The San Jose Jazz Summer Fest was quite the rollicking party — from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic on Friday night through the Whispers closing things out on Sunday evening.
In between, trumpeteer Chris Botti put on one of the festival’s most amazing sets ever, elevating what it means to be a headliner at the festival. Botti ventured out into the audience a couple of times, had a singer on stage to sing Puccini and even brought a 9-year-old girl up on stage from the audience to play the drums.
Stephanie Adrian for Arts ATL
In 2008, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti produced and recorded his Grammy-nominated concert recording, Chris Botti in Boston with the Boston Pops Orchestra. The formula was foolproof, featuring duets with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Lucia Micarelli and such pop icons as Sting, John Mayer and Steven Tyler. Known as a marathon performer who takes the stage some 280 days a year, Botti and his electric band have recently launched a new tour and will see concert venues in Warsaw and Westhampton Beach, San Francisco and Seattle among countless other cities this year.
Botti arrived at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on Friday night in an attempt to recreate the alchemy he had found years ago in Boston, yet with a different ensemble of guest artists accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Albert-George Schram.
Playing on a 1939 Martin Committee Handcraft Large Bore, Botti opened with Ennio Morricone’s theme “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission in duet with violinist Caroline Campbell. Blonde and statuesque, Campbell is not only the first violinist in the Los Angeles-based Sonus Quartet, but is also a favorite collaborator for such illustrious artists as Andrea Bocelli and Barbra Streisand.
Appearing several times throughout the concert, Campbell’s playing is broad and at times fierce; she has impeccable intonation and executed string crossings and double stops with flair, prancing around the stage while playing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”
For each of the last 12 years, Chris Botti has spent the holidays at the Blue Note Jazz Club, bringing his trumpet, his high-gloss production values and his ace touring band. What began as a standard booking at the club has expanded into a monthlong residency, full of surprise drop-ins and celebrity cameos.
“It’s like a big party every night,” Mr. Botti said the other day, a week into his current run. “It’s also given me a chance to stretch the band out. We do 56 shows in 28 days, and we always come out of this a much stronger unit all around.”
A jazz-pop powerhouse who keeps a grueling tour schedule — he’s on the road some 280 nights out of the year — Mr. Botti also relishes that the engagement means staying in one place for a while. He talked about his seasonal tradition, and why he won’t be playing “Sleigh Bells.” These are excerpts from the conversation.
Trumpeter Chris Botti, who performed Friday night at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, has become an annual visitor to the Nicollet Mall concert venue. As usual, most of the hall’s seats were occupied, since the constantly touring Botti knows how to please audiences and keep them coming back for more.
The Grammy winner began his career as a jazz musician, but expanding his musical repertoire to embrace pop and rock has made Botti one of the top-selling instrumentalists ever; he’s sold more than 4 million CDs.
Earlier in his career, Botti did separate tours as a sideman backing two of the most successful pop artists of modern times: Paul Simon and Sting. Doing so gave Botti exposure to audiences beyond the somewhat limited jazz category, and he must have picked up some pointers on how to engage an audience and create a sense of intimacy, even in a large, rock-scale venue.
With CD and concert-ticket sales like his, Botti can afford to hire top-shelf musicians and singers, and that is what he does.
One of the most dramatic pieces of the 90-minute performance was Botti’s crystalline rendition of Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” which the late Miles Davis introduced to jazz fans on his “Sketches of Spain” album. He followed that with one of his own ballad hits, which some of the avid Botti fans in the audience recognized after just a couple of notes.
Then Botti quickly switched gears, blowing brassy midrange riffs over an electric funk tune designed to showcase the group’s powerhouse drummer, Lee Pearson.
Botti the ballad specialist reprised a couple of jazz standards, “When I Fall In Love” and the moody “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” The group used the latter piece as a launching pad for an uptempo instrumental workout with Pearson, bassist Richie Goods, Botti and pianist Taylor Eigsti alternating high-flying solos at a breakneck pace.
Botti also honored the recently departed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, spotlighting guitarist Ben Butler on an instrumental version of Cohen’s signature piece, “Hallelujah.”
Another instrumental virtuoso touring with the group is violinist Corline Campbell, who earned a standing ovation with a briskly played solo classical piece.
Botti’s traveling troupe also includes a couple of show-stopping vocal talents. One of them is dazzling R&B singer Sy Smith, who was part of “The Tonight Show” band during Jay Leno’s tenure. Smith raised the roof with a soaring version of “The Very Thought of You,” showing off her stunning vocal range, at times vocally resembling the singer Randy Crawford.
Then she and Botti traded stratospheric high notes on a rendition of “The Look of Love,” a tune featured on Botti’s Grammy-winning “live” DVD.
Several years ago Botti paid homage to his Italian roots with an album called “Italia,” co-writing the title track with the great operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli and performing it with him in Italy. Near the end of Friday night’s concert, Botti brought out a lesser-known but also impressive opera singer named Rafael Moras to reprise the dramatic piece.
Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician in Minneapolis.