When it comes to Chris Botti, there are a few things that you just cannot overlook. First and foremost, his signature sound, these firm, steady notes, not one of them out of place, confidently floating over lush orchestrations, where jazz meets classical and cinematic soundscapes, with the occasional rock outbursts. Then it is the man’s stage persona; this sharply dressed, handsome blond man with piercing eyes, an elegant knight in shiny trumpet, charming audiences all over the world. And of course, theres this label, “the world’s biggest selling jazz instrumentalist”, which pretty much sums up all the above – and much more: his emergence from Sting’s band, his collaborations with the biggest names in adult pop, his constant touring around the world, his annual residency at New York’s Blue Note Club, his upcoming concerts in Australia. So when I got to speak to him over the phone, I knew that I basically had one question for him:
Q: What does it mean to be the world’s biggest selling jazz-crossover instrumentalist?
A: “When you start playing jazz and you learn all the core fundamentals of the instrument, your hope is that you can play in a little jazz club, but I think that every jazz musicians keeps looking for crossover, in the sense that they want to reach a wider audience.As I’ve gone on to do this, I really feel that I hit that crossover point, but at the same time I can take the same incredible, world-class band on the road and travel everywhere. I view that as the ultimate form of success, the ability to travel the world with an all-star band and play music for people. I feel its a great honour and we enjoy it very much.
“Some of the audiences are noisier and some are quiet and reserved, like in Japan, and you get a sense of all that when you travel as much as we do. Some night, out of nowhere, the audience is just going crazy and you never expect that, and some other night the band tightens up and it’s not a great night and that’s what makes the good nights feeling great and you keep refining your show as you go. So we’re playing all the time and refining little things on the show all the time. Once you don’t tend to the garden, so to speak, weeds grow and sometimes artists take really long vacations and they never return with the same sort of thing; so we just tour and I love the work ethic of being on the road and playing music for people.
“People who come to our show will hear an all-star jazz group featuring two singers and also an incredible classical violinist. We make it a show and we make it operating on the highest level of artistry.We also get that depth of playing for a small audience as well as the large ones. We play a residency at the Blue Note in New York, a one-month stand every year; we just finished that now, we did 56 shows in 28 nights and then we went and played SF jazz and we’re here in the Blue Note in Hawaii and next week well be at the Blue Note in Tokyo.So a fair amount of our year isn’t just the Hollywood Bowl or Carnegie Hall and things like that.
“It’s not a very difficult thing to play music with someone like Yo Yo Ma or Sting; its pretty easy, because they’re fabulous musicians. That’s really my only template, when it comes to collaborations.I’m not interested in doing something for fame’s sake. I’m interested in doing something that I respect and think its a good idea. I’d get a lot of fans if I collaborated with Justin Bieber but I have no connection with him musically, so I don’t go in that direction. I’m not going to collaborate with someone I don’t have real connection with. First and foremost, I work with people. I have genuine affection for the talent.
“My life is basically on the road 365 days a year. We’ve had two nights off since November 28 and they were both travel dates. It is my life. I live in a hotel in New York and I own no possessions, no storage locker. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t doing this. I’ve been at this so long and I feel so fortunate to have an audience. Im aware of my good fortune. I didn’t go from A to Z by being on ‘America’s Got Talent’, it all happened in an organic way. I remember playing in San Fransisco years ago, when we outnumbered the audience and now we go back and there are thousands. So when I look back I also remember these wonky times. It’s called starting out and you build up from that through word of mouth, building a fan base and here we are in 2018 and the work paid off.
“I released my first record in 1995, and looking back at my career, the big narrative for me is how much better of a trumpet player I am now. Unlike in sports, where great athletes see their skillset diminish over time, in music it doesn’t happen like that. I’m still practicing 4-5 hours a day, I put the work on it and I’m proud of that, I just feel so much better as a trumpet player. I’m an artist who is fortunate enough to have a thumbprint or a musical tone – a lot of people can pick the sound of my trumpet out and for that I’m very grateful. I first became aware of it in 2004, at the Nobel Peace prize concert. There was Tony Bennet, Diana Krall, Andrea Bocelli and myself. I went to the press conference that day and said to myself: “Wow, I think I crossed over!”
So I guess, that’s the answer to your question.”