Trumpeter Chris Botti and musical friends enchant Uptown crowd
By L Pierce Carson, Napa Valley Register
World traveling trumpeter Chris Botti stopped off in Napa last week with his latest musical ensemble.
The generous two-hour-plus show that Botti and eight colleagues presented to a full house of fans at the Uptown Theatre turned out to be an absolute corker. The tightly knit, wildly talented ensemble was, as the saying goes, hitting on all cylinders.
As she usually does, violinist and Stanford grad Caroline Campbell raised eyebrows and gooseflesh. The classically trained artist caresses with dreamy ballads, then gets down when the tempo is turned up.
We’ve heard vocalist Sy Smith before but no one’s ever been better at delivering the Al Green hit “Let’s Stay Together” … except for Al Green, of course.
Danville’s George Komsky, offering the operatic “Italia” and “Time to Say Goodbye” with his warm, soaring voice, let Napans know why he’s ranked one of the best tenors in the nation.
Pianist Geoffrey Keezer — who earned his stripes as a young man with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers — dazzled us with not only his arrangements but also the improvisational solos contributed throughout the evening.
And who in the audience was not blown away by the new addition to the rhythm section, drummer Lee Pearson? Not only has he backed such acclaimed jazzmen as Roy Ayers and Ronnie Laws as well as singer Erykah Badu, Pearson was part of a world tour with Savion Glover’s Tony Award-winning Broadway show, “Bring in Da’ Noise, Bring in Da’ Funk” from 2002-2003.
Commenting on the newest band member, Botti points out that Pearson is “a very unusual combination of jaw-dropping chops, showmanship and finesse.” And that’s just what Pearson’s magnificent solo near the end of last week’s concert was — jaw-dropping. I suspect Gene Krupa might well have been smilin’ from on high.
And then there’s three more top-shelf guys contributing to the mix — bassist Richie Goods, guitarist Ben Butler and keyboardist Andy Ezrin.
For those who think Chris Botti is all about dreamy smooth jazz ballads, they need to catch a live performance. When Chris and his trumpet aren’t serving up “Emmanuel” or “Hallelujah,” they’re taking the lead on sizzling arrangements of Tin Pan Alley classics or breaking new ground with contemporary R&B hits. A terrific bandleader with an ear for talent, Botti is equally at ease with straight-ahead jazz, turning his bandmates loose for numerous crowd-pleasing solos.
By now, Botti is a familiar face in the valley, his trumpet a welcome and enjoyable sound. He’s played the Mondavi summer festival three times, appeared at Far Niente Winery as part of Festival del Sole and graced the Lincoln Theater and Napa Valley Opera House stages. And now he’s becoming a regular at the Uptown Theatre.
Botti is a native of Oregon who was born in Portland, raised in Corvallis, and spent two years of his childhood growing up in Italy. His earliest musical influence was his mother, a classically trained pianist and part-time piano teacher. He began playing trumpet at age 9 and, after hearing a recording of Miles Davis playing “My Funny Valentine,” realized the instrument was his key to “doing something meaningful with my life.”
Since the 2004 release of his critically acclaimed “When I Fall in Love,” Botti has become the largest selling American jazz instrumentalist, according to Billboard. In 2013, Botti won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album for his “Impressions” recording.
Botti’s fans couldn’t have been happier that the 53-year-old trumpeter chose to play in Napa on his birthday. It was a night to remember.