'We've Grown Accustomed To His Face'
Trumpeter Chris Botti is a gifted instrumentalist, a talented composer, and a charismatic performer who - since the release of his first solo album in 1995 - has created a series of recordings which have made him a virtual genre-of-one in the realm of contemporary jazz; while at the same time capturing the attention of the pop music world.
Through his singular combination of lush atmospheres and thoughtful improvisations, Botti has earned both critical acclaim and mainstream appreciation for a succession of best-selling albums including When I Fall In Love (2004), To Love Again: The Duets (2005), and Chris Botti Live with Orchestra & Special Guests (2006).
Now, inspired by the sounds and atmosphere of Italy, Chris Botti has created a vibrant and sensual set of performances drawn from sources ranging from classical opera to the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. Recorded in the United States, England, and Italy, 'Italia' is a brilliant showcase for Botti's musical versatility as performer, composer and collaborator.
The album includes the newly-composed title track featuring the passionate vocals of renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli as well as a new interpretation of "The Very Thought of You" with guest vocalist Paula Cole. In another of the album's duets, Botti adds his touch to a vocal performance originally recorded in 1957 by the "forever cool" Dean Martin on "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face."
Also including re-imagined compositions by the venerated Italian composer Ennio Morricone, Botti creates a breathtaking new rendition of "Nessun Dorma" ("Let no one sleep") from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera "Turandot."
Although you were born in Portland, being raised in Corvallis, you also spent two years of your childhood growing up in Italy. The fact that your mother was a classically trained pianist and part-time piano teacher aside, in reflection did the beautiful country provide you with any musical influences that have now perhaps seeped through to come to the fore on this new CD?
Chris Botti "I think if nothing else it made me a bit patriotic. I'm Italian in my Heritage - my father is Italian - and so living there as a kid probably didn't influence my music necessarily. But what it did do is make we always want to return to Italy. And so I've been back so many times either to vacation or perform there and that's really where I kinda got such an affection for Italy."
"But listen, I don't think you need to be Italian nor have lived there, nor have even gone there to appreciate the romantic, transporting quality of Italy. Just say the word 'Italy' and everyone’s breath shortens up a little bit. So, I jumped at the opportunity of trying to make a jazz musician's take on the classic music, and the popular music of Italy."
Your latest CD ‘Italia’ is obviously inspired by those very same sights and sounds of Italy so was this new CD a little more heartfelt, a little more personal, perhaps? "Yeah, I've been at this a long, long time and the last three albums have all had one thing in common: there's a lush, orchestral renew of jazz or whatever it is that I do, I suppose. And in many ways I think that this is a well-realized project. I think that it takes on the music of Italy and married together with my jazz sensibilities with this orchestra it really works. And it's certainly the album that I am most proud of artistically of these last three specifically."
You’ve been quoted as saying you think that your music is more reined-in, because of its pop format. Are you saying that this time on 'Italia' that you've finally broken free of those chains? "Well, we've been doing a lot of shows recently these past few years with orchestras and the more you stand in front of an orchestra and play the more you kinda go 'I'd love to do this, or try this, or do that and that,' you know. I think when we had the concept 'Italia' it just flows freely to do stuff with that beautiful orchestral backdrop."
"And I think that certainly when we play live it's not nearly as reined in as my records for sure ... but I do love records that are reined in. Whether it's Miles Davis' 'Sketches Of Spain' or 'Kind of Blue,' those two records are very reined in. If you look at Frank Sinatra's 'Only The Lonely' or 'In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning' those are unbelievably reined in records. And when I say reined in I mean records that show artistry and sophistication, but also a heavy dose of restraint."
It’s been said that although you can’t sit at the piano and play it freely, you actually do prefer to compose on it rather than on the trumpet. Please explain this working technique "I'm certainly not a pianist by any stretch of the imagination, but what I understand on the piano is harmony. I can play a simple melody, which is all you really want to do when you're writing. You want to hear the harmony and the melody together. If you're playing trumpet you're only hearing the melody and you're not hearing any harmonies. So, you better get it together somehow to hear the harmony prop up the melody, so to speak."
"But, obviously a lot of this stuff - with the exception of two songs on the record - is all familiar, famous Italian songs; except for 'Venice' and the song 'Italia.' That was a song we wrote brand new and asked Andrea Bocelli to sing it."
So, how does one go about writing a song and then getting the great Andrea Bocelli to agree to sing it?! Indeed, was he even your first choice to sing it? "My first choice for the song was David Foster. And so I wanted to sit and write the song 'Italia' with David. And once that happened and David agreed and got on board we started to work on the song. Then an hour into it David just turned to me and said, 'You know what. This should be a duet between you and Andrea Bocelli.' And we both looked at each other, and I said, 'Can you make that happen?'," he laughs. "And he said, 'Yeah, I'm gonna make that happen.' So, he sent the song to Andrea and Andrea loved the song. And that's the way that all went down. But originally I just wanted to work with David Foster and that was it."
