Since his debut solo release in 1995, trumpeter Chris Botti is a musician who has gained widespread appeal, presenting many sides of jazz as well as delving subtly into pop and classical genres. His collaborations have included such artists as Spyro Gyra, Renee Olstead, Sting, Michael Bublé and Jill Scott. And his live shows have melded contemporary and smooth jazz with the dissonance of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (Columbia/Legacy, 1999).
Botti's latest release, December (Columbia, 2006), is a reissue of his 2002 collection of thirteen holiday favorites. Each track was done with a different approach, as several employ variable lineups of jazz musicians while Botti is backed on others by a small string ensemble, Orchestra of St. Jon's Choir or the London Session Orchestra. Eric Benet joins for the only vocal track, "I Really Don't Want Much for Christmas. Most of the arrangements are by Botti, Jeremy Lubbock or Billy Childs.
All About Jazz: About this time every year, the market is flooded with Christmas albums. Does it ever concern you as an artist that fans might go: "Yuck, more holiday music ?
Chris Botti: Any time I put out something, you don't want it to be, "Ooh, yuck I think that the Christmas ... the Christmas record world can be done great, and it can be done bad. You want your fans to love everything you do, so you try to keep the level of arrangements high on every song. The success of every record depends on the record and not on the genre.
AAJ: How do you approach song selection and arrangements to make yours stand out?
CB: Sometimes, you can think of a great song that's so beautiful, but it doesn't fit on the trumpet. So I spend a lot of time working with it. One of my favorite pieces of music is "Ave Maria, where Jeremy had the choir.
AAJ: December is a bit unusual in that it mixes genres. Some tracks are straightforward, but at different times you've gone orchestral, jazz, pop and even threw in a bit of samba.
CB: [Laughs] A throwback to Stan Getz. I think variation is the one thing that keeps instrumental music good. When you have that much departure from each song to the next, the thing that holds it all together in a positive way is the trumpet.
AAJ: How did you determine whether to go with a small band on this track, a few strings on that one and a choir and an orchestra on another?
CB: There's no formula. You just kind of go with your gut. It's a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it works great; sometimes you fall on your face. Some fall on the cutting room floor.
AAJ: What was the most difficult part of the process?
CB: There's no pressure. It's so much fun just to play that. You don't have to worry about radio; you don't have to worry about hits. All the pressure that comes with a more straight-ahead album, you don't have that with Christmas. You can just kinda do anything you want. You just gotta maintain and keep an eye on the musicianship.
AAJ: The most enjoyable?
CB: Probably doing that thing with the choir. I also like that Leonard Cohen tune ("Hallelujah ).
AAJ: You employed two drummers, Vinnie Colaiuta and Peter Erskine, and several bassists. Was there a certain dynamic you were looking for?
CB: I think pretty much on all my records, I try to use at least two different drummers. It gives a different kind of texture. Those guys are great, great drummers. The drums are so important. People don't realize subliminally how the drums affect your music. Certainly the bass is the same way.
AAJ: Which song is your favorite?
CB: A lot of it just really comes down to how the arrangement works with me. I like how "The First Noel as a straight-ahead Christmas song works.
AAJ: What's coming up?
CB: Touring, touring, touring. We go through New Year's; we get five days off and then well be off (on the road) again
BR> Selected Discography
Chris Botti, December (Columbia, 2002, reissued 2006)
Chris Botti, To Love Again (Sony, 2005)
Chris Botti, When I Fall in Love (Sony, 2004)
Chris Botti, A Thousand Kisses Deep (Sony, 2003)
Chris Botti, Night Sessions (Sony, 2001)
Spyro Gyra, 20/20, (GRP, 1997)
Jos L. Knaepen