Jazz-pop-classical trumpet player and multiple Grammy nominee Chris Botti opened the 2012-2013 season at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons with a class as well as a classy performance Saturday night, earning a standing ovation from most of the sold-out crowd of nearly 1,000 fans ranging in age from 9 to 90.
Prior to the concert, Botti was guest instructor for the Golden Valley High School big band in a special “master’s class.” Held in the storied COC Studio Jazz Ensemble big band’s rehearsal space in Pico Hall, the session was part of the PAC’s K-12 Arts Education Outreach Program.
Botti was also guest of honor at a pre-show meet-and-greet event that was packed by 100 local fans who paid $75 each to meet the artist, with the funds going to support the outreach program.
The GVHS Jazz Band’s Master Class
Together just a couple of weeks, since the fall semester started, the GVHS big band was rehearsing the ballad “When I Fall in Love” (not coincidentally, a big hit for Botti in 2004) and Bobby Troup’s more uptempo “Route 66” with director Roger Brooks when Chris Botti joined them.
He stayed in the background and listened to a couple of run-throughs, then offered the students a few bits of sage advice. He encouraged them to practice, practice and practice some more. He talked about his own commitment to practicing every day, no matter what. That’s what it takes to be a musician, he told them.
He urged the teens to search YouTube for jazz masters and innovators on their respective instruments, and watch, listen and learn from them.
“It’s not cheating — every great musician has done this,” Botti said, meaning they emulated their idols first, then developed their own voices.
He told the story of the great drummer Tony Williams, who taught himself by absorbing himself in and playing nothing but music by a series of his favorite players, like Art Blakey. Williams’ own highly influential style eventually emerged from that intense emulation of those earlier players’ different styles, Botti explained.
He suggested the trumpet players check out YouTube videos of Clifford Brown, learn his solos, and impress their peers with their new prowess.
Botti also put mouthpiece to lips and showed the students how to add vibrato and dynamics and accents to a note or phrase when they play, another very good lesson for young musicians.
As the class wrapped up, Botti reminded the bandmembers about their YouTube homework, and asked them if they were going to see his concert. Only a few had tickets, they said; the rest couldn’t afford them. Botti promptly invited them all to attend, and made arrangements for them to get seats.
After the session, walking the short distance to the meet-and-greet area set up on the patio outside Pico Hall and the adjacent Black Box Theater, Botti explained what motivates him to do master classes like this one.
“I’m just trying to like get a kid to be inspired somehow about a profession that’s unbelievably difficult,” he said. “I like doing it. I’m just as passionate about music now as when I was a kid, so for me to give to those kids who want to do something, I’m thrilled to do it.”
Botti with KHTS am-1220’s Jeri Goldman (left), Jacquie Petersen (second from right) and Marian Sandnes (right).
The hundred local Botti fans and COC arts education supporters at Saturday night’s schmooze-fest were treated to a gourmet dinner with fine wine before the artist joined the party.
He went from table to table, meeting, talking, signing autographs and taking pictures with delighted fans before being whisked off to the PAC’s green room to get into his stage suit about 15 minutes before the 8 p.m. showtime.
Among the items Botti signed was a mute for trumpet player and Thousand Oaks High School student Sean Alexander, who, at 14, was probably the youngest at the grip-and-grin.
“I’m really happy,” he said, checking out the fresh Sharpie scrawl on his mute. “I’m a big fan of Chris Botti. All I listen to is him, and it’s beautiful.”
Alexander, who’s played trumpet since third grade, “for around six or seven years,” said he’s always been a fan of smooth jazz, but Botti especially resonated with him. His father, Chris Alexander, also at the meet-and-greet, turned him on to his music by loading some Botti tracks onto his iPod.
“I was scrolling through my iPod and found a song by Chris Botti and listened to it, and it just struck me as beautiful,” Sean said. “It was perfect.”
Botti signs 14-year-old Sean Alexander’s Harmon mute.
Botti and Band Onstage
Botti’s wide-ranging set veered from pensively gorgeous pop to intense contemporary jazz to tasteful classical to punchy rock ‘n’ roll, and included material from his latest album, “Impressions,” his third No. 1 on Billboard’s jazz album chart.
Botti’s trumpet sound was excellent; his phrasing, clarity of tone, vibrato and ability to hit and sustain high notes were impressive, yet not overdone.
He was backed by a tight, yet explosive five-piece band that featured Leonardo Amuedo (guitar), Geoffrey Keezer (piano), Richie Goods (bass), Billy Kilson (drums) and Andy Ezrin, the band’s arranger/musical director (electric keyboards). The same core lineup has been with Botti for the past eight and a half years, and it shows; their musical communication was intuitive and their sound and rhythm were right on time.
At various times during the set Botti and his band were joined by noted classical/jazz violinist Caroline Campbell, who also appears on his latest album, and jazz-rock-and-you-name-it vocalist Lisa Fischer, solo artist and longtime backup singer for The Rolling Stones, as special guests.