As recruiting Andrea seems to have been a relatively easy task, have there been others that you would have wished could have appeared on your songs that you simply couldn't get ahold of? "I would say that of all the things in my career that I'm most proud of is that I've been able to get respect. I mean listen, you make a record and sometimes it's a hit. And sometimes you make a record and it's not a big hit. But when you have that love from your fellow musicians and they do your records and all that stuff, that means in the musical community you're doing something right. So, I'm proud to do a lot of duets and hang out with other musicians. But, for the most part everyone has always agreed or it's been able to be worked."
So, just how did this fabulous duet with Dean Martin on 'I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face' come about? "Well, I make my CDs at the legendary Capitol Studios in L.A. ... and that's the same place that Dean made his CDs - and Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat Cole and everyone did theirs. And so the Dean Martin estate knew we were lurking around the halls making music there and approached us about doing this. And when you hear Dean's isolated voice you get a kind of new found respect for how amazing he sounds; both sonically but also his phrasing. In that kind of relaxed way that he phrased. I loved it. So, everything that he sings was obviously done in 1957 and all the other instruments and myself was done in 2007."
Undertaking the powerful 'Nessun Dorma,' the signature aria of the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti must have been one quite daunting arrangement to take on? "Well, yes and no," he laughs. "Certainly because Pavarotti did it so great and it was such a signature sound, luckily you're not really competing with anything, you know. You're just trying to do your own moody take on that stuff."
"And except for the last four measures we arranged everything exactly like Puccini. So, we pretty much took a verbatim list until the last little kind of Hindell tag that we put on the end of it. But, it's kind of a straight ahead reading of the song just in a slighter higher key. I'm really happy with the way it came out ... along with my trumpet playing on it."
In the 12 years between 'First Wish' and 'Italia,' how has Chris Botti grown as a musician? "I think I'm a much better trumpet player now, which is something that in a lot of walks of life you can't say. I think athletes are better in their 20's than they are in their 30's and so forth. And so I think for me to be better now than I was when I first started is a very positive thing. I think I make better records now. I think they're realized with a record company that believes in me and lets me do basically whatever I want. So, life is completely different, you know. I've been in the place as a jazz musician that I feel very fortunate to have sold the amount of records that I've sold and to have been able to tour around the world with the caliber of musicians that I take with me. So, I feel tired ... but grateful," he gently laughs.
It’s seemingly as if you’ve been writing and touring constantly for the past 10 years. Does there come a point when you get burnt out, when enough’s enough, perhaps? "Fear is an incredible motivator. I think that if you recognize the fact that you are a famous jazz musician that's been given this window - however long it is - of being able to penetrate this conscience of critical mass; like a cross-over as they say in the business, if you've been able to do that you've got to take that window and grab it. Because the only person that's gonna self destruct it is you."
"So I feel like if I slow down or stop putting out records and stop touring that somehow the whole thing's just gonna go away! So I just use that fear to really motivate me and get my act together. Arguably it's very difficult to have a personal life, but I figure this is something that I've been working my whole life for so I'm gonna deal with it."
So, when was the last time you let things get to you and you freaked out a little?! "The last time that happened was when nobody cared," he heartily laughs. "So, you can spend your whole life going, 'Me, me, me, me, me,' but when the lens of pop culture turns towards you things change. I mean, whenever you hear some artist in the media say there's too much attention on them and they hate all that stuff, I'll tell you something ... they're gonna hate it more when it stops!"
"And you can be rest assured that Britney and Paris and Lindsay use their own people to call in the paparazzi! They follow them around because they know where to go because they tell them where to go! If I was a 22 year-old kid and a brat and I felt like deserving of this stuff I might have an opinion and say, 'Oh, I need a break from all the attention.' But, to have it happen to me in my forties, boy I feel so grateful, you know," he laughs sincerely. "And the fact that anyone cares that a trumpet player is doing anything like performing anywhere and stuff like that - and it's ME - then I'm all good with it. And the couple of times that it's been weird for me it's really not been that weird."
Are you still playing a Martin Committee Handcraft trumpet made in 1939 along with using a 3 silver plated mouthpiece from Bach made in 1926?! "Yes I am. It's from the summer of '39. It's sitting right next to me. It's by my side at all times," he softly laughs.
Wow, most people would have such an instrument mounted and framed at this point, let alone be blowing spit in it each night! "Trumpets, unlike violins they don't hold their value. There's not a lot of money in them as instruments. But, to me it's really my sound and so I figure that if it was good enough for Miles Davis it would be good enough for me. I make all my records with the same trumpet. I tour with the same trumpet."
