Blown away: Why Chris Botti plays the trumpet

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Chris Botti playing with Filipino child trumpeter JP Sta. Ana. PHOTO BY MAGIC LIWANAG

MANILA, Philippines—Chris Botti and his current touring band gave a superb performance recently at Resorts World Manila’s Newport Theater—the American trumpeter’s second time to do a show at the same venue this year.

There was something different about the second show, aside from its opening number—Botti’s wistful version of “The Christmas Song,” to which he inserted a few bars of “The First Noel.” There was a more intense kind of energy that the band pumped into the other songs, and the audience responded with much enthusiasm.

At certain moments, one could forget that this was a jazz gig, especially while listening to a full-throttle jam that included Black Sabbath’s main riffs on “Iron Man” played by Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo.

But that’s precisely what jazz is all about—there are no boundaries, no restrictions, but simply lots of freedom for musicians to explore.

The music that Botti performed that night with Amuedo, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Richie Goods, drummer Billy Kilson, keyboardist Andy Ezrin, violinist Arianne Warsaw-Fan and singer Renee Olstead was awe-inspiring in its ability to convey different emotions.

Opening acts Richard Merk and Jacqui Magno were likewise impressive—especially Merk who was in his element, his trademark scatting a joy to hear.

Botti allowed the Inquirer a few minutes to chat with him backstage before the show.

In what gig did you play before coming here?

We played with the San Francisco Symphony for two nights before flying to Manila.

You also performed with Barbra Streisand.

We went on tour with her for six weeks as special guests. We had fun, it was great. I adore her. She’s a spectacular singer and the nicest person … At age 70 she’s still got it. She has “it,” like … perfect.

You’re on the road most days of the year. Is there anything you wish you could do whenever you’re home in the United States?

I’ve been doing this thing for so long now,(laughs) … I don’t know what real life is kinda like … When I am home it’s hard for me to feel like I’m starting something at home. It’s just kind of waiting for the next trip. So it’s hard to have relationships. Everything is sort of very superficial in my life, except for what goes on onstage and my relationship with my trumpet.

So, why the trumpet and not the saxophone?

Well, there are a lot of saxophone players. And I heard Miles Davis when I was a kid and it really resonated with me. God, I’m so glad I played the trumpet, that I’m not just one of the 50 sax players who play and have careers … God bless them, it’s fantastic. I love the saxophone but I think the trumpet is able to take listeners to a place where it touches them deeper. It makes them cry or something. I’ve heard “pretty” on the sax but I haven’t heard “heartbreak” on it. That’s what I really love about the trumpet.

There are artists who are able to write songs while on the road. What about you?

Nah. Very rarely. I wrote a song years ago called “Lisa” on the road. You know, being on the road is like going to war. You gotta be in shape, you go into the city and try to conquer the audience. You want to give them your all. I want to make my show the most streamlined, beautiful, showing musicians at their best. That’s important to me. I don’t want to be thinking and worrying about something else like writing a new song.

Among all artists you’ve covered live and on record, is there anyone whose music still challenges you?

They all challenge me. You can really have a bad day … I could be playing “Emmanuel” and chip some notes, it’s not working because you’ve been traveling. “Flamenco Sketches,” because of the fact that it’s purely improvised, is a challenge. The good days are made good because you have bad days. It’s different than a pop singer in which a band goes out there and they all play parts and they sing a song. But our stuff is much more … like the pianist doesn’t have any parts, the drummer doesn’t have any parts. It’s just up to them to add to what’s going on, given the framework of the song, of course. But that means you can have magic, or you can have someone who’s kind of not really there that night. We know it, the audience doesn’t know it, and that’s what makes this unit operate on a high level, I think.

If your music can help change the world, which world leader would you like to sit in the audience?

I’ve had the opportunity to perform for a few different presidents. There is no more favorite president for me than (former) President Bill Clinton. I’ve played for him a couple of times. I think he has that rare ability to be a leader and also care about people. He looks you in the eye, and he’s able to communicate with his eyes in a way that’s disarming. I’ve never seen that before.

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