Chris Botti: The trumpeter who took over the world

My cmnt: This is a piece for my trumpet playing friends – the Burbach Twins. I used to lie on the sofa as a child and listen to my mom’s albums of Al Hirt and Herb Alpert. Chris Botti is a completely different animal and musician. After listening to him play “My Funny Valentine” for Sting’s wife I was so taken with the beauty of his music that I went out and bought a used Yamaha trumpet and started taking lessons from a wonderful instructor, a Doctoral Trumpet Teaching Assistant at UNL, with the great name of Cat Sharp. I told her my goal is to play “My Funny Valentine” for my wife on my trumpet at our 45th wedding anniversary. I played “Color My World” on my flute for her as she came down the aisle at our wedding 44 years ago. Perhaps by God’s grace I will be able to do something like that again.

by Wei-Huan Chenwei-huan.chen@indystar.com – for the IndyStar – May 27, 2015

Chris Botti lives out of a suitcase. He once bought a ritzy home perched atop Hollywood Hills, but he soon sold it and moved into a hotel in New York City. It’s his favorite place to stay when he’s not on tour. He has no spouse or kids, though he did, briefly, date Katie Couric.

“I mean, I don’t even live anywhere,” Botti says in a telephone interview from a hotel room at the Hyatt Regency in Wichita, Kan. “I’ve given up all the trappings that people define as their life’s goals. So I don’t have a family, I don’t have a dog or a cat or a plant. And to a lot of people that’s a deal breaker.”

A chart-topping jazz instrumentalist and one of People Magazine’s “Most Beautiful People” in 2004, Botti’s lone-traveling lifestyle is far from the most spectacular thing about him. In music, he is a bit of a unicorn — at once jazz messiah, for showing the world that “dude plays trumpet” can be a global hit, and jazz pariah, for being, in the eyes of some critics, too silky smooth.

For artists emerging from the world of straight-ahead jazz, mainstream success has tended to be singular, inimitable. Botti, who plays at the Palladium in Carmel on June 4, epitomizes this. Because who is like Botti? Wynton Marsalis? Kenny G? The “popera” star Josh Groban, another stately master of the musical uplift? Perhaps.

No one is really like Botti, though. Not his well-greased machine of success, looks, jazz and classical pedigrees — not the way he blows gilded, feathery romance out of his horn.

Botti is cool personified. You can hear strands of Chet Baker, as well as the “Cool” Miles Davis of the late 1950s, in his tone. “My records are very much taken from Wynton Marsalis’ ‘Hot House Flowers,'” he says. “It’s the same orchestral blah blah blah with beautiful trumpet playing romantic. That’s kind of the nuts and bolts of it.”

“People always ask me at the airport or during interviews, how my success happened,” Botti once said. “And I always tell them there are only four ingredients: Practice, practice, practice and be friends with Sting.”

The real story begins with a young trumpeter barely scraping by in New York City and ends with four back-to-back studio albums that hit No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts, including 2013’s Grammy-winning “Impressions.” A pupil of the David Baker school of jazz at Indiana University Bloomington, he joined Paul Simon’s touring band early in his career and, in 1999, caught a cosmos-sized break when Sting asked him to share the stage for two years.

“The odds are you’re not going to have this kind of career,” Botti says. “It takes a lot more thought process for the general public to grasp an instrumentalist, more than they do a little singer singing a tune or a rock song. I’m really reluctant to say to kids, ‘Forgo this, forgo that, practice seven hours a day and take really good lessons, you’ll have career.’ I don’t know, you might not.”

Album sales were never Botti’s focus. After his tour with Sting, he took his own band on the road, losing money on each gig and loving every minute of it.

“What we do live is completely different than my records,” he says. “The way that we morph in all the special guests and the different styles of music all in one night of music, I think that that’s become more of my calling card than anything else.

“More than the records, more than the Grammy, more than all that crap. It’s the way the show morphs. That’s really been my currency for the last seven or eight years.”

Botti’s not exaggerating about the live shows. In 2008, he performed and recorded a concert that would in many ways become his magnum opus. “Chris Botti in Boston” featured the trumpet player sharing the stage with a crack ensemble that included Sting, Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Tyler, John Mayer and Josh Groban. He was every bit their match, but, more than that, he helped them lift music beyond classification.

Cheesy jazz-pop fusion this was not. The show was album-minted, video-documented proof that Botti is not just a musical athlete of Olympic decathlon proportions — he’s also a tower of seduction whose spiked silver coif and trim figure, which looks like a “7” when he leans back on the trumpet, recalls the cool eroticism of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” “Chris Botti in Boston” was pop music, easy listening and an achievement in discipline all rolled into one.

