Trumpeter Chris Botti performing at Smith Center


For a guy who claims he's never had a hit, Chris Botti's not doing too badly.

In the past eight years, he's been on the road 300 days a year.

Tonight's stop: The Smith Center's Reynolds Hall.

And over the course of those eight years, Botti's become the world's top-selling jazz instrumentalist.

Just don't call him that.

"Jazz feels like a math and science test rolled into one," Botti says during a telephone interview from Manila - only one of the stops on his current international tour, which has taken him from Japan to Canada and back to the United States.

At a jazz concert, "you don't feel the person's personality," Botti continues. "They don't talk about themselves. That's what I don't like about jazz."

So, even though it was jazz giant Miles Davis' recording of "My Funny Valentine" that inspired Botti to become a trumpeter at age 12, Botti says it's the instrument he plays - and not the music - that best defines him.

"I consider myself a trumpet player," explains Botti, 49. "The connection is to an instrument. And, through it, you make your musical choices."

Those musical choices have taken Botti from pop to classical to (sorry, Chris) contemporary jazz.

And it's the "moving from genre to genre" that keeps him, and his music, interesting, Botti maintains.

As for keeping his shows interesting, that's a constant process.

"I spend so much time worrying or thinking about the pacing of a show," he acknowledges, including "where it arcs," where it

"starts out more serious and then it turns lighter as the show progresses. I think about it all day long."

On his current tour, the show's been evolving - slowly, he says, but surely.

"It's morphing as we go along," Botti explains.

By the time he and his fellow performers take the Reynolds Hall stage tonight, Botti expects to play "three or four things from the new record."

Titled "Impressions," his 14th recording spans several musical genres (surprise!), with a starry list of collaborators including country's Vince Gill, jazz great Herbie Hancock and rocker Mark Knopfler, along with fellow PBS stalwarts Andrea Bocelli and David Foster.

And speaking of PBS, the show also will include "a smattering of 'Live in Boston,' " Botti says, citing the "Chris Botti in Boston" special he did in 2008. "If I've had any hit, it's that 'Live in Boston' DVD."

But "we're a much stronger band - and I'm a much better performer" than when "Live in Boston" was recorded, Botti notes. "I love that - that we've gotten better."

Joining Botti onstage: "fantastic singer" Lisa Fischer (whose career includes gigs with the Rolling Stones), who "rocks out like crazy," he says, while performing music that's "part classical, part R&B, part jazz."

Violinist Caroline Campbell and longtime drummer Billy Kilson also are expected to join Botti on the Reynolds Hall stage tonight.

"I love having my little band of characters," he says. "The road can be a very isolating place."

Botti cites violinist Joshua Bell (who played The Smith Center in April with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields), who "travels as much as I do," Botti says, but often "he's just by himself. I asked him, 'Don't you get lonely?' "

Then again, Botti recalls times when he's been lonely - even when onstage.

He cites a 2001 concert in Oakland, Calif., where "my band outnumbered the audience - there were four people in the audience and six people in the band."

That was a definite learning experience for Botti - and so were stints playing alongside such pop superstars as Sting and Paul Simon.

It's no accident, in Botti's view, that many of their band members - from Branford Marsalis to Michael Brecker to Botti himself - have become headliners in their own right.

Simon, for example, "had taste enough to surround himself with great musicians," Botti says. And it's also "one lesson I learned from Sting," who told Botti, " 'I love it when a star explodes - because it makes me look better.' "

But Botti also looks past his fellow musicians for this-is-how-it's-done expertise.

One of his favorites? "Mr. Warmth" himself, comedy legend Don Rickles.

"Love him or hate him, he engages the audience," Botti say of Rickles, saluting "that old-school" command. "He's a great entertainer."

And that's been Botti's goal ever since he picked up a trumpet at age 9 - and dreamed then of doing exactly what he's doing now.

So, despite the fact that "I don't have a hit," Botti can still "walk onstage and do really well," he says. "It's sort of a weird, wonderful place to be in."

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

 

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