Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, who, aside from his Grammy-winning chops, is known for movie-star good looks and hip threads, brings his still-youthful vibe—he’s now 57—to the Avalon at Chesapeake College concert series Thursday night, Dec. 5. Botti will be joined by vocalist Shayna Steele, who has been featured on such recordings as Moby’s “Disco Lies” and Snarky Puppy’s “Family Dinner.”
Thanks to the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival, which celebrated its first decade in September, Easton—for a small town—has acquired a sophisticated taste for jazz, also thanks to founder Al Sikes and the festival namesake he recruited. Botti, however, brings not only his brass genius but also global celebrity status to the Todd Performing Arts Center on the Wye Mills campus.
Expect a few tunes from Botti’s 2016 album, “When I Fall in Love,” and “Italia,” a CD that broadened his fan base by featuring solos by Paula Cole, Andrea Bocelli, and even the late Dean Martin. Also, expect him to improvise a few free-flowing surprises.
I spoke to Botti by phone while he was in the midst of a previous U.S. and European tour, just as he was about to headline a gala on Long Island where I was an arts writer and critic for Newsday.
Your mother was a classical concert pianist and piano teacher. So, what drew you to the trumpet?
Originally it was Doc Severinsen. I thought he was so cool on TV in those threads. But the real spark for me was hearing Miles Davis when I was 11—his “My Funny Valentine” album with Herbie Hancock.
Your early jazz stylings were described as chill, perhaps because of your radio show, “Chill With Chris Botti.” But your “Italia” CD defied any such labels. Is there a new sound, a new CD in the works?
We just did a live DVD of a concert with the Boston Pops. But I won’t be in the studio until next spring—with Sting, Stephen Tyler, Josh Groban. [That album became his “Chris Botti in Boston” CD.] They’ll do some solos with us, as we did on “Italia.” [His “Impressions” studio album followed in 2012.]
Speaking of solos, what brought Dean Martin to mind for a posthumous vocal, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face?”
It was the Dean Martin estate’s idea. I get zero credit. We just happened to be in Capitol Studios in L.A. working on “Italia,” in the very mixing room where he recorded, and the people who handle his catalog called to ask what’s going on in the studios and they said, “Chris Botti’s in here, mixing.” And his estate people suggested I do that song.
Most artists with a devoted fan base have a few numbers they almost have to play in concert. What’s on your must-play list?
Oddly enough, I don’t really have that. My body of work isn’t based on hits. When you play instrumentals mostly, you can ask a fan—say a Miles Davis fan—to whistle his greatest hit. And they probably can’t do it. His sound was his hit. I suppose most times I’ll do “Cinema Paradiso” and “When I Fall in Love.” But no one will lose sleep over it if I don’t. My concerts are very different from my albums—crazier, not so reined in.
We can’t wait. And neither should you.
Chris Botti in concert
7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, with vocalist Shayna Steele; Todd Performing Arts Center, Chesapeake College, Wye Mills
Tickets: $90-$200 (VIP); 410-822-7299
Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.