13 Things I Learned at the Chris Botti Show

by Jason on February 7, 2010 · 24 comments

in Other People's Shows, Thoughts

Chris Botti at The Paramount Theater, Seattle - photo by Darrah Parker

Chris Botti at The Paramount Theater, Seattle - photo by Darrah Parker

I saw Chris Botti for the first time tonight at The Paramount Theater in Seattle. Thanks to my Twitter buddy Tim Lefebvre, who plays bass is Chris’ band (among others), I had KILLER 4th row center seats. Thanks Tim!

The show was an eye-opening experience in many ways. I have heard all the talk about Chris, both positive and negative. Without getting into all that, here’s 10 things I learned tonight:

1. Chris has one of the most amazing trumpet tones I’ve ever heard. His low and middle registers are fat and round, and his upper register is clear and bright. We were fortunate to be sitting close enough to the stage to hear the horn pre-PA system, and even more fortunate when he played the final song of the night in the audience, about 10 feet from us. All I can say is wow!

2. This is one of the tightest bands out there! Billy Childs, Geoffrey Keezer, Mark Whitfield, Tim Lefebvre, Billy Kilson, Sy Smith and Caroline Campbell were all amazing. You can tell they’ve been playing together for a while. They were at various times fierce, swinging, tender, sassy, haunting, and at all times completely in touch and in step with eachother.

3. Billy Kilson is a badass!

4. Chris is an amazing entertainer. Whether he was playing, talking to the crowd, directing the band, or bringing two young trumpet players down from the balcony to the front row, he was always in command and had the audience eating out of his hand from the first note to the last note.

5. Chris isn’t afraid to let his bandmates play they way they play. Even though he has a reputation as a ballad player and gets a bad rap in some jazz circles, the band lets loose when they play live and at times played some of the most modern jazz I’ve heard in a while. Sure, these moments were not the norm, but they were there. In particular, Childs, Lefebvre and Kilson were given ample room to shine and show their personalities.

6. Sy Smith can flat out sing! When she took the stage the energy in the room rose noticeably. The three songs she sang with the band elevated the audience and musicians alike. That’s a pretty powerful thing.

7. Each musician in the band is revered on their instrument and the rhythm section is made up of cats with amazing jazz resumes. Together they have shared the stage with folks like Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, Diane Reeves, Dave Holland, Ahmad Jamal, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock and Chris Potter, among others. And yet they all love to play with Chris. In his band they get to travel the world, play with remarkable musicians, and probably make enough money to fund all their other projects. These cats are true Working Musicians. So nice to see them Makin’ it Happen, Livin’ the Dream and Payin’ the Bills!

8. Billy Kilson is a badass!

9. Chris knows the difference between making a record and performing live. To me, his records are the way he reels his audience in, and his live shows are where he brings them along. I’m sure there were many people there tonight who had never been to a jazz concert, and he played just enough jazz to pique their interest.

10. I’m guessing the band plays pretty much the same show every night. But does that matter? I never got the feeling they were just going through the motions. Each band member seemed invested in the moment and played each song as if it were the most important song at that time. What more can you ask for?

11. There’s nothing better than seeing a band that’s having fun! Throughout the show they were laughing, joking, egging eachother on. As an audience member and as a player I sure appreciate knowing that the band is enjoying themselves.

12. People always seem to want Chris to be more this or less that. But that’s their problem, not Chris’s! If you go into a Botti show expecting to see the next Woody Shaw you’re going to be disappointed. But if you go in expecting to see a kick-ass band and be thoroughly entertained, you might just have a good time.

13. Last but not least, did I mention that Billy Kilson is a badass???

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Twitter: pdfreeman
February 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Billy Kilson is a TOTAL badass. If you haven’t heard them, check out trumpeter Tim Hagans’ albums on Blue Note with Kilson backing him. The electric records “Animation/Imagination” and “Re-Animation Live!” are astonishing.

Marie February 7, 2010 at 7:05 pm

And when Lucia Micarelli joins the band periodically, it goes to another level, if that is possible.

linda February 7, 2010 at 9:17 pm

This is probably the best all-around band out there playing today. Tim really gives the group a funky edge which I personally love. And yes, Billy Kilson (DC baby!) is a badass. Even though the shows are pretty much the same set list, it’s a kick to hear what different treatments they give each song from show to show, especially Flamenco Sketches and When I Fall In Love.

Twitter: jazzneophyte

Nick Francis February 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Yes, Chris Botti’s tone is gorgeous. The story goes that he came to New York to be the hippest badass bebopper, until the day he saw and heard Roy Hargrove. He then realized that he needed to move move in another direction, a more pop-oriented one. Having that great tone was really the key in making the pop approach work. His early solo records, particularly “Midnight Without You” are really well done.

Jacob Stickney
Twitter: jstick86
February 8, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Nice post, Jason. Always important to look at the positive and not the negative.

Jim February 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

I am proposing to my gal tomorrow at the Cupertina CA show and would like to know how I can get a shout out or get Chris in on it. Went through his mgmt company and they kicked to the curb.


sjacct February 10, 2010 at 9:24 am

I was going to mention the Hagan albums, but someone beat me to it. Astonishing indeed! I wish there were more. And, yeah, Billy Kilson. Saw him with Dave Holland a few years back, he’s great.
I have to admit that my sister-in-law gave me a Chris Botti album years ago that I never listened to because of his reputation. I’ll have to dig that out & give it a listen.

