Chris Botti: A Night with the San Francisco Symphony

Katrina-Kasey Wheeler By

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There is something so familiar about the tone of Botti
Chris Botti
Davies Symphony Hall
San Francisco, California
July 14th, 2007

Davies Symphony Hall was abuzz with Chris Botti enthusiasts as they took their seats and the lights dimmed. The evening commenced as Randall Craig Fleischer joined the San Francisco Symphony on stage, leading them in Leonard Bernstein's riveting "Times Square from On the Town. Fleischer announced that every conductor has at one point or another wanted to be exactly like Leonard Bernstein, including himself. In fact, Fleischer once studied with Leonard Bernstein as a conducting fellow at Tanglewood. The evening continued with Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine, followed by latin/jazz/fusion music of sheer genius, Bernstein's score for the "Dance at the Gym scene from West Side Story, about which Fleischer said, "If you haven't seen West Side Story, get a life! This part of the evening concluded with Brian Setzer's vehement "Rock This Town. Fleischer's vigor and high energy translated to the audience throughout the evening, as the personable director remained equally engaged with the music and connected with the audience. Indeed, he reminded those in attendance that they were lucky to live in such a fantastic city with one of the greatest symphonies in existence.

After a fleeting intermission, trumpeter Chris Botti, along with drummer Billy Kilson, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist James Genus and a new pianist hailing from New Orleans, Peter Martin, graced the stage. The set began with a deeply celestial performance of "Ave Maria. Despite its dismissal by a few jazz purists, Botti's music requires your full attention to hear every nuance, revel in every note. The instrument is an extension of the person. They appear meet where the mind and body bind together to create phatic music that draws an audience in and doesn't let go. The performer has established himself as an eminent figure in the world of jazz, not only for his exceptional talent but for the quality of serenity that emanates from his instrument. The introductory number proved the perfect segue into "Someone to Watch over Me, demonstrating Botti's ability to transmute what he is feeling through his music. He has superlative control of his instrument, as demonstrated by the ethereal tone he coaxes from the horn.

The band was in brilliant form as they proceeded into the next song, Victor Young's "When I Fall in Love. The ensemble displayed empathetic camaraderie and as well as remarkable charisma. Moreover, each solo was dynamically captivating. Even the conductor was not averse to swaying to the music. Peter Martin amazed on the piano, while the entire rhythm section remained especially tight, showcasing Mark Whitfield's sassy guitar riffs and Billy Kilson's impeccable timing.

Next, Botti played Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah, a hauntingly piercing song that captures both the spirit of Christmas and the paradoxically melancholic emotions that the month of December can incite. "Caruso from Botti's upcoming release entitled Italia (Columbia 2007) was then performed to an appreciative audience. The song "Caruso" I see as quintessentially evocative of not only Italy but also Andrea Bocelli, as it is the first track on the vocalist's release Romanza (Polygram Records 1997). Botti succeeded in making it his own, so much so that his instrumental arrangement as any other version, instrumental or vocal. Without a doubt he captured its emotional meaning, demonstrating that music is a catholicon crossing over all barriers. There is an unspoken, ineffable quality in his phrasing on the trumpet that is his exclusively.

American Idol fans have seen Sy Smith, who now took the stage to sing "The Look of Love and "What'll I Do? Reminiscent of a young Diana Ross, she showed she has comparable, dynamic talent, stage presence and performing élan.

Silence swept over the audience as the first note of "Cinema Paradiso was wailed, instantly enrapturing the audience. There is something familiar about the tone of Botti's trumpet—not in the sense of recognition of a melody or a favorite song but the essence of his artistry—the hauntingly iconic quality of his presence within his work. The mood changed as the band performed "Indian Summer, demonstrating the improvisatory skills of each musician. Anytime one sees musicians of this quality, it has to be be an exhilarating experience.

The audience clapped, insisting on an encore. Botti again graced the stage, performing Puccini's "Nessun Dorma, which will be featured on the Italia release. A sense of tranquility possessed the audience as he skillfully executed each note. A true artist learns how to play and read music notation, but actual music is inside, waiting to be released into the world, and that's an accomplishment that cannot be taught or contrived in any fashion. The encore was executed with bravura, signaling the close of a truly extraordinary event and leaving the audience in hope of another night to equal it.


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