Last season, (2010) the Madison Symphony played a concert featuring trumpeter Chris Botti.  We were basically his back-up band and to be very honest I was not really looking forward to the event.  I know that Chris is probably one of the top five most popular trumpet players in the world right now, along with Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval and perhaps Doc Severinsen.  I’ve performed with these other three and can attest that they definitely deserve their reputation, but the jazz purist in me was having a hard time accepting Chris Botti as a heavyweight.  Perhaps I needed to look at him not through the eyes of a jazz purist but just as a musician or fellow trumpet player.

So, I show up to the first and only rehearsal and Chris and his traveling combo were already on stage in front of the orchestra with their backs to us so I couldn’t get a good look at them.  They were doing their individual sound checks and I was busy doing something else when the pianist started playing.  I stopped everything and realized that I was listening to the great Goef Keezer!  Geof got his start playing piano with the Ray Brown trio, then Art Farmer.   In other words, Geof is a major heavyweight.  It was then time for the drum sound check and who should start slaying his set but the amazing Billy Kilson.  I have him on about half a dozen Dave Holland CDs.  A true heavyweight.  I could continue this way with the rest of his group but they were all fantastic major league players.  I listed the personnel with their links below.

Chris had assembled a veritable who’s who of the working jazz world to play what appeared to be a bunch of ballads and medium trumpet-with-strings arrangements.  As the concert began I couldn’t help getting dark and feeling, “man, if I could play these great arrangements with that great band, I’d sound great, too!”  After a while it dawned on me; assembling this fantastic musical evening is in part what makes Chris Botti great.  Chris played flawlessly with an exquisite tone and superb nuance.  He was charming on the mic and gracious and personable backstage.  He was the complete package, and the real deal.

There may not be jazz transcription books dedicated to Chris’ improvisations but he is a great trumpet player that knows how to put together fantastic musical projects with the world’s greatest musicians.  Anyone who can bring this kind of notoriety to serious acoustic music (especially the trumpet) is in my book, a heavyweight.

This is the group that was travelling with Chris Botti when they played with MSO January of 2010.

Chris Botti, tpt
Sy Smith, vocals
Mark Whitfield, guitar
Billy Kilson, drums
Goef Keezer, piano
Tim Lefebvre, bass
Lucia Micarelli, violin

You can find websites for all of these players and the other folks that work with Chris here.