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Chris Botti takes fans on an amusing trip through jazz, pop and beyond at the Meyerson Symphony Center

By THOR CHRISTENSEN / Special Contributor
Photo by BEN TORRES / Special Contributor

Chris Botti’s jazz trumpet chops aren’t the only reason he can fill big halls like the Meyerson Symphony Center, where he began a three-day stand on Friday night.

For starters, he’s got sex appeal and pop instincts. To put on the crass hat for a moment, Botti is the new Chuck Mangione but with much nicer hair.

But the bigger reason for Botti’s success is he dares to do what so many jazz players don’t: He entertains — and with gusto.

Fronting his own band, Botti came off as stand-up comedian who also happens to play jazz. He peppered the show with self-deprecating quips, declared himself “the palest guy to ever play a trumpet” and mocked his own ego and quirks: He ordered two fans to move to empty chairs near center stage, confessing “I have O.C.D. with the audience.”

He was also incredibly gracious, thanking Sting and Paul Simon for hiring him early in his career, dubbing the Meyerson “the Carnegie Hall of the South” and lavishing praise on the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a frequent partner over the years (though not for this engagement). He also raved on about his own band members, who proved they deserved it.

Pianist Geoffrey Keezer jolted several tunes with virtuosic swing. Bassist Richie Goods helped reinvent Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” with a rambunctious solo. And drummer Billy Kilson gave the show a rock ‘n’ roll edge.

Botti led fans on an engaging trip from Chopin’s “Prelude No. 20 in C Minor” to ballads like Sting’s “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets” to a jazz-rock overhaul of Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love.” Just when his trumpet work got too melodramatic, he reversed course into free-form jazz or a brazen scat-and-response duet with guest singer Judith Hill.

For an encore, he trotted out “Nessun Dorma,” the Puccini tearjerker that fellow PBS star Andrea Bocelli also performs as an encore. But instead of making it his operatic swan song, Botti pulled a young woman from the crowd and had her bash away on drums for a thoroughly comic climax, complete with her extremely tall dad onstage filming the whole thing. Botti might be mainstream and proud of it, but he knows exactly when to hit a twisted note.