Where do you call home when you're not touring? "I actually don't live anywhere," he gently laughs "I just live in one 70 lb suitcase and I have my trumpet ... and we just hit the road together."
Have you ever genuinely lost it for any period of time?! "I think once I left a bar on 6th Avenue - maybe I was a little tipsy - and I got about three or four blocks away and I was like, 'Oh my God. I left my trumpet back there!' So, I hauled back there and, of course, it was there. But, in New York you only lose things when someone takes it right out from underneath you. But when you actually leave them there for a long period of time they're just fine. It's a weird thing the way that works."
The fact that your mother was a classically trained pianist and part-time piano teacher still didn't seem to make you want to play the piano pofessionally. Why? "I started on piano before I did trumpet. But, quite frankly because my mother was a pianist I rebelled against that. I found that the actual sound of the piano didn't feel as personal to me as the trumpet. And no one else was playing trumpet: my brother or my neighbors weren't playing the trumpet. So I thought it would be cool to play something that nobody in my neighborhood was doing."
You recently left your position as the radio host of your own show, 'Chill with Chris Botti' ... why? "I think two things happened. I think that, a) my schedule just made it real difficult to do, and b) as much as I enjoyed the radio hosting part of the show, I began to question the artistry of Chill music. While I love walking into a nice swanky hotel or a hip bar or something like that and hearing that music play, it doesn't necessarily move me."
"And so at a certain point if I ever come back on radio, I'd love to do one of my own shows. But this time really play the music that moves me, you know. That makes me really want to go out and buy that persons record. That makes me have an emotional connection to that person."
Are you one of those musicians that likes to 'tinker' with your albums even up until the final, final moments of their mastering? "I will tinker, and tinker, and tinker and be wrought with so much self-critical doubt until the day that it's mastered and finished. Then once it's mastered and finished then I kinda say, 'That bullet's fired' and we move on. Sometimes you have great performances and then you don't have great performances - whether it's live on stage or on television. And making a record you have to tell yourself that it was the best shot at that record and then go on."
"The real torture device for me is if I go to a party and someone's playing it in the background! That's really tough 'cause I spend the whole time being analytical about everything. But generally, I wouldn't ever put the record on and listen to it myself."
Have you done any recent soundtrack work, perhaps? "Well, I did one soundtrack a few years ago in '97 to a film called 'Caught' that starred Edward James Olmos and Maria Conquista Alonso. And then John Barry and I collaborated on a film called 'Playing By Heart.' And now I'm kinda the voice of the new Jack Nicolson movie called 'The Bucket List.' And that movie, I'm telling you, is gonna connect with so many people. It's a very, very amazing performance by the two of them. I really cried a lot whilst watching that movie. So, when Rob Reiner - who's a fan of mine - asked me to kinda be the voice in front of the orchestra, I agreed. So, Mark Shayman wrote the music and I stepped in front of the microphone and played the themes all over the place."
THE FINAL FUN FOUR!
Who would you love to work with that you have yet to and why? "Peter Gabriel," he answers, like a bullet from a gun. "Because I had a list of a bunch of other people and he and Herbie Hancock were the last two on the list! And this summer I worked with Herbie Hancock when we played a duet together 'My Funny Valentine' ... which just made my life. And I just think that the one last incredible voice that I haven't worked with is Peter Gabriel. I think he has just got all the richness and emotion that I've heard from any singer. And I just love his music and I've always loved his music."
Where is your favorite place to visit when in Italy? "Selfishly, because I've been there so much and I've made music there, and because he's my friend ... it would be Sting's house in Florence," he laughs. "It's this massive, huge mansion and the guest house that I always stay in was so beautiful. I could actually retire there ... and I'd love to! I've just been there so much on vacation. It's just paradise, you know. The friendly compounds of his estate," he laughs again.
Do you have any recurring nightmares? "Yeah, not being able to work! Even my agent calls me 'Doctor 365' because I want to be working all the time. So, sometimes I wake up and wonder what would happen if all this wasn't here. If there was no work!"
Finally, have you been out to the movies recently, spending your own money to see a new movie, perhaps? "Yes I have ... the 'Bourne Ultimatum.' But most of my movie watching is in the afternoons on Spectra Vision in the hotel. So I just saw 'Knocked Up' on the Spectra Vision and absolutely loved it! Fantastic movie," he makes sure to overly emphasize. "I mean with all the trashy humor aside it's very, very poignant, has good acting, and a great story. I wasn't too much of a fan of 'Bourne Ultimatum' though. It just was a little too actiony for my taste. Although Matt Damon is a fine actor."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
“Italia” (feat. Andrea Bocelli) - Steaming Audio
“Italia” (feat. Andrea Bocelli) - Steaming Audio
“Nessun Dorma” - Steaming Audio
“Nessun Dorma” - Steaming Audio
'Italia' CD Purchase Link
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