Hollywood, CA- I recall seeing Chris Botti perform with his golden trumpet at the Blue Note in New York City in 2002. It was my first time seeing him. He was a Sony Music artist (via Columbia Records), and I was a Sony Pictures employee, who worked with Sony labels in crossover projects. The Blue Note holds a couple hundred people. That was 15 years ago. Today, Grammy®-winning jazz and pop trumpeter, Chris Botti, is selling out and headlining concerts with a 17,000 seating capacity!
Chris is more than an outstanding trumpeter, composer and jazz player. He’s pushing jazz back into the American social consciousness. He assembles sounds that are smooth and regal but have a pop and punchiness that stay in your memory long after it’s played. His sonorous compositions are what keeps his fan base growing and Botti a headliner across the globe.
So it’s no surprise that Botti’s Hollywood Bowl performance on Sunday August 13, 2017 was nothing short of extraordinary. Playing for 75 minutes, he’s got great stamina and has grown very confident in his skin; making jokes and introducing other musicians with gusto…quite different than the reserved and quiet musician I had seen before. Many times throughout the evening, Chris riffed with his bassist Richie Goods and drummer Lee Pearson in infectious, triumphant fun. Even he stated, “We may have peaked already tonight, ladies and gentlemen.”
Rather than the swanky richness of emphatic bright and bold jazz we think of as traditional, there were equally mellow and buttery moments, where Chris’s songs and instrumentations (such as “Gabriel’s Oboe by Ennio Morricone,” “Emmanuel,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “For All We Know”) were like being in an intimate living room. Botti is known for both and can instantly go into this jam session with prolific ease.
To say the least, the evening was sexy and had a seductive quality about it. Chris and his musicians had a way of letting their imaginations soar into epic improv sessions, but never forgetting their audience. Jazz is all about collaboration and expressionism. Chris allowed for magnificent solos from drummer Lee Pearson, pianist Eldar Djangirov and violinist Caroline Campbell.
Caroline Campbell is a highly sought after soloist, performing duets with Andre Bocelli, Barbara Streisand, Josh Groban and Sting. Her mash up of composer Eugene Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonata No. 2 transitioning into Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir,” was pure energetic bliss. Her double stops, complicated plucking, difficult string crossings and perfect intonation was full mastery and mesmerizing. She almost stole the night from Botti; along with Lee Pearson who tore up a rich cacophony of brilliant polyrhythmic beats. For “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Chris and Lee battled against each other in a race for time. His fingers trilled on his trumpet, as Pearson’s drum sticks trailed him, in a comparable competitive battle for love. Similarly, Botti’s “When I Fall In Love,” pianist Eldar mirrored the flight of his fingers by rattling the keys in tandem with Chris’s chromatic passing arpeggios. Personally, my favorite song of the evening was Botti’s interpretation of Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo’s, “Concierto De Aranuez;” to which the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra accompanied him. Chris performed it with penetrating staccato but also with fluidity and elegance.
Not all of the evening was purely instrumental. Chris brought on guest singers, such as Operatic Tenor Jonathan Johnson to sing “Time To Say Goodbye,” in lieu of Andre Bocelli. He also invited R&B singer Sy Smith to perform “The Very Thought Of You.” Both singers brought a sublime performance, to which Chris’s playing created a duo and duel-like rivalry between singer and trumpet. When he brought opening singer, Jewel, back to the stage to sing “My Funny Valentine,” you could sense his fans melting.
After such a luxuriant evening of superior sounds, you can’t help but weep. At least that is what my guest and I did. Our tears were from being purely intoxicated by his music. Chris Botti has that ability to elevate jazz into something beyond intellect and make it more visceral…something akin to true love…and that is worth shedding a few happy tears.