Trumpeter Chris Botti, hot off of Sting's sold-out North American "Sacred Love" tour, slid into New Haven, headlining his own contemporary jazz jam. April 2, 2004 - Lyman Hall at Southern Connecticut State University is where the cool combustion took place. (He even looks like Sting.)
Promoting his most recent Columbia label release, A Thousand Kisses Deep
, Botti showcased his talents as both a pop performer and a pure jazz trumpet balladeer. The 2003 release features a diverse group of contributing songwriters including Leonard Cohen and Rogers & Hart, as well as Botti originals.
The touring band Botti brought with him was red-hot. I recognized the drummer from a recent Larry Carlton show in New York. It was Billy Kilson, keeping practiced with his serious chops. He's worked with folks like George Duke and Christian McBride. On bass, Jon Ossman kept the groove going, having recently returned from his honeymoon in Vietnam. The nervously twitchy Marc Shulman was squeezing sounds out of his guitar, replacing Shayne Fontayne who's busy promoting his solo CD, What Nature Intended
. On keyboards, the very capable Federico Pena from Uruguay, provided structure. He's performed with Meshell Ndegbecello and Maxwell.
Chris Botti and the boys are polished, combat-proven veterans. They really put on a great show. From funk to an incredibly moving rendition of "My Funny Valentine", this night was a musical marvel. Botti had time to let the classic ballad breathe, unlike the 33-minute sets allowed to him as Sting's opener. This song was perhaps the show's highlight. Standing alone in the audience - the spotlight on him - Botti poured out the sweetness from his trumpet, accompanied only by Pena on keyboards.
It takes balls for a trumpet player to cover the classic "My Funny Valentine", since its so closely linked to Miles Davis and Chet Baker. "I was a little nervous going into it," Botti confesses about recording the song for his release "A Thousand Kisses Deep."
"My hope is that the exposed nature of this performance will show how I can play the trumpet apart from the pop structures of the rest of the album," Botti continues. "I think it shows, in a naked way, the true sound of my horn." The CD version was done in one take, with Billy Childs accompanying on piano. A Thousand Kisses Deep
was recorded in May/June 2003. "By pop standards, I make records really fast," Botti says. "I'd say 70-80% of the trumpet performances are first takes. It seems that if I don't have a lot of time, I can give a bit more original or more honest approach to the song."
Of his latest release, Botti sums it up as "a more mature and expansive version of the kind of thing I started doing eight or nine years ago. I'm chasing the ultimate chill-out vibe. I'm trying to create music that is beautiful and sophisticated at the same time."
He continues, "The difference in this album is rhythm. The most obvious example is a track called "Last Three Minutes" (written by Burt Bacharach and Andre Young). You can hear a tougher rhythmic approach that I haven't had on my records before."
Watching the concert, I was impressed with the smoothness of his sound. He has a really nice, soft touch. He humbly attributes some of that to his instrument. Last year he purchased a rare 1941 Martin trumpet that "has really made a difference in my playing." He adds, "It's a rare instrument with a slightly larger bell. It was like finding a rare Jaguar or a rare Porsche. The sound is so dark and beautiful, with a really soft and inviting tone."
The Oregon native got his first musical influences from his mother, a classically-trained pianist. Botti moved to New York City in 1986, where he studied with the late, great jazz trumpeter Woody Shaw. "After I came to New York, I realized I didn't want to be a jazz musician," he muses. "I love improvisation, but you really need to live the bebop tradition in order to play it. That kind of music - the kind that Woody Shaw, for example, played so brilliantly - just moves a little too quickly for me."
Botti continues, "The music that really inspired me as a teenager was more like Miles Davis playing ballads with the second quintet. You know, that spacey thing."
Botti joined the 1990 Paul Simon World Tour, working side by side with jazz veterans trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Steve Gadd. Chris Botti has appeared on dozens of albums, compilations and soundtracks. His 2001 Columbia label debut is called Night Sessions. In 2002, he put out a holiday themed CD, December. While promoting that release, he appeared on the WB Networks' "The Caroline Rhea Show" and was hired the next day as her on-air partner, where he stayed for a five-month stint. (Ya never know where the showbiz road will take ya.)
Tonight, the road took him to New Haven. (www.cityofnewhaven.com) Botti and the boys got funky with "Alone In The City", another concert highpoint. The audience jumped up when the band started jamming the radio hit "Indian Summer." It was a great show, perhaps even eclipsing an earlier performance here last year by trumpeter Rick Braun.
One thing's for sure, Lyman Center concert promoter Larry Tomascak (www.southernct.edu) keeps bringing in great bands. Speaking of jazz promoters, sitting a couple of seats down from me was my ol' pal Kevin McCabe (www.jumpstartjazz.com), who's got hot jazz sounds happening in Hartford.
Since this article was written, Chris Botti was interviewed at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola for a special (12/17/04) on NBC's Extra! www.jalc.org
Visit Chris Botti on the web at www.bottiology.com or www.chrisbotti.com .