to go from a really traditional jazz piece, to a more orchestral piece, to a classical piece, to an R&B song and do it with real authority,” said Botti. “We have incredible musicians in the band and hopefully people will walk away from the show entertained and musically lifted, but also seeing something that they can’t see around the block from some other band.”

Botti plans to perform songs from his latest album, “Impressions,” which features an all-star list of artists, including Andrea Bocelli, Vince Gill, Herbie Hancock, David Foster, Caroline Campbell and Mark Knopfler.

Having Knopfler, best known as the singer and guitarist of the rock band Dire Straits, appear on the album was a pleasant surprise, said Botti. Knopfler agreed to sing, “What a Wonderful World” for the album. He rarely sings songs written by other writers.

“I was quite shocked,” Botti said. “That collaboration was sort of put together out of a fluke.”
Botti explained that his manager is a good friend of Knopfler, and as the two were taking a stroll in London’s Hyde Park one day, Knopfler suggested that Botti remake the classic tune.

“It was kind of his idea,” said Botti. “I probably would never have tried to enter into that Louie Armstrong territory of music had it not been for Mark. We went back to him and said, ‘Are you serious?’”

Knopfler was serious, and ended up teaming up with Botti to record the song. Botti said Knofpler’s unique voice makes the track work as well as it does.

“He almost speaks the song as much as he sings it,” said Botti. “And it was done all in one take. In the day and age of people having computers, multiple takes, Auto-Tune and this that and the other thing, one of the stipulations Mark made was that he would do it if we came to London and record it with his band. We did three takes and the second one is the one you hear. We wanted to give it authenticity.”

Having Hancock join him on the album was another treat. The two partnered musically in the past, as they once performed together at the White House for Presidents Obama, Clinton, Carter, plus the president of China, as well as their spouses.

“It was big deal for me – it was sort of nerve-wracking, but it was fun,” Botti said of the first time he played at the White House. He later performed there again when George W. Bush was in office. “There I was playing with Herbie Hancock, which, in a weird way, was even more of a thrill than to play for the politicians.”

He and Hancock played “My Funny Valentine,” a hit that inspired Botti to learn trumpet.

“That’s the song that made me want to become a trumpet player,” said Botti. “I heard it on a record player. It was the first time I ever heard Miles Davis and it just knocked me back. I just thought, ‘I want to be a trumpet player for the rest of my life.’”

To be clear, Botti started playing trumpet when he was nine-years-old after seeing Carl Hilding “Doc” Severinse, the original trumpet player on The Tonight Show. But when he was 12 or 13, he heard Davis for the first time and connected with the instrument on a more emotional level.

“I was always enamored with the sound and flavor of the dark, pretty sound Miles Davis made with his horn,” he said.

As an attempt to sound as much like his hero as possible, Botti plays on the same make that Davis plays on – a Martin Committee large bore trumpet made in 1939. He also uses a No. 3 silver-plated mouthpiece from Bach, which was crafted in 1926.

“They stopped making them years ago and I just believe that the new horns haven’t aged yet and don’t have the same sort of sound,” he said. “Someone gave me this horn to try out about 12 or 13 years ago and I played two notes on it and was like, ‘This is amazing.’ It’s a very unique sound and I’ve blessed to have run across it. It’s been a fantastic friendship ever since.”

Another friendship Botti holds near and dear to his heart is with Sting, now a solo artist who became famous by fronting the band The Police. He credits Sting with helping him establish a career.

“I never would have had a career had it not been for my ongoing, close friendship with Sting,” he said. “He has really helped me in every possible way. The relationship goes well beyond music. Meeting him and working with him and having it blossom into a deep friendship is something that I look at as the greatest thing that’s happened to me. He became family in many ways.”

Yet, Botti has made quite the name for himself in his own right. While his success came later in his life, he tours incessantly to keep fans interested.

“They are what it’s all about,” he said.

All too often, Botti said, he has witnessed artists reach the pinnacle of success and then lose it simply because they became disengaged. That’s not an option for him.

“You need to care about your audience and whether they are getting music that they love,” said Botti. “A lot of artists, especially those in their 20s, say, ‘Oh, the road is too difficult. I’m going to take four years off.’ And then their audience goes, ‘Goodbye.’ I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to be able to tour well into my 60s or 70s if I can still play the horn.”

To do that, he said, an artist must be willing to make sacrifices.  It isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.

“You have to sacrifice a lot of life for the benefits of being able to walk on stage every night and be grateful that there is an audience there for you because they can just as easily spend their money and go download the latest and greatest thing and not come to your show,” said Botti. “That’s something that I’m well aware of.”

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center’s box office is located at 684 Purchase Street, New Bedford, Mass. Box Office Hours: M-F 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and one hour before each performance. For more information, visit www.zeiterion.org or call 508-994-2900.

“We look forward to the show,” Botti said. “It’s going to be a great one.”

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