As a bandleader, Botti was confident and generous, sharing the spotlight with Campbell and Fischer as well as his musicians, who each got a chance to solo at least a bit during the set.
Between songs Botti talked about growing up in Corvallis and Portland, Ore., and how his life changed as a young teen when a savvy school band teacher turned him on to Miles Davis. The legendary trumpet master’s “My Funny Valentine” was the first Miles track Botti heard. “I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said.
Botti and band’s performance of that ballad, as well as Davis’ and Bill Evans’ “Flamenco Sketches” with Keezer soloing, highlighted the set for this observer.
Other memorable moments included “The Look of Love” (with Fischer); “Italia” (title track of Botti’s 2007 album); “Love Theme from Cinema Paradisio” (Campbell); a gorgeous samba whose title we did not catch; R. Kelly’s “You Are Not Alone” (Amuedo); the solo turns by Campbell (who performs dramatically, wearing a long formal gown, and barefoot) and Fischer (whose a cappella intro to “The Look of Love” soared); and, believe it or not, Chopin’s “Prelude No. 20 in C minor.”
Introducing the latter piece, Botti talked about touring the world 300 days a year as he does now, his huge following in Europe, especially Poland, which commissioned him to arrange his version of the Chopin piece and perform it in Warsaw on the composer’s 200th birthday.
Botti marveled at the opportunity to compose a song and play with idol Herbie Hancock for four presidents at a Feb. 2011 White House function (the Carters, Clintons and Obamas, and Chinese President Hu Jintao); Hancock had played on Davis’ original recording of “My Funny Valentine,” which set Botti on his course. Botti also mentioned his tour of Canada with Barbra Streisand in October (and hitting the Big 5-0, on Oct. 12).
Near set’s end, Botti and band performed the majestic “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s opera “Turandot,” and invited 9-year-old Braden Oliphant, sitting in the fifth row, to join the band onstage. The Valencia resident and North Park Elementary student sat behind the drum kit and, with a little help from drummer Kilson, played the cymbals as the song built to its final crescendo. At Botti’s invitation, a friend of Oliphant’s family videotaped the spot on her smartphone so the boy would have a souvenir of the occasion.
During the closing rock ‘n’ roll jam, Amuedo shredded like a rock star, even quoting licks from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Kilson’s solo was precise, soulful and powerful; he broke the tip off a stick partway through, stopped playing, picked up the stick from the stage and handed it to a fan in the front row. As the audience applauded, he got back behind the kit, picked up a fresh pair and continued rocking. Dude can play and please a crowd, too.
Covering so much musical ground in one concert can be a challenge when it comes to pacing, but Botti and company managed to segue from one song/genre to the next without messing up the show’s flow, and earned a standing ovation at the end.
Moments after the concert, we caught up with Oliphant and his grandmother, who told us she had read the preview story on the KHTS-AM 1220 website at www.hometownstation.com and bought tickets.
“An interesting experience,” was how Braden described it. When asked if he might become a musician someday, he said, “Maybe.”
Among the celebs in the audience were TV sports commentator Roy Firestone and composer/arranger Alf Clausen, who has created all the music for “The Simpsons” since the first season.
Clausen, a Sand Canyon resident, attended with his wife Sally, her father, Bob Bennett, and family friend Birdie Bush. We ran into them in the PAC’s lobby on the way out.
“It was absolutely astounding,” Clausen said when asked what he thought of Botti’s performance. “It was so moving. The musicality was insane. The style(s) of music went everywhere possible, and (were) played absolutely perfectly. Doesn’t matter what the genre was. Chris, of course, what can you say? His tone is just so beautiful, his execution is unbelievable, his range — the guy’s nuts, man, it’s impossible. He can’t play that stuff like that. Somebody ought to tell that guy the trumpet can’t do that. I just absolutely loved it.”
When it comes to cross-genre musicality, Clausen has major cred (just listen to his “Simpsons” scores).
He also noted the high level of musicianship Botti’s bandmembers display.
“The band is nuts! Every man and woman is a first-class artist,” Clausen said. “They have the wonderful sensitivity of being able to listen to their bandmates and interact, and raise the level of emotion with every piece that they play, to the level that you can understand the excitement. It’s so moving.”
Clausen gave props to Botti’s chops as a bandleader, too.
“It’s remarkable. The sign of a good bandleader is that this band has been together for eight and a half years,” he said. “He’s willing to give credits where credits are due and acknowledgment for every person in the band, and they keep happy that way. It’s a wonderful combination, when you’ve got artistry at that particular level and happy campers at the same time. They don’t always go together, and he’s done a wonderful job as a bandleader that way.“I will never forget this night.” Clausen said. “My 90-years-young father-in-law thought it was great, too.”
“I was blown away,” Bennett affirmed as the Clausen party left the building, the last to do so.
“We always love to close a room,” Clauson quipped.