Chris Botti's melancholy
sound strikes a chord
we rang Chris Botti on his cell
phone last week, he was doing
what he loves best (other than
playing trumpet) - strolling the
streets of SoHo and frequenting
sidewalk cafes. It's the kind
of romantic image his velvety,
sublime music portrays, one we've
come to expect from a jazz heartthrob
with legions of female admirers,
among them Oprah Winfrey and former
girlfriend Katie Couric.
"I just love your music,"
a woman says, interrupting our
conversation. "My daughter
sent me your CD and she loves
Such is life for the 43-year-old
acclaimed trumpeter whose jazz-pop
albums appeal to traditional jazz
fans and mainstream audiences.
His latest effort for Columbia
Records, "To Love Again,"
which includes duets with Sting,
Jill Scott, Gladys Knight and
Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, debuted
at the top of Billboard's jazz
charts and No. 18 on its Top 200
best-selling album list. Early
sales indicate it will outpace
his previous and RIAA Gold-certified
release, "When I Fall in
Love." And next month, PBS
debuts a concert filmed in Los
But for all of Botti's (pronounced
Bo-dee) chart-topping success,
he leads a Zen-like life. While
most musicians brag about living
on the road, Botti literally does.
With no permanent residence, each
day he hauls two suitcases stuffed
with designer clothes by Prada,
Gucci and Costume National from
hotel to hotel. He's one of a
few jazz artists whose shows are
so in demand that he plays 250
to 300 of them a year and doesn't
need a home.
"I feel fortunate to be
in the position of keeping the
same group of musicians on the
road," he says. "It's
hard to do that in jazz; it's
not like you grow up as a band
and drive around in a van. I've
been able to attract the best
musicians and keep them together
and that's been the most gratifying
thing for me."
At no time is that pride more
evident than now. Like his idol
before him, Miles Davis, whose
bittersweet sound inspired him
to play trumpet, the Oregon native
eagerly shares the limelight with
his musicians each night. They
include pianist Billy Childs,
guitarist Marc Whitfield, drummer
Billy Kilson, bassist Jon Ossman
and vocalist Jeanne Jolly. And
between them and their bandleader,
the group boasts seven current
"This is my favorite combo
of musicians," Botti says.
"It's one of the finest jazz
groups out there. I'm just proud
to be in it."
That all-star group takes on
legendary status with the temporary
inclusion of iconic jazz saxophonist
David Sanborn, with whom Botti
is co-headlining a tour this month.
The trumpeter calls it "the
ultimate super band."
And though Botti feels fortunate
to work with such amazing musicians,
respect begets respect, so it's
no surprise high-caliber players
are eager to work with him. To
assemble the all-star lineup of
singers for his new album, he
called upon his friends. When
he phoned Tyler, for example,
Botti says the hall of fame rocker
was on vacation and immediately
agreed to participate, no questions
"The biggest reward from
that record was the enthusiasm
everyone had to sing on it,"
Botti says. "The Grammy nominations
and the chart positions are great,
but ultimately the way you interact
with other musicians is the most
important thing to me."
Botti learned how to interact
with other musicians at an early
age. His mother is a classically
trained pianist, and following
his move to New York City in 1986,
he studied under the late trumpeter
Woody Shaw. A series of side jobs
with the likes of Paul Simon and
Natalie Merchant not only led
him to a watershed partnership
with Sting in 1999, they also
helped him define his sound and
his audience. Unlike most "jazz
players" steeped in the bebop
tradition, Botti prefers to paint
broad, textural musical canvases
that owe more to romance and ambiance
than pure improvisation, though
you'll never hear him play the
same song the same way twice.
"The word 'jazz' has become
such a broad thing, but to some
it's very small," he says.
"Some feel Norah Jones is
jazz and to others jazz is Miles
Davis, Wayne Shorter, Charlie
Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and John
Coltrane. But what it comes down
to is adult music."
Call it what you want, jazz
or pop, but Botti has earned the
respect of his peers and the adoration
of mainstream audiences. It's
an impressive feat for someone
whose music is best summed up
in a Joni Mitchell lyric - "there's
comfort in melancholy."
"There's a fine line between
heartbreak and love," Botti
says. "It's a compliment
when someone tells me my music
put them in a place when where
they were almost in tears."
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