Chris Botti On New Music, Fast Cars And Touring

Arts & Celebrities

Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti recently released his Blue Note debut, Vol. 1. Featuring Botti’s take on such staples as “My Funny Valentine,” “Bewitched,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and “Danny Boy,” as well as Coldplay’s “Fix You,” the David Foster-produced collection is Botti at his best.

The gorgeous, elegant album finds Botti and his excellent band taking listeners on a beautiful musical journey. As Botti told Sage Bava and I when we spoke with him over Zoom, he’s learned how to lead that musical sojourn from some of the greats he has played with, including Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Lady Gaga, Sting, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell and more.

We spoke with Botti about how he chose the songs for the new album, touring, the artists he has learned the most from, his love of racing and much more.

Steve Baltin: You say it was in February you got addicted to car racing, take me through the adrenaline and how that inspires your music. I love the fact that this is your Blue Note debut. You’re now into car racing. I love the idea of consistently reinventing yourself as a person.

Chris Botti: They have these things out in California called The Porsche Experience, where you can go down there, and they have a coach, and you rent a Porsche for some time being. And I did that a couple of times. This, I did it in January and I thought, “Wow, that’s really cool.” Then we went on tour in February, we went on tour in Tokyo, and there’s a Porsche Experience there. And so I did the same thing. Porsche Experience is great. And then while I’m getting off the track, this German dude, he goes, “Chris, Porsche just introduced this brand-new car called a GT4 RS.” If you follow Porsche, it’s a mid-engine car, but they put the GT3 cup car engine in and right behind your ear. Anyhow, he goes, “Do you want a lap?” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” So you… “I’ll give you a few hot laps.” So he gets in and takes off, and I’m like, “Holy f**k, what?” And it’s like music. So I get back to LA, and like a month later, someone panicked. They’re super hard to get, someone ordered a GT4 RS, and they couldn’t go through with it. Something happened, and this guy calls me and goes, “Do you want one?” I was there the next morning. Got it. And I never turn the stereo on. I don’t drive it to dinner. It’s not that kind of thing. I just take it out, it’s the most musical, the lilt of the engine. And when you’re going for it, it sounds like a freaking symphony. It’s just freaking awesome. So then I bought two Porsches and a McLaren, and now I gotta slow down for a second.

Baltin: What’s the top speed you’ve taken it so far?

Botti: Right in front of my house, is the straightaway. So on that straightaway, It’s kind of like 142. It’s not quite long enough. There’s longer straightaway’s, but about 142 and the race cars get up to like 160.

Sage Bava: I have to mention my good friend Mike Cottone is an incredible trumpet player. And he is a car fanatic too.

Botti: And he came down here last week with me. And he raced with me last week. He’s the one that got me into this stuff. He ordered me my first Porsche, which I traded it in for the GT4 RS, so yeah, we’re real tight.

Bava: That’s amazing. So you’ll be going on tour very soon. I’m sure you’ll be sad to miss all of your beautiful new cars.

Botti: I know. This year is shaping out to be kind of mellow until December 1st, but December 1st to July is basically every day. It’s great. So crazy. But I’m super psyched.

Bava: What went behind choosing the songs for this album that you’ll be playing a lot of in the coming months? They’re so beautiful.

Botti: Thank you. Well, the Joshua Bell, “My Funny Valentine,” we had done on tour together six, seven years ago. And we never got a chance to record it, so I knew I wanted to do [that]. The opening two tracks, I’ve certainly been a big fan of the way Keith Jarrett plays “Danny Boy.” And when I was on tour with Barbra Streisand in ’12, she doesn’t really have an opening act, she would have me come out and do some duets with her, and then I’d play one of my own songs, and then she would split, and then she’d come back, and I’d leave. She would always sing “Bewitched,” and I never got to play it with her. And I was like, “Man, I just love that song.” So I knew I wanted to do “Danny Boy” and “Bewitched,” and the rest of the songs we got together with David Foster and the band over a course of a three-day little, ‘get to know each other’ vibe. And it’s then that we, someone would throw out a song, we’d been doing “Blue and Green.” It seemed like a natural, so it just all fell into place.

Bava: And then that final song, “Fix You,” it really comes out of nowhere. It’s so beautiful and it flows so well.

Botti: The original song was going to be this Paul Simon song called, “American Tune.” And it just didn’t really work on the trumpet and it’s kind of a longer song. And that was the fun part about doing a record without a gigantic orchestra, just being able to go, “Hold on, I love ‘Fix You.’ Let’s see if that works.” And, it came together really quick.

