Chris Botti: Italia


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Of all the albums that I have done, I am very pleased with the flow from song-to-song and the different arrangements on Italia.
Chris When one thinks of Italy certain things come to mind, chief among them—romance, fashion, the culinary arts and a cherished optimistic outlook on life. For years, the Italian arts have chronicled the human condition. And now, prolific trumpeter Chris Botti has personified this through his release, Italia (Columbia, 2007); employing outstanding singers Andrea Bocelli, Paula Cole and a posthumous duet with Dean Martin. The result is something truly extraordinary.

Musical excellence is synonymous with both Botti and Bocelli. They are storytellers who build upon their vast experiences and musical expertise, employing their sensibilities to create entrancing stories, which contain pinnacles of emotion that reverberate in the souls of listeners. Italia, which showcases artistry of the highest caliber, will capture the hearts of all who listen by its heartbreaking melodies and poignantly haunting vocal interpretations.

Katrina-Kasey Wheeler discussed Italia with Botti, and also acquired the perspective of renowned luminary, Andrea Bocelli.

All About Jazz: What was the impetus behind this project?

Chris Botti: Well first and foremost, I am Italian.

AAJ: Have you spent much time in Italy?

CB: I lived in Italy for two years when I was a child; I attended the first and second grades in Italy. I think that there is a romantic connection to Italy, even if you have never been there. When people say Italy, it instantly transports them to whatever vision that they have in their own minds; whether it is history, food, fashion, romance, the countryside—or any of those things that are so great. The melodies of Italian pop and classical music have one thing in common: they have a beautiful art to them, which means that they translate quite well onto the trumpet.

I've always loved the whole Ennio Morricone thing. With a song like "Nessun Dorma, the expanse of that type of a melody makes it really great for a trumpet player. That was really the thought process that we had, going back to a year and a half ago. I've done American standards records and I've done more of electronica type records, and so with this project I really wanted to try to do something that isn't necessarily a jazz album. Italia is the furthest away from any kind of improvisational that you can get on any of my records. This project is really trying to set a mood that is evocative of the Italian feel.

AAJ: So then you basically knew that your next project would lean more toward Italian themes.

CB: Right, we came up with the concept and title first, and then the music flowed from that. I approached David Foster to see if he would write the song "Italia with me, which he graciously did and it turned out so beautifully. He then brought in Andrea Bocelli to sing the song. That was the first song onboard, and then we sculpted the record around that. Sometimes in instrumental music, the concept and title can be just as important as anything else because it really opens the door for the whole record.

ChrisAAJ: The song "Italia certainly captures the essence of the Italian expression that you were aiming for. When Andrea Bocelli sings, he fills people with emotion. I feel that both you and he have that same ability to connect with listeners in a very profound way. Andrea Bocelli agreed with me and said, "I love my country and my roots as much as Chris loves his native Oregon. I think we do have this gift in common and this is certainly the reason why we can really connect. I always try to reach for the hearts of listeners when I sing, and I can feel the same emotion coming across when Chris plays. I share with Chris the love for music and I love the atmosphere he creates with his trumpet. That is quite a compliment.

CB: Yes it is—that made my day.

AAJ: You will be featured on the Andrea Bocelli special that will air this fall on PBS [American Public Broadcasting Television]. It is interesting how all of this came together serendipitously. You first worked with Andrea Bocelli on a song called "Estate on his album Amore (Sugar, 2006). You had the sound that they were looking for as Andrea Bocelli said to me, "We were looking for a special introduction to the song 'Estate' and we needed something charming and classy. David [Foster] said, 'I think I know what we need,' and in a couple of days I got to hear this beautiful piece. Once again our paths crossed as if it were some sort of magic. I was working to put together a huge concert, a beautiful show in my native Tuscany, in a magnificent valley immersed in silence and I was thinking of calling Chris to invite him to perform when I received a call from David Foster requesting to sing the song "Italia. I enjoyed performing with Chris very much in my hometown. I think we gave the audience some unforgettable moments, as it was unforgettable for many of us who performed.

CB: Yes, he taped a PBS special at his own private amphitheater in Tuscany; it is perhaps one of the most beautiful venues I have ever seen in my life. We premiered "Italia at this concert and the two of us got to the end of the song and we played this high suspended note together very softly. It was a thrill to be up there on that register right underneath him. It was magical to be in that place, to feel that voice come off the stage—I loved it.

AAJ: I can imagine. That must have been quite an experience.

CB: It was.

AAJ: I am half Italian, and can attest to the fact that there is simplicity in the way Italians live their lives; as though it were an unspoken mantra. There is an enormous amount of things from which to draw inspiration within the Italian culture. Italia is a shining example of this. It is an exceptional listening experience. When I first learned that you were making an album like this, I instinctually knew that Andrea Bocelli would be featured. He is the quintessential voice of Italy.

CB: What can I say about him? For him to say something so beautiful about me—I'm not sure how to return that compliment. Like you said, he embodies the voice of a country. The interesting thing about the song "Italia is that it was written primarily by David [Foster] and me and then he brought in Andrea Bocelli, but we needed lyrics.

AAJ: Lorenzo Cherubini wrote the lyrics.

CB: Right. He is a huge pop star in Italy. He heard the song as it was, with just the melody and me playing the trumpet and David humming into a microphone. He heard it and he said, "Oh my God, I want to write this lyric. He did it and came back to us over the weekend, and had this kind of love letter to Italy written out. It is beautiful—the way he sketches that picture of Italy; the way that a person always returns home and the love for the streets, it is just a really great lyric. It was really cool to see how the song unfolded; to have David—this legendary producer on it—and have Andrea Bocelli and this great Italian lyricist write the lyrics. I am very proud of that song.

