Like many headliners getting ready to bring a new show to Atlantic City, Chris Botti is going to first carry out a long and time-honored tradition.
He’s going to break the show in out-of-town, a common method — originated by Broadway producers more than a century ago — of testing the program out on an audience without having to worry about critics casting judgment before the show was ready for New York.
For his latest visit to Atlantic City, Botti, a jazz, pop and classical trumpet virtuoso and composer, took a few practice swings in Mexico at the end of August. Then it was off to Europe for shows in Latvia and Poland.
And before returning to the United States to kick off his fall American tour with a Boardwalk gig, 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, in Caesars Atlantic City’s Circus Maximus Theater, Botti was scheduled to play one final show.
Playing an older joint
He wrapped up his short European swing Sept. 7 by making his debut in one of the world’s oldest and most rarely used concert joints. It’s nearly 2,000 years old and is really showing its age.
“There’s one other show we’re doing before we come to Atlantic City, and it’s really gonna be fun. We’re playing in the Colosseum (in Rome) with people like Andrea Boccelli and Elton John,” Botti says.
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“But I’m still happy and looking forward to be coming back to Atlantic City,” Botti adds during a phone call from his home in Hollywood Hills before the tour began.
Latvia and Poland might not seem like typical touring stops, especially for an instrumental American music star who moves easily between jazz, classical and pop sounds, but looking at the path that made him a musical world traveler quickly resolves any mystery about why he plays and enjoys popularity in so many countries. He’s merely following in the steps of musical mentors for whom he played as a sideman for.
Born in Oregon, Botti, 54, spent two of his childhood years living in Italy, which is one reason he’s excited about the Colosseum gig. His mother, a part-time piano teacher, introduced him to music, and he began studying the trumpet when he was 9-years-old.
Botti was on the fence about continuing trumpet lessons until he was 12 and heard the legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ recording of “My Funny Valentine.” That lit the fire for Botti, and he immersed himself in the instrument. He became so proficient that at 17 he was chosen for the McDonald’s All-American High School Band, where he played Carnegie Hall.
He convinced his high school to let him finish his senior year by attending classes at a local community college. He took classes by day, and gigged in area clubs at night.
Major musicians took the young Botti under their wings, names you might not recognize, but who are considered gods in jazz circles.
Dropping out, dropping in
Botti attended Indiana University but dropped out during his senior year. Many considered it a mistake, since he was so close to earning his degree, but Botti knew he was doing the right thing. He left school to go on the road and play in bands that backed up explosive drummer Buddy Rich and the iconic Frank Sinatra. That’s not exactly stuff you can “learn” in a classroom or practice hall.
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By 1990, he’d hooked up with Paul Simon and spent a decade playing behind him, including at Simon’s now legendary 1991 show in New York’s Central Park.
His association with Simon lead to live and recording studio gigs with Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Roger Daltrey and others, which explains his ability to move so easily between musical genres. Botti eventually stepped out of the sideman shadows and into the spotlight when he began his own recording career.
He’s racked up four No. 1 albums on the jazz charts and has received five Grammy nominations, winning one.
Demographics by God
Botti feels his musical diversity is what has helped him earn a broad demographic of fans.
“I think my audience (age) is 8 to 20, and then 30 to 80, because I think God comes down when you’re 20 and sends you to (the) Cochella (music festival),” he says with a big laugh, referring to the 10-day California music and arts festival, where the music is mostly rock, indie, hip hop and EDM — essentially nothing that’s on any Botti setlist.
“But for younger musicians and people who are a little more sophisticated about music, that’s our real demo,” he adds. “Which I’m very happy about because it’s such a large demo.”
Botti’s audience at Caesars can expect a musical “variety show,” he says, because he and his band will move fluidly between classical, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and pop. Botti will even add a little comedy to make it a well-rounded variety show, he says with a little laugh.
“All the musicians — the drummer, the violinist, the pianist — they’re the best in the world,” he says. “So I’ve been fortunate to not only get them to do my gigs, but to keep them on my gigs, and that’s very special to me.”