For each of the last 12 years, Chris Botti has spent the holidays at the Blue Note Jazz Club, bringing his trumpet, his high-gloss production values and his ace touring band. What began as a standard booking at the club has expanded into a monthlong residency, full of surprise drop-ins and celebrity cameos.
“It’s like a big party every night,” Mr. Botti said the other day, a week into his current run. “It’s also given me a chance to stretch the band out. We do 56 shows in 28 days, and we always come out of this a much stronger unit all around.”
A jazz-pop powerhouse who keeps a grueling tour schedule — he’s on the road some 280 nights out of the year — Mr. Botti also relishes that the engagement means staying in one place for a while. He talked about his seasonal tradition, and why he won’t be playing “Sleigh Bells.” These are excerpts from the conversation.
Trumpeter Chris Botti, who performed Friday night at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, has become an annual visitor to the Nicollet Mall concert venue. As usual, most of the hall’s seats were occupied, since the constantly touring Botti knows how to please audiences and keep them coming back for more.
The Grammy winner began his career as a jazz musician, but expanding his musical repertoire to embrace pop and rock has made Botti one of the top-selling instrumentalists ever; he’s sold more than 4 million CDs.
Earlier in his career, Botti did separate tours as a sideman backing two of the most successful pop artists of modern times: Paul Simon and Sting. Doing so gave Botti exposure to audiences beyond the somewhat limited jazz category, and he must have picked up some pointers on how to engage an audience and create a sense of intimacy, even in a large, rock-scale venue.
With CD and concert-ticket sales like his, Botti can afford to hire top-shelf musicians and singers, and that is what he does.
One of the most dramatic pieces of the 90-minute performance was Botti’s crystalline rendition of Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” which the late Miles Davis introduced to jazz fans on his “Sketches of Spain” album. He followed that with one of his own ballad hits, which some of the avid Botti fans in the audience recognized after just a couple of notes.
Then Botti quickly switched gears, blowing brassy midrange riffs over an electric funk tune designed to showcase the group’s powerhouse drummer, Lee Pearson.
Botti the ballad specialist reprised a couple of jazz standards, “When I Fall In Love” and the moody “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The group used the latter piece as a launching pad for an uptempo instrumental workout with Pearson, bassist Richie Goods, Botti and pianist Taylor Eigsti alternating high-flying solos at a breakneck pace.
Botti also honored the recently departed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, spotlighting guitarist Ben Butler on an instrumental version of Cohen’s signature piece, “Hallelujah.”
Another instrumental virtuoso touring with the group is violinist Corline Campbell, who earned a standing ovation with a briskly played solo classical piece.
Botti’s traveling troupe also includes a couple of show-stopping vocal talents. One of them is dazzling R&B singer Sy Smith, who was part of “The Tonight Show” band during Jay Leno’s tenure. Smith raised the roof with a soaring version of “The Very Thought of You,” showing off her stunning vocal range, at times vocally resembling the singer Randy Crawford.
Then she and Botti traded stratospheric high notes on a rendition of “The Look of Love,” a tune featured on Botti’s Grammy-winning “live” DVD.
Several years ago Botti paid homage to his Italian roots with an album called “Italia,” co-writing the title track with the great operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli and performing it with him in Italy. Near the end of Friday night’s concert, Botti brought out a lesser-known but also impressive opera singer named Rafael Moras to reprise the dramatic piece.
Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician in Minneapolis.
NAPA, California, November 9, 2016 – Blue Note Napa had its grand opening last week, shimmering with sparkle and pizzazz. Grammy award-winning jazz trumpet great Chris Botti opened the festivities at this swanky new downtown Napa club, and they could not have found a better act to christen the sloop.
The Blue Note, mostly known for its club in New York City, has a long-standing reputation as one of the best live jazz venues in the world. Bay Area jazz and blues lovers can rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this legendary club on America’s Left Bank.
The Blue Note is known for its intimacy and gritty vibe that pulses from the stage. Could Napa truly capture the essence of NYC jazz and blues in the heart of California wine country? The answer is a resounding yes!
From the blue hue that hums throughout the space to the vintage horns visually blaring from the walls and a stage that that puts each act right the midst of music fans in attendance, this Napa club vibrates with and actually captures the true feeling of Blue Note NY.
The vibe of opening week, with Botti taking main stage, was electric. The crowd was riled up, almost like a down and dirty blues show more than an elegant night of jazz. But Botti embraced the vocal and highly enthusiastic crowd.
Botti is truly a renaissance man when it comes to music. He’s collaborated with rock, classical, R&B and blues musicians aplenty. With four-million+ albums sold, he has discovered a form of creative expression that begins in jazz and expands beyond the limits of any single genre. Botti has thoroughly established himself as one of the foremost innovative figures of the contemporary music world without a doubt.
The top two highlights of a great night:
Guest violinist Lucia Micarelli was given the stage by Botti in appreciation of her incredible talent. As she slowly began to pull her bow methodically across the strings, the crowd was cleverly teased with a melody that they didn’t quite recognize. As the reverberations from her bow increased, the volume increased to a level that matched her energizing presence on stage as she seamlessly broke into Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” The crowd was aroused to near-ecstasy as her violin replicated the high-pitched vocals of Robert Plant.
Botti closed the night with “My Funny Valentine.” There was an excited murmur running through the energized crowd, which then slowly ebbed like a wave dying down as it reaches the shore. With each weepy note, the crowd became increasingly quiet, mesmerized by the clarity and perfect pitch of each note Botti played. This is jazz. This is the Blue Note.