Twitter: elizabethjazz
February 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

I heard a really nice interview with Chris Botti on NPR about a year ago. It made me look beyond the this-or-that hype and check him out!

Jim February 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Hmmm… I stumbled upon this post while surfing twitter search results regarding Botti. I just saw him last night, and was impressed…even though jazz isn’t really my forte.

It seems you and I learned some of the same things, although I didn’t break them down quite like you did in my blog post. I agree, Billy rocked those drums! In fact, everyone involved did a great job! I’d go again for sure.

Karin February 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

So right, Billy Kilson is a badass!
Raised by a serious jazz aficionado,I had total skepticism about Mr. Botti before my first show. 3 later + 2 meet and greets with the band (Chris is so gracious and Mark and Billy are total cut-ups) no more skepticism. Jason, you’re so right that his shows bring people to jazz. and that’s always a good thing.
Perhaps my favorite thing is when Chris puts that Harman mute in…now, that’s a tone!

Antoine Smith February 17, 2010 at 2:55 am

Wow! I really enjoyed Chris Botti’s concert in Boston that included Lucia Micarelli! I agree with you about a different level of music…it brings in the romantic and dramatic elements of smooth. Overall, I really enjoy listening to Chris Botti’s concerts because of entertainment diversity.

Steve Provizer
Twitter: improviz
March 14, 2010 at 10:37 am

Fair enough… My only cautionary note is the idea that people like Mr. Botti “bring people to jazz.” For a start-without making a value judgment-his music is simply less demanding than other kinds of jazz that a person new to jazz might hear. However, and perhaps more importantly, his presentation is so much different. The trappings of his concerts-surroundings, visuals, orchestras, multi-camera, even slo-mo camera coverage on TV are creating a set of entertainment expectations that nightclubs or festivals-never mind galleries or small venues-cannot fulfill.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 14, 2010 at 10:45 am

Thanks for chiming in, Steve. You’re absolutely right that his music is “less demanding”. As for the “trappings of his concerts-surroundings”, I’m not entirely sure what you mean. I might put it in this way: his shows have more entertainment value than most jazz shows. But is that a bad thing? I went to the show very skeptical and left feeling entertained, and thinking that I had seen a kick-ass band. What more can you ask for? Was it a cerebral, make-you-think kind of show. No. But again, is that a bad thing? Jazz doesn’t always need to be about complicated structures and overwhelming technique. Sometimes it can be just plain pretty.

And remember, Bird played with orchestras.

Steve Provizer
Twitter: improviz
March 14, 2010 at 10:52 am

I didn’t mean to say his presentation is a bad thing. Jimmie Lunceford, for one, certainly understood the value of entertainment. It’s about the question of “bringing people into jazz.” As a rule, those presentations are simply not there. And, as a rule, the structures and solos are more complicated.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

OK. Thanks for clarifying. I guess on the “bringing people into jazz” thing, my thinking is this: Chris played “My Funny Valentine” at the show and the crowd loved it. Was it the best version of the song I have heard? No. But Chris did a GREAT job of introducing that song and making sure the audience knew that it was the Miles version that turned him on to jazz. I have to imagine that someone in that audience who wasn’t familiar with Miles went home and googled the Miles version of the song. That person just might have loved it and now we have a new jazz fan. I just don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

Steve Provizer
Twitter: improviz
March 14, 2010 at 11:07 am

No, not a bad thing…Since you brought up Miles-it may be worth noting the vast number of people who have bought “Kind of Blue” and the comparatively miniscule numbers checking out the local jazz talent in their cities. I don’t say this to be churlish, but to say that the grey areas of this complicated conversation are worth exploring.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 14, 2010 at 11:10 am

Absolutely! That’s why I wrote the post. I just wanted to start a conversation with my experience at the show and see what people thought. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

Steve Provizer
Twitter: improviz
March 14, 2010 at 11:28 am

Happy to… It just occurs that Botti brings something into view: the beauty of the single note, something which has kind of been lost in the shuffle over the last 40 years.

Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
March 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

Good way of putting it. His tone really is amazing.

paula April 19, 2010 at 12:19 am

You echoed my sentiments to the letter about Chris B.’s playing. Certainly a phenomenally gifted trumpet player and he plays the smooth fusion (my opinion) jazz and then some good gnarly stuff with the greatest of finesse like no other I’ve heard in that genre of music. I loved your comments about his band stars like Billy K…can’t wait to hear !!! . Hope to see & hear Chris & band for the 1st time in June when he’s scheduled to play with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall. I wish I were playing my violin with SFS in that accompanying role.

Hamlet May 11, 2011 at 10:47 am

Great Post!

Lisa McClowry
Twitter: Lisamcclowry
October 3, 2011 at 9:50 am

Thanks for your post about the Chris Bottie concert! It is interesting and helpful to hear about his performance throught the ears and eyes of a fellow musician. You have peeked my interest in Sy Smith and Billy Kilson as well. I will check um out! Best, Lisa McClowry-Chicago

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