The single life, says the 52-year-old, is worth it for that kind of achievement. It’s worth it for the fans who stop him on the street, for the wild cheers in the stadiums and concert halls. Worth it for the people he shares the stage with and worth it for the music — an art form Botti didn’t quite understand until he heard Miles Davis’ yearning opera of emotion, “My Funny Valentine,” at the age of 12. Before Miles, the Richard Davis show tune was immortalized by Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Bill Evans and Chet Baker. Now it was Botti’s turn, even if it means living out of a suitcase.

“I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I think it’s the opposite,” he says. “I look at it as this incredible opportunity.

“I thought I knew what home was. I went and bought a big flashy house in L.A. and all the trappings that could go along with it. I wasn’t happy in it. So I got rid of all my possessions, and I moved into a hotel. I feel more at home in a hotel than I do in a home.”

Doesn’t it get lonely?

“Sure. But that wouldn’t change if I had a house. That’s a whole other conversation.”

Star reporter Wei-Huan Chen can be reached at (317) 444-6249 or on Twitter at @weihuanchen.

Chris Botti is at home with a trumpet in his hands

By ED CONDRAN CORRESPONDENT – JUN 23, 2016 AT 1:11 PM for Pilot Online

While fronting the Police, Sting crafted the jaunty “Man in a Suitcase” 36 years ago. As it turns out, a good friend of Sting’s, trumpet player Chris Botti, is living that life – and loving it.

The Grammy Award winner sold his luxurious Hollywood Hills home and almost all of his possessions two years ago and moved into a Manhattan hotel.

“I can literally fit all of my belongings into two suitcases,” Botti said while calling from Portsmouth, N.H. “I own a trumpet, a couple of suits and a nice watch. I don’t even own a storage locker. I love it. I had the house with the pool that drops off the cliff (in Los Angeles) and I had the sports car, but I realized I wasn’t that guy. I’m so much happier living life this way.”

Botti, 53, who will perform tonight at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, just lives for the music. He’s on tour so often that he spends little time at his hotel, save one month a year when he does a residency at Manhattan’s Blue Note in December.

“I love that, since I get to walk to work,” Botti said. “It’s the greatest.”

The charismatic entertainer’s last album is 2012’s “Impressions,” but he isn’t even thinking about his next release.

Botti said he is focusing on his show – part rock, part jazz and part classical.

“What I want to do is put the listener in a hypnotic state,” Botti said. “When you come to the concert, I want to put some heat under it. I want to blow your head off.”

The well-respected jazz player sounds like a death metalist: “I admit it, I’m pumped up.”

There is plenty of material for him to select. Botti has nine albums to draw from and can play many different styles.

“I’m not hurting for songs,” he said. “It’s not easy to put together what I’ll play. But I go for it. All of my focus is on this tour. I’m not going to even think new album until 2017. I lead a charmed life.”

He certainly has made some key connections.

In 1990, Botti started a decadelong touring and recording relationship with Paul Simon.

“He might be the greatest songwriter ever,” Botti said. “What I learned from him is to pay attention to details. You wouldn’t believe how many top musicians play out of key.”

In 1999, he began touring with Sting, who allowed him to solo during his shows.

“Sting is one of the nicest guys in the business,” Botti said. “He was all about me getting noticed. He told me that he would expose me to his fans and that they, even if they weren’t jazz fans, could become fans of mine. I ventured out on a 26-month tour and it was amazing. Sting eventually ‘fired’ me and made me his opening act. He has helped me and so many other recording artists. I felt like the angel came down from the heavens and connected me with Sting.”

Some folks in the music industry are less than complimentary when Sting’s name is dropped.

“I hate him, too,” Botti joked. “The guy is a freak of nature. He’s so talented. He’s good-looking and in such great shape. To put it in perspective, as great as Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant are, can they play jazz like Sting in front of an orchestra?”

Botti and Sting live within blocks of each other in Manhattan and often hit the town together.

“We go to premieres of movies and just hang out,” Botti said. “That’s part of what’s great about living in my hotel, I can live life to the fullest and only go a few blocks from my apartment, which is incredibly spare.”

Botti’s hotel is so spartan that it doesn’t include the Grammy he won in 2013 for best pop instrumental album for “Impressions.”

“It’s not in my hotel, but I didn’t sell it when I sold off all my possessions. The Grammy is in my manager’s office. I don’t need things. I just need music and a place to sleep.”

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