Trumpeter Chris Botti Puts Jazz in the Arena
The Times Picayune
March 11, 2005
By Keith Spera, Music Writer
As the opening act on Josh Groban's arena tour, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti has gained a fresh appreciation for the vocalist's skills.
"Being a horn player, I can really gauge how freaky his instrument is," Botti said during a phone interview. "It's wild to see this rich, mature voice, with all this texture and low end, from a young kid that's not the 300-pound guy equated with opera."
Sharing a stage with Groban, however, has its disadvantages.
"I haven't heard him chip a note the whole tour," Botti said. "His accuracy and musicianship are incredible. It pisses me off, because when you miss a note on the trumpet, it's glaring. But he never misses."
Like Groban, Botti has cultivated a mainstream audience for music usually confined to the margins. Botti's CD of romantic jazz, "When I Fall in Love," has sold more than 500,000 copies.
Appearances on "Oprah", the "Today Show" and People magazine's 2004 list of the 50 Most Beautiful People helped. But the trumpeter credits much of his success to Sting.
After meeting at a rain forest benefit in New York, Sting asked Botti to play on the "Brand New Day" CD. In 1999, Botti joined Sting's band as the featured soloist, a position previously held by saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
"Sting said, 'Look, if you're worried about putting your career on the back burner, I can guarantee that you'll have many, many more fans throughout the world than you have right now,' " Botti said. "And he was right. Everything the guy said has come to pass. He gave me a platform to launch from."
Botti left Sting's band in 2001, but the association continues. For four months in 2004, Botti's band opened for Sting, invaluable exposure for "When I Fall in Love," Botti's dream project.
Botti's style favors the indigo moods of Chet Baker and Miles Davis. That melancholy is evident on "When I Fall in Love," from the 1950s-style black-and-white album cover to the orchestrations of Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do," Rodgers & Hart's "My Romance" and Frank Sinatra's signature "One for My Baby," recast as an instrumental.
Botti also reached outside the classic American songbook to revamp Sade's "No Ordinary Love" and Sting's "La Belle Dame Sans Regrets." "La Belle" received a new bridge, a bossa nova-style groove, a cameo from Sting and a one-handed piano solo by Billy Childs, a tribute to the late Kenny Kirkland, the pianist on the original recording.
"When I Fall in Love" spent the winter atop Billboard's jazz chart, finally dethroned by vocalist Michael Buble's new album (on which Botti plays). Botti plans to record another CD this summer, then tour the rest of the year.
"When you look at the success of Josh, it's not like opera is suddenly becoming a big thing -- there's not four acts behind us playing arenas," he said. "He's defined himself as a genre of one.
"I feel a bit like that in jazz. To go out and play for this many people as a jazz musician and to cross over into the mainstream . . . you've got to get it while it's there."