The list of performers that he’s worked with is nearly endless and reads like a who’s who of music industry talent. Chris Botti has lent his trumpeting talents to Sinatra, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin and Sting. The once go-to session player sought out by music’s finest has produced an impressive solo recording career of his own including his latest release, “Impressions,” which won Botti a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Area romantics may want to postpone Valentine’s Day festivities until February 15, as Chris Botti visits Green Bay’s Weidner Center for a special evening of music the day after Valentine’s Day.
We at Scene were fortunate enough to speak with Botti, who answered questions while admiring a sunset on a windy stretch beach on the East Coast.
Scene: Let’s talk about ‘Impressions,’ your 2012 release; you’ve got some amazing talent working with you on this album including Vince Gill, Herbie Hancock and Mark Knopfler — each is associated with a different musical genre; how do you approach working with this diversity? Do you approach, say, Steven Tyler differently than you would Barbra Streisand?
Chris Botti: Oddly enough, no. All the guests that I’ve ever worked with, I usually have known them socially, prior to the recording. If you know someone, it’s easier to meet somewhere in the middle. So Steven Tyler probably has to bend more toward my world than me leaning towards his. Most great artists know they’re going to get great arrangements with fantastic musicians playing with them, and that makes the artist more comfortable when working with us. When you’ve developed a track record of working with people, making their music and sound more flattering, it makes for a very easy work in progress.
Scene: Aside from the names already mentioned, you’ve worked with many other artists, again, coming from diverse backgrounds — do you have a favorite to work with, or a particular instance of meeting one of these artists that stands out in your mind?
CB: Well, I’m not walking on this beach talking to you today without the incredible friendship and support from Sting. Not only do I have a career that’s popular, but I’ve learned by being in the band, and he and I becoming like family, he’s my best friend. You really get an insight to having an appetite for being on the road. I’m on the road 300 days a year, I learned to do it by watching the best guy in the business, and he’s expanded and maintained a career on a global level at a high standard. Great artists don’t take their audience for granted, and they really nurture it, worldwide. I learned a tremendous amount from him, musically and about life.
Scene: For much of your career, if it is safe to say, you were a musician’s musician — a well-respected session player, many see “When I Fall in Love” as the turning point in your career, would you consider that so, or what do you attribute to your work being noticed on a more public scale?
CB: I’ll go back to the situation with Sting. I was Sting’s band for 2 ½ years prior to that “When I Fall in Love” album. When that record came out, Sting invited me to go around the world to be his opening act. Sting then fired me from the band, and immediately promoted me to his opening act slot. So we’re playing a four night run in New York City and somebody in the audience says, “My friend, Oprah would love this music.” And a week later, I got a phone call from an Oprah spokesperson saying they wanted me on the show in four days. Sting really thought I could step into the spotlight and do this, and go for it. It took awhile, and I always say, ‘Behind every overnight success is 10 years on the bus.’
Scene: Other artists have often commented on the strange time we live in concerning record sales, downloading music, etc. Many of these performers implement grueling concert schedules, at least in part out of necessity. You’re known to be on the road as many as 300 shows a year, but your record sales are very impressive; why perform as often as you do?
CB: I think if you’re going to be a musician, you need one percent talent, and 99 percent craziness. You’ve really got to believe in it, and be fulfilled by it. I’m very fulfilled by walking on stage every night, and feeling like I have an audience, whether it’s in Green Bay or Sydney, Australia or Beijing. That really makes me stop and think before I step foot on stage. I just want to practice the trumpet and play the trumpet, and entertain an audience as often and as long as I can.
Scene: You’ve said that during your early years performing in New York City, simply coming up with the money to pay the landlord made you feel as though you had won an Academy Award. You’ve since won a Grammy and had several nominations. Are the feelings similar and what do you consider your crowning achievement at this point in your career?
CB: Winning the Grammy, while it’s nice, it’s not nearly as nice as having an audience that buys tickets. When I walk on stage every night that really is equal to that feeling of being able to pay the landlord. I feel like a very lucky person, because there are a lot of musicians that are incredibly talented, but, for whatever reason they’ve put themselves in a different place or they make different life choices or they don’t like going on the road or they can only work one month out of the year … I was just in the right place, at the right time, with the right skill set. You can be a fantastic musician, but you also need to be able to trigger an audience to have an emotional connection with you. I’m very, very fortunate to be able to do that.
Scene: You were playing the trumpet before this, but I’d love to hear from you, the account of hearing Miles Davis for the first time. Are you up to repeating this story for our readers?
CB: I started playing trumpet when I was nine years old, because I saw Doc Severinsen, the bandleader for the Tonight Show. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t going to become Michael Jordan, so I spent a lot of hours every day practicing trumpet and by the time I was 12, I was good at it. And then I heard Miles Davis, and like a lightening bolt, my whole life changed — from this very joyous way that Doc or Louis Armstrong plays to this brooding, almost melancholy way that Miles treated the instrument … the song was “My Funny Valentine.” Herbie Hancock played the introduction … in the weirdest twist of fate, 40 years later, I was invited to play at the White House for four presidents — including the Clintons, the Carters and the Obamas. The White House, because it was close to Valentine’s Day requested “My Funny Valentine,” and invited Herbie Hancock to perform as well. It’s a big trip to be there in front of the presidents but I’m also reliving the reason that I got into music. It was a big thrill.
Do you want to hear my Bart Starr story?
Scene: They’d kill me if I didn’t, so please go on.
CB: When I was a kid, I lived in Italy for two years. When I returned to United States, I forgot all my English. I was speaking Italian. I had to relearn American culture. So I didn’t know about football, I didn’t know anything. The first sports card that I ever got as a kid, this was about 1970, was a football card of Bart Starr. I was so mesmerized, and I wrote to him. He wrote me back! Like a handwritten letter! Not one of those form letters from the Green Bay Packers, but he thanked me for writing, and he thanked me for liking the Packers. People just don’t do that anymore. He’s a class act!
Catch Chris Botti at the Weinder Center on Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Visit weidnercenter.com for more information.
Tickets by calling (800) 895-0071 or at ticketstaronline.com