Chris Botti Talks with soulciti: Jazz is a Lifestyle

Photo by Leann Mueller
People who haven’t seen him before think it will just be him on stage with a trumpet. “They don’t realize they’re going to get a great show with incredible classical musicians and singers."

Trumpet player and jazz musician Chris Botti lives life on the road. Even after decades of playing, he practices daily, sticks to a routine, gives credit where it is due, and loves to play to his audience.

Botti cut his teeth in the clubs in Portland, OR, saying jazz isn’t something that can be learned in books. Being out amongst older, more seasoned guys was the real learning experience.

“When you’re 15 and you are in jazz clubs with 50 -year-olds, you learn pretty quick. Jazz is also a lifestyle and you learn, as jazz musicians say, ‘on the bandstand.’” Chris is on the road over 270 days a year.

“It’s important to have a routine to make the most of a traveling lifestyle. I’m a total routine guy. The trumpet is not an instrument you can look away from. A trumpet player has to put in many hours of practice. It’s a real commitment. The trumpet is comparable to the ballet dancer, you still have to put time in at the barre otherwise your muscles lose the elasticity, the muscle memory.”

For a 28-year-old kid to be playing a show for 750,000 people was a mind trip.

Botti famously got hooked on the trumpet at age 12.  He’d been listening to music and playing the trumpet for a few years, but Miles Davis was the first time, “emotional, beautiful, haunting… all the adjectives… it was just heartbreaking,” he says. He had “an instant connection to the trumpet, not thinking ahead to a career, just an obvious thought which persisted in my brain that I had a strong connection to the trumpet, and that has not wavered.”

He spent a decade in Paul Simon’s band in the 1990s, which culminated in a concert in Central Park. “For a 28-year-old kid to be playing a show for 750,000 people was a mind trip.” He got that gig through word of mouth.

“I was a fairly successful studio musician,and Paul got his musicians from the studio world. I was recommended to him as a sub for another person. Paul liked me so much he got rid of the other guy! It’s the ultimate lesson: Never sub-out a gig unless you want to lose it!”

From there he joined Sting’s band. “I could never really have imagined having a career like this without Sting’s assistance and belief in me.” They spent a couple of years on the road together, becoming close friends. “He’s my big brother at this point, he’s family. He fired me from his band and simultaneously promoted me to his opening act. He did it to showcase my band in front of his audience, not just as his side musician. All roads lead back to that association with Sting. Still to this day he is a great, great ally and friend.”

We do great jazz, but we also do classical. We play R&B and popular music. The musicians on the road with me, it is an all-star band, rat pack kind of a feel.

Chris plays a rare trumpet, one from 1939, a Martin Committee. “Martin trumpets have been played by many different jazz stars including Miles Davis … Mine is from 1939; it’s super, super rare. It’s a large bore instrument, not a lot of them were made. I feel unbelievably lucky that that particular instrument found its way to me. It’s an awesome instrument.”

“I scour the earth trying to find another that I can have for back-up, but I still haven’t found one. One of these days I will! To get one that’s in really good shape & find one that really blows well is very difficult. It’s a very laborious thing to play, but the sound is so beautiful!”

Chris has passion for live shows and for collaboration with others. “First of all I love it.  That gives me energy to travel and perform, and I feel so grateful to be able to go out and do what I do.” He says many people who haven’t seen him before think it will just be him on stage with a trumpet.

“They don’t realize they’re going to get a great show with incredible classical musicians and singers. I want people to have a great time at my show, and I want to feature the best musicians in the world. We do great jazz, but we also do classical. We play R&B and popular music. The musicians on the road with me, it is an all-star band, rat pack kind of a feel. At the core, the musicians are amazing!”

In this video, Chris Botti performs with special guest vocalist Jill Scott performing the Billie Holiday classic Good Morning Heartache.


Catch Chris Botti and his band live on stage at The Long Center on Wednesday, April 19th at 7:30. Tickets on sale now.

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