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The world’s biggest selling jazz instrumentalist, Chris Botti, returns to Australia in February 2018. AM’s Greg Phillips chatted with Chris about the upcoming tour

Grammy-winning American trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti lives and breathes music. Apart from his trumpet and the few essentials packed into in his suitcase, he has nothing much else to worry about. “I own nothing,” he tells me. For the best part of his music career and totally by choice, he’s been without a permanent home. “Well there was a 3 or 4 year stretch where I had a house in LA but then I went back and vapourised everything and moved into a hotel in New York. I’m still living out of a suitcase with zero possessions … no storage locker or anything like that. I just go for it and have fun.”

Unlike most other acts who conform to the cycle of making a record, touring it, then taking a break to write again, Botti is the quintessential troubadour who travels the world playing music on a tour that never ends. In February that tour, featuring his 9 piece band arrives back in Australia. However, for Botti there’s no need to frame a specific set list or mould a show to signal a new tour, it’s just an ever evolving, progressive process.
“We’ve been touring so unbelievably hard,” Chris says. “It’s been non-stop and we just keep rolling into Australia. The band is like a gigantic iceberg, it moves slow. It’s been 3 years since we have been to Australia, so it will be quite different in many ways from last time but from month to month we let things evolve naturally, rather than preparing for one particular tour and rehearsing for 4 or 5 days. It will be a whole new set list because we haven’t been there for 3 years but basically day to day, it is hard to see the changes unless you came to the show. Every show is different because of the way we play it. It’s hard to explain, it’s quite loose the way it works.”

Botti’s last studio recording was the Grammy Award winning Impressions album which was released in April 2012 but don’t expect to see a new studio record anytime soon, he’s more intent on perfecting his live performances and capturing some of those live experiences on tape. “We’re doing a new live DVD in a couple of weeks,” he tells me enthusiastically. “That will be the first real process this year, then late next year or the following year, we’ll do another live record. The record business is for all intents and purposes over. I was an artist that made an album every year or year and a half but now I am sitting on the sidelines going … well … I don’t know what we could do that would mean anything. I could make an album and just give it away to my fans as a thank you for coming to the shows but that whole record company business stuff is sadly fleeting.”

Quality of sound is something which Botti obsesses over, whether it is in the studio or emanating from the stage and he’s in awe of the magic achieved on recordings by some of his heroes. “Some of the really beautiful Miles records that were recorded …. A Kind of Blue would be one or Sketches of Spain … those were not only made by Miles but crafted by great engineers with great ribbon microphones and great pre amps and reverb units. There was a lot of trickery that went into that and I mean trickery in good way, by people who were really brilliant … the Martin Scorsese’s of sound, who aided those … they’d really sweat the details.”

It’s well known that Chris has been playing the same trumpet for most of his career, a beautiful sounding 1939 Martin Committee with a Bach 1926 mouthpiece and a 1950s mute. However, I was surprised to discover that it’s the one and only trumpet that he travels with and that it requires minimal maintenance.
“Yes, I only have that one,” he says. “If something was to happen to it I would be devastated. I’m not like an Eric Clapton with a line up of 30 guitars and a roadie runs out and hands you this and that. I have never played or heard something that is more flattering to me. I have thought about changing to anything else. I feel so grateful that this particular trumpet stumbled across me. I am really fortunate to have been placed with that horn and to be able to play it. I just give it a bath every three weeks, something like that. Over time, trumpets with the many, many years of moisture inside the metal will just kind of erode and fall apart. The braces in the horn are all kind of coming off. We were playing in Hawaii last year and the whole horn just disintegrated at one point. I had to ask my violinist if she had some tape to hold it together before we could get it to a repairer. It’s not like a violin where the violin matures over time and gets better sounding. So there are limitations to how long the trumpet will last but the actual maintenance is hardly anything.”

Speak to any guitarist worth their salt and they’ll tell you that they look to all kinds of musicians for inspiration, not just other guitarists and often they’ll borrow from brass lines. I wondered if one of the world’s finest brass players reciprocated those feelings …
“Not necessarily,” he says. “The trumpet sounds better in flat keys. It’s moodier in E flat, A flat and D flat, whereas with the guitar, it’s E major and D major and dominant and F sharp. It’s a whole different juxtaposition. You want those open chords on the guitar to ring out and there’s so much of that. The saxophone sort of lays in between the two, which is why I see that guitarists might like to flash at the saxophone. The real hallmark of the trumpet, the great trumpet like Miles Davis or Clifford Brown … it’s a very different tonal centre to the guitar as far as flats and sharps and naturals. I find myself more than anything …. the older I get … just studying the old trumpet players because there is so much there and a lot of the vernacular just doesn’t cross over. Like If I tried to play John Coltrane solos and Charlie Parker solos, it sort of doesn’t translate.
I mean, it does to a certain extent. You want to be aware of it and listen to it for inspiration but to really study it and get into it. There’s a very limited scope of what works on a trumpet well and when it works, like Clifford Brown … then it works great. But trumpet is what I mainly listen to. I am always studying. When I listen to music I LISTEN to it, rather than just put on Pandora and trip out. I don’t do that much at all. I am listening to learn something rather than listening to let my mind escape.”

Interestingly, in addition to a piano player, Chris also has a synth player as part of his live ensemble. There’s a popular school of thought that suggests that the digital world has never been able to replicate brass sounds with any realism. I was curious to hear Botti’s thoughts on the matter. “I mean, if my synth player ever played a brass patch on stage, they’d be fired! (laughs) No I’m kidding but really, it’s impossible. The only thing you can really get on a synthesiser is some atmospheric stuff, maybe a string pad and some organ, some Fender Rhodes but that’s kind of it. When you play a string part and actually try to play a moving part, it sounds really bad. You can keep it beautiful and cinematic, as we do on stage but let us take care of the moving bits by the violinist or me.”

Chris Botti is looking forward to returning to Australia, not just to play to his fans but also to soak up the culture and food. “It is such a great country and of all the places we have been … Melbourne and Sydney are the the ones we have been to for the longest days because we fly into one or the other. I think last time we were coming out of Japan or somewhere … we had a couple of days in Melbourne to hang out and it’s so nice there, the lifestyle is so wonderful and the coffee and the food is amazing. Oh my god, the coffee is better than in Italy almost. The band always love coming there and now I have a lot of friends in Sydney, so it’s going to be fun to connect with them because we’ve been there 4 or 5 times now.”

And any bucket list projects that Chris would like to get to one day?
“I think I am living it,” he says without hesitation. “The notion that we can tour like this and I can carry this band around … I have done basically every collaboration that I could have hoped for… so now … as long as I can stay healthy, I’ll just do what I keep doing .. I feel so fortunate.”


16 Feb – Sydney Opera House – Concert Hall Sydney, NSW

17 Feb – Canberra Theatre Centre Canberra, ACT

18 Feb – Queensland Performing Arts Centre Brisbane, QLD

19 Feb – Her Majesty’s Theatre Adelaide Adelaide, SA

20 Feb – Arts Centre Melbourne – Hamer Hall Melbourne, VIC

21 Feb – Bruce Mason Centre Auckland Takapuna Beach, NZ




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