Interview: Chris Botti

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By Ben Doy

Chris Botti, the world’s biggest selling jazz instrumentalist, is heading to Australia and New Zealand later this month for a string of concerts (see full dates below).

Botti has performed worldwide, sold more than four million albums and in 2013 won a Grammy Award for his album 'Impressions'. He's also worked with the likes of Sting, Paul Simon, Andrea Bocelli, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer and Mark Knopfler – which has led to continual tours and recordings.

I caught up with Chris last week over the phone ahead of his journey downunder.

Where did your love for the trumpet come from?

I guess I had been playing the trumpet for about 3 or 4 years, and then when I was 12 I heard Miles Davis. It was like a lightning bolt hit me and I knew I wanted to be a musician for the rest of my life. Hearing him play ‘My Funny Valentine’… the sound of the trumpet was just so heartbreaking it was incredible. So I got into the trumpet even more and just practiced and practiced and practiced, and have never looked back.

Who taught you in those early days?

My mother was a classical pianist and she really knew the incredible value of taking me to the best teachers. I grew up in Oregon and I would find mentors and was on a concert quest all the time with my great teachers.

And besides Miles Davis, who were your early musical inspirations?

I studied all the greats, the necessary trumpet players which I loved like Chet Baker and Lee Morgan. But I also liked other instruments and listened to Bill Evans, John Coltrane… and vocalists like Sinatra. So while I really recognised the fact that you have to study those main trumpet guys, I also checked out other music as well. Bands like Earth, Wind and Fire and Chicago. So I had a wide range of things, but my core was that love of the trumpet players.

Can you play any other instruments?

I can sort of write at the piano and know the harmonics of the piano, but the trumpet is like being a ballet dancer. You don’t really find ballet dancers that also play football you know? Your real slice of life is to do that, and is a very narrow door to get too.

And jazz is your favourite genre to perform?

Yeah, absolutely. I’m a jazz trumpet player who crafted a show that moves in so many different arenas due to the people that we bring in with us. We have classical violinists, two different singers and a virtuoso rhythm section. But at its core everyone is jazz improvise - except for the classical violinists and the one singer. But everyone else is super well versed in jazz.

You’ve performed with a vast array of artists during your career. Who have been some of your favourites that you have performed with?

The closest relationship and a guy who is like my big brother is Sting. He made my career so accessible to so many people. He’s the guy that told me  “Come out and join my band, take two and a half years off from your own career, and I’ll single handled break the sound of your trumpet to the whole world”. And he did that! He also made me his opening act for a whole year once as well, and that’s pretty unusual for a trumpet player to get to walk out in front of 15 - 20,000 people who have never heard of you. All of a sudden, if you deliver the goods, they do become your fans and stick with you.  Then we became family and friends, so that by far is my most proudest relationship.

I mean I like working with Andrea Bocelli as well, he’s a fantastic singer. But on an emotional and personal level, Sting would be the one for sure.

A few years back you won a Grammy Award for your album Impressions. How was that experience?

I’ve always said this. When you’re a famous actor like George Clooney and he stands up there at the theatre on the night and he gets to hold that statue, he gets to feel the applause from that audience and gets the rush and energy from that adulation from a job well done. But the musicians Grammy is having an audience, and whether you win the award or don’t win the award, if you walk on that stage and move people’s emotions - then that’s your Grammy. Actors don’t get to feel that when they are in front of the camera. So your immediate impact as a performing artist in music should be do you have an audience, did they have a great time and are you moving emotions.

Now it was nice to win, and my manager has the statue in his office. But the more important thing is your life’s work on stage.

You’re heading to New Zealand in just a few weeks time now. What can we expect from your performance?

My live shows are completely different to the records. We want to move people with emotional and romantic stuff, but we also want to bring virtuoso. We want to blow the doors down and we want the visual impact of the all star group to really translate from the stage. It’s hard for me to put into one sentence, but it’s a show with some of the most talented musicians in the world on each individual instrument. We move all over from jazz to rock and classical music to R&B.

How big is the band that you are bringing?

There are nine musicians, but they’re not all on stage at the same time.  Basically six of us on stage for the majority of the show, and three special guests that we bring out - singers and violinists.

Will this be your first performance in New Zealand?

It will be! Oh my goodness, I’m so looking forward to it. We’ve been to Australia many many times, so this will be our first time to come to New Zealand. So the only ones left on the bucket list are Vietnam and India, then we’re pretty done.

Following the New Zealand show, what other plans have you got as we head deeper into 2018?

We just taped our next live DVD. So that will be edited and should be out in June. Then towards the end of the year I’ll try to figure out what sort of album to do and we’ll make it next Spring. The record business is changing dramatically and sometimes I wonder if I should just sit on the sidelines and wait to figure out what happens when the dust settles from all this.

But we’re in a good place right now, I feel super lucky to have this group on the road and happy to be coming to New Zealand.


Chris Botti Australia & New Zealand Tour

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, SYDNEY
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 16

CANBERRA THEATRE, CANBERRA
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 17
                         
QPAC CONCERT HALL, BRISBANE
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 18

HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE, ADELAIDE
MONDAY FEBRUARY 19

HAMER HALL, MELBOURNE
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 20

THE BRUCE MASON CENTRE, AUCKLAND
WEDNESDAY. FEBRUARY 21

ALL TICKET INFORMATION VIA LIVE NATION