AAJ: It came together very well. You all left your imprimatur on it. You must be so pleased with the results for this project. You brought Paula Cole in to sing "The Very Thought Of You, that is always a good choice. She is able to truly convey the meaning of lyrics in a way that is unmatched.

CB: What I have learned from working with Paula, in terms of her voice—we cut "The Very Thought of You in a couple of different ways. It is so funny because we basically went with a version of the song that has hardly anything underneath it, except the orchestra kind of moves in and out but very softly, so it left a lot of room for her voice. She does it all in one take; so you hear her in this papery, beautiful voice. She pulls back on the time to kind of evoke that heartbreak, and the simplicity of it is just beautiful.

Bobby Colomby the producer, really made us go with a much more stripped-down version of that song for her to sing. I am really pleased with the result. She sang so beautifully on all of my albums; of the things that she has done between When I Fall in Love (Columbia, 2004) and To Love Again (Columbia, 2005), "The Very Thought of You is by far my favorite vocal performance.

AAJ: I can't imagine anyone else singing that song.

CB: She did a great job.

ChrisAAJ: I really love what you achieved with [Rodgers and Hart's] "It Never Entered My Mind. I think whenever you take on a song by such an iconic figure as Miles Davis, it is a challenge. However, you brilliantly incorporated your own point of view.

CB: "It Never Entered My Mind is arguably one of the greatest arrangements of all time. I have always loved that song so much. I didn't even want to remotely get in that same kind of thing that Miles did because, you know, how would you even go about it? So I told Jeremy Lubbock to just "Give me a bed of strings and we'll play with the orchestra and just give me a lot of room to maneuver around, time-wise. Of all the albums that I have done, I am very pleased with the flow from song-to-song and the different arrangements on Italia.

One thing that I really don't like about certain records that are released these days is that every song kind of has the same feeling to it; and on this album I am very pleased with the outcome. There are different things from classical to jazz; stripped-down songs to the three vocal songs that kind of mark out their positioning on the record. That is the kind of music that I like to listen to—that super chill stuff. That is not necessarily what I like to play in concert, but on a record, I love that really intimate place.

AAJ: It must have been a challenge on some level to decide which songs to include on this project, there are so many possibilities and so many timeless songs to choose from.

CB: Yes, because we didn't just keep it to music written by Italian composers, we stretched it into Italian cinema and certainly the music of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Therefore, there is a bridge to the American standards with these songs, and so that romantic quality is what we wanted to still go after. I think it also helps that we recorded twenty-one songs, and the listener is getting twelve, with an additional four songs as well. Having the luxury of recording all of this different material enabled us to pick and choose what worked. Going into it, some of the things that I really thought would work didn't work. A song that I thought would be a great song to lead off the record didn't come remotely close to making it. You just never know, until you go in and record as much as you can and see which songs really work.

AAJ: The song selection is flawless and, as you said, the songs flow very well from one to the next. In terms of the cover were you going for a more simplistic approach? The cover seems to be evocative of a Blue Note cover in that it focuses solely on the artist.

Chris CB: I have had the same photographer that has shot my last four records and Italia is the fifth. The one thing that all the covers seem to have in common is that there is never anything in the background. It is hard enough these days to try and get the word out that an instrumentalist can actually sell a record and attract an audience. For an instrumentalist you have the artist pictured and then the instrument whereas, if you see a Christina Aguilera record, it is just the person pictured so you automatically know that she is a singer.

When the trumpet goes into the situation, then that takes up a lot of room. The best thing to do is to keep it really simple and just be concerned with the shot. The cover has been morphed around a lot. We went to Rome for two days and took a lot of shots and we instantly went toward that shot because of the directness of it. It is kind of a classic shot. It is serious but yet the simplicity represents Italy. For this album I just wanted something that looked right into the camera.

AAJ: The cover and the music all fits together seamlessly.

CB: For those who are fans of Italian music, the inclusion of the Dean Martin vocal performance, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, on the album, is kind of like, "Wow where did that come from? Sometimes in modern day technology, when you have a vocal performance like he did in 1957, and we cut everything new around it, sometimes it feels as though it has been doctored up in a way, like it doesn't have the real vibe or intimacy or something like that. I think we really got lucky and were able to cut something that has a great vibe and simplicity that works. That Dean Martin track was done about a year ago. We got lucky that Capitol records came to us and asked us to be involved in this project for Dean, Forever Cool (Capitol Records, 2007). We did it and I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out.

Selected Discography:

Chris Botti, Italia (Columbia, 2007)

Andrea Bocelli, Amore(Sugar, 2006)

Chris Botti, To Love Again (Columbia, 2005)

Chris Botti, When I Fall in Love (Columbia, 2004)

Chris Botti, A Thousand Kisses Deep (Columbia, 2003)

Chris Botti, December (Columbia, 2002)

Chris Botti, The Very Best of Chris Botti (Grp Records, 2002)

Chris Botti, Night Sessions (Columbia, 2001)

Chris Botti, Slowing Down The World (Polygram Records, 1999)

Chris Botti, Midnight Without You (Polygram Records, 1997)

Chris Botti, Caught: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Polygram Records, 1996)

Chris Botti, First Wish (Polygram Records, 1995)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Fabrizio Ferri, courtesy of Chris Botti
Bottom Photo: Scott Mitchell

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