Baltin: Big Coldplay fan. But man, “American Tune” is one of the greatest songs of all time.

Botti: It is my ultimate favorite, man. It is just so perfect. I love Paul, I had the chance to work with him for so long, and I think his Hollywood Bowl show was incredible. I know he did a duet tour with Sting, when I was in his band, we did some stuff with [Bob] Dylan, but when it’s just Paul, up there, and he does like, “Rene and Georgette Magritte” and “The Dog after the War,” and oh my god, it’s just epic. The guy is just such a modern day genius.

Baltin: You’ve already mentioned Paul, you mentioned Streisand, you’ve worked with so many people. Are there people that you’ve really learned a lot from?

Botti: Yeah, everything I guess, timeframe-wise, pales compared to Sting. When I joined his band, I never thought we’d become like best friends and family, and so that relationship has been, probably, I would say the key to my success. He’s opened so many doors for me, and then through osmosis, and hanging out all these years, and whatever. You learn an appetite for touring, and how to tour, you’d be surprised how many musicians they think they know how to tour, but they don’t. So yeah, I’m grateful that I got to have him as my mentor.

Bava: Within working with all these geniuses, and you yourself, I believe, has those same qualities, what have you discovered in the process of creating an inspiration that has now just become second nature to you within making arrangements, and writing, that process of creation, the through line?

Botti: I guess everyone’s different. I’m just thankful that I have a musical point of view. So many artists try to do completely different things all the time. And I know what I want the trumpet to sound like, and how I want it to frame itself, and I put myself in the listener’s shoes and try to hold them in a certain place throughout the whole record. Using Miles Davis as an example, so many people just love that Kind of Blue record, and that same audience isn’t necessarily going to listen to Sam Rivers and Miles Davis Live in Tokyo. Or if you go over to someone’s house, they’re not like, “Hold on a second, I just got to turn Miles Smiles down for a second.” The lifestyle records are short, and they all come from this particular point of view, if that makes any sense.

Bava: Yeah, it’s amazing how much of a voice your instrument has. It has its own distinctive voice.

Botti: Yeah, I’m very lucky and happy about that.

Bava: I’d love to ask more about finding your voice as a musician. Was it one singular year that you feel like you found that, was it just the culmination of so many of these experiences? But it sounds like even from the beginning records of you, like your voice is strong and there.

Botti: Well, thank you. I always try to take the trumpet in kind of a melancholy approach, I still remember when I first heard Miles play “My Funny Valentine” and how that impacted me so much. And it’s hard for me to say my voice, it’s just the way that I play, and somehow along the line, through a couple of freakish and wonderful breaks, it reached a lot of people, and that’s the thing, ’cause there’s a lot of people that might have their own individual sound, but do they keep it under wraps, or do they frame it in the wrong way, or do they join a band that has another instrument that like a saxophone. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that can play into it. And I’m just glad the way that it turned out, I’m just so grateful to all the record companies and Sting.

Bava: Within your tour, you’re doing so many huge rooms and then you’re doing a long time at Blue Note. What’s the biggest differences to you in playing for such a huge audience and then playing for an intimate space?

Botti: I love the Blue Note. I will say this, there hasn’t been a year that the band hasn’t melted down on each other at least once. It’s 56 shows in 28 nights with no nights off. And I don’t want to ever upset the audience. So we play like an hour and 45 minutes per show. And it doesn’t stop there. And then we’re a week in San Francisco, a week in Seattle, and so it’s really taxing and I’m asking a lot of people. So sometimes the big rooms are really fun. But at the end of the 56 shows in the Blue Note, we always come up with some new stuff, whether it be some humor or some song we’re playing or something like that, ’cause it’s like a training ground. It’s cool.

Baltin: So what’s been your favorite moment there?

Botti: It’s cool when Sting or John Mayer jumps on stage with us in jams, that’s cool. My very first gig out of college, I dropped out of college and I went and I joined [Frank] Sinatra, and I did this two-week gig with Sinatra. And I still remember that here he walks, it’s the Universal Amphitheater, and he walks on stage, and he’s this bigger than life thing, but yet, he talks to an audience member. He shrinks the whole thing down to this very casual conversation. He’s like an old school comic. And then he is turning around and he is interacting with the band. So the audience is left to not just see the celebrity, but to engage on all these different levels. The Blue Note is that, and we take stuff about how we interact with people in the audience or like what they like and their face and stuff like that. And it is mind f**king-ly great when out of the blue Sting just jumps up on stage and does “In the Wee Small Hours in the Morning” with me and people go bananas..


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