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An Evening with Chris Botti: Gala and Concert

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[Cohen's 'Hallelujah'] as played by the trumpeter was wholly affecting. There is an introspective quality to this composition which fluently harmonizes with the timbre of Botti
Chris Botti
Montalvo Arts Center
Saratoga, California
September 19th, 2007

On Wednesday night, concertgoers and performing arts supporters gathered in Saratoga, California at the Montalvo Arts Center—an exquisite venue and an ideal place to see an artist perform. It is quite intimate and offers a convivial atmosphere. The Chris Botti Gala and Concert is a benefit supporting the Montalvo Arts Center's Arts Education programs—an outreach to youth in low-income and underserved schools in the Santa Clara and the San Jose Unified School Districts.

Montalvo's mission is to forge meaningful connections between artists and the communities that they serve through creation, presentation and education in extraordinary ways and settings. Its Arts Education program annually serves 20,000 youths—50 percent of whom are from low-income schools—by connecting students with the arts and supplementing the arts education curricula in public schools through master classes, workshops and outreach programs.

While the program creates the opportunity for students to have access to exemplary national and international artistic talent, it also provides the artists with unique opportunities to connect and engage personally with a population who would normally not have access to their work.

Last year at Montalvo Arts Center, Botti himself reflected upon the positive influence access to the arts had upon him as a young student. Believing that the arts significantly impact and positively transform the lives of young people, The Villa Montalvo treats as imperatives learning through the arts and arts education programs, the Chris Botti Gala and Concert standing as one notable example of this commitment.

The evening commenced as Botti, drummer Billy Kilson, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist James Genus and pianist Peter Martin graced the stage, opening the set with a poignant interpretation of "Ave Maria. The band then played Victor Young's "When I Fall in Love, in the process demonstrating exactly why it is so enjoyable to experience jazz performed live. The musicians exhibited empathetic familiarity with one another while projecting the confident bravura of seasoned professionals.

The mood changed with the next song selection —"Flamenco Sketches, from arguably the most famous of all jazz albums: Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Sony, 1959). In the front row sat two nine-year-old recorder players— Maddie and Mitchell—whom Botti had met and talked to at a pre-concert gathering earlier that evening. Such moments exemplified the purpose of the evening—not only to perform music but to reach out to students of that age. Botti used the opportunity to explain the importance of exposing youth to jazz.

Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah was next. Botti told the story of how he had heard Jeff Buckley recording the song at a studio in New York City. The piece as performed by the trumpeter was wholly affecting. There is an introspective quality to this composition that harmonizes fluently with the timbre of Botti's horn.

Another Cohen composition would be played that night—"A Thousand Kisses Deep —on which Botti showcased the perfected, dark and brooding tone of his horn. He lulled the audience into acquiescence as he sustained the last high note.

The mood changed as Botti exclaimed "Here it comes!" announcing Billy Kilson on the intro to "Why Not? It's not hard to see why Kilson is considered one of the best drummers in the business. His thunderous solos, far from wearing out their welcome, compel the audience to anticipate more of what they are hearing. Next, Mark Whitfield's solo, far from being difficult to stomach, proved quite eupeptic as he played a rendition of "Isn't She Lovely? made famous by Stevie Wonder.

American Idol's Sy Smith—Mark Whitfield's cousin and an accomplished singer—then graced the stage to perform Burt Bacharah's "The Look of Love, Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do?, and, from the Billie Holiday songbook, "Good Morning Heartache. It was wonderful to see a live performance of these songs, the band putting a fresh spin on each of these cherished standards.

Botti continued with "The Love Theme" from the classic Italian movie, Cinema Paradiso. This is always a favorite with audiences at a Botti performance. Silence swept over those in attendance in response to the muted resonance of the artist's trumpet.

"Indian Summer acted as a signal that the evening had finished—and on a high note. It is heartening to see a venue take an interest in supporting the arts and even more rewarding to all concerned when artists of Botti's caliber take the time to participate in events such as these, making contributions of their talent in ways that truly benefit the youth of today.

For More Information: Montalvo Arts Center

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