SPOTLIGHT: Chris Botti

Chris Botti

We’re thrilled that Grammy-Award winner Chris Botti will be sailing on Blue Note at Sea ’23. Most of our guests are likely familiar with his stellar albums and concert appearances during the last two decades. But they might be less familiar with how he got there. Like many of the gifted musicians on our jazz cruises, Chris is standing on the shoulders of jazz greats and, in his case, some pop stars too.

As he explained in an interview with Don Was in the Blue Note at Sea Tent at the Monterey Jazz Festival, it all started with his hearing Miles Davis as a 12-year-old. “Every horn player listened to a fair share of Earth Wind & Fire, but Miles Davis was the reason I played the trumpet,” Chris said. “I’d been playing for a few years but then I heard the famous Miles’ My Funny Valentinealbum with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. That intro by Herbie and then Miles comes in and within two or three notes…hearing that I just knew that I wanted to be a trumpet player for the rest of my life. I didn’t think about this [career and fame] but I thought about the connection to the instrument. Before that I’d been aware of other trumpet players like Al Hirt, Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen and Louis Armstrong who played with a lot of projection and joy. But Miles had this brooding, beautiful hitch that you hear. That captivated me and took me off on this journey.”

A 19-year-old Botti applied for grants from the National Endowment of the Arts, which allowed him to live in New York City.  The first summer he studied with saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master George Coleman. The second summer he studied with the fiery trumpeter Woody Shaw. “It was just an eye-opening experience for a kid from Oregon who technically wasn’t even living in New York,” he remembered. “It was like having a summer job. I got to study with these legends. It was amazing to sit there and listen to their perspective and to see how they practiced.”

After dropping out of Indiana University during his senior year, Chris went on the road with Frank Sinatra for two weeks. “I thought that was enough to start my resume and then I did the Buddy Rich ‘torture chamber’ across the country…I was on that bus,” he said, referring to the famous tapes of the mercurial bandleader yelling at his sidemen in language both profane and unforgettable. “I learned a ton not from his berating of musicians, but the muscle he brought to the stage. It wouldn’t matter if we didn’t have any sleep or food or whatever. He just came and brought it every night.”

Botti said that the big break that set him apart from a lot of people was joining Paul Simon’sband for the Rhythm of the Saints tour. “What was most important was that I was 27 years old and right next to me is perhaps one of the greatest saxophonists in the world in Michael Brecker,” he explained. “He was a one-of-a-kind person as well.” Chris also learned from Simon, a meticulous bandleader who knew how to bring out the best in a band and how to present his music.

Chris attributes much of his current success to another successful pop artist, Sting, who invited him to join his band. “He told me, ‘Here’s my pitch to you: Leave your solo career and join my band. I’ve had success doing this with Branford Marsalis. I promise you that I will bring the sound of your trumpet to my audience. A lot of my audience aren’t jazz fans, but they will become your fans.’ To this day, the thread that brought me success is due in large part to our association and friendship.”

A creative artist whose music is indeed accessible to a wide audience, Chris cites his first employer as an example of someone who combined commercial success with true artistry. “Sinatra was loved by people who didn’t know anything about music because of the sound of his voice, the heartbreak in his delivery which was timeless. He could be loved by millions, but he’s recognized as a genius. There was an artful way to make those records. There are so many ways to bring out your personality and say to a large audience: I’m here.”

Make no mistake, Chris Botti is here. We can’t wait to sail with him and dozens more stars January 13-20, 2023! Join Botti plus Marcus Miller, Robert Glasper, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Christian McBride, Sheila E., Brad Mehldau, Christian ScottThe Baylor Project, Damien Escobar, Cyrille Aimée, Gerald Clayton, Emmet Cohen, Derrick Hodge, José James, Jamison Ross, Warren Wolf, and many more stars next January.

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