It’s not surprising that Chris Botti is on a train when we speak, even if the cell phone connection goes amazingly uninterrupted. The pop jazz trumpeter is traveling from New York City to play three shows in Boston, after which he heads straight back to Manhattan for a run of 28 nights at the Blue Note. “I’m very lucky: this is my eleventh year of playing the Blue Note during the holidays. It started as one week, then it become two, and then three… Now it’s four. It’s amazing, and we don’t stop on either side of the dates, either.”
Indeed, Botti’s month-long Blue Note residency follows a year of touring and precedes another one he plans to spend on the road. “After I finish these shows my year is booked right through to the end of 2016, which I’ll end right back at the Blue Note. Next year is shaping up as one of our busiest ever,” he adds. But far from feeling the weight of what is a massive year-long touring obligation, Botti is happy to be doing exactly what he’s doing. “I’m super lucky to be able to tour like this. I sound like a broken record because I keep saying it, but I am lucky I can tour when I want to tour.”
That seems to be always. It’s not like this intense touring is to promote a new album: His latest record, Impressions, a collection ranging from originals to classical to pop that features Andrea Bocelli, Vince Gill, Herbie Hancock, Mark Knopfler, and David Foster, dropped in 2012. Impressions hit number one on Billboard’s Jazz Album chart and won the 53-year-old Portland, Oregon native a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2013. With his intense performance schedule, when will he find time to write or record another? “In 2017, I’m going to pull off the road and record,” he says. “I’m sort of sitting it out and hoping the music business will change. I’m sitting on the sidelines wondering how to record a new album from a business perspective, and not have it be a vanity project.”
Heading back to New York for the Blue Note shows also means he’s heading home for the holidays. Almost two years ago, he moved from Los Angeles back to New York, where he first lived during the Eightires when he was honing his craft as a studio musician (seems he’s not done with that and admits that all the road work “Keeps [his] chops up”).
Home for the holidays sounds cozy and a respite from the hotels he spends so much time in… Or not, “I live in a hotel in the city,” he says. “I moved in a year-and-a-half ago and I’m still there. I owned a house in Los Angeles, but I didn’t gravitate to the L.A. lifestyle, really. So I sold my house and vaporized all my possessions. I have one suitcase to travel with, and my trumpet, and I have my own bedding. It’s a very free and easy situation. When I’m away I don’t have to worry about someone breaking into my house or the roof having a leak.”
To date, Botti has toured and recorded with the likes of Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Scritti Politti, Roger Daltrey, and even the Chairman, Sinatra himself. Along the way, he went from being in the band to leading one. “I’m equally a band leader,” he agrees. “It’s sometimes hard to explain what it is I do; people come to the show and expect that it’s a guy standing there with a trumpet. But I have my orchestra and featured singers.”
Botti’s personnel changes over the course of the month at the Blue Note, and the lineup for each night is listed on the club’s website. Sy Smith is the vocalist for the entire residency, though, and don’t be surprised if special guests make some unexpected appearances.
“What makes playing the Blue Note like this so special and so fun is that all our friends can come down – most of our friends are musicians living in the city. Some will sit in with us; it gets very festive.” Botti notes that the set list will remain pretty much the same every night: “Sometimes it changes naturally night to night. These are all fabulous musicians and though we do the same sets, different solos will go off on different tangents. We don’t deliberately change it.”
So, wait — does that leave room for “Jingle Bells” or any holiday fare?
“No, no holiday songs,” Botti confirms. “I specifically avoid turning it into a holiday show. We might throw something in, in a comedic way, but I feel people are slugged over the head with holiday music and they don’t need me adding my rendition of ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ or ‘Jingle Bells.'” Given the strength of his own standards, it’s safe to say he’ll do just fine without them.
Chris Botti plays December 14 – January 10 at the Blue Note. For ticket information, click here.