When trumpeter Chris Botti returns to the Waco Hall stage Nov. 15 to perform with the Waco Symphony Orchestra, audience members may wonder if his program will skew to jazz, pop or classical selections.
As Botti’s fans know well, the trumpeter does it all, with a smooth sophistication and technical brilliance.
Botti performed with the WSO in its 50th anniversary season in 2012, playing to a full house at the Grand Lodge of Texas. This year, he joins the orchestra at Waco Hall, bringing with him a full combo, two backing vocalists and a conductor.
What does he plan this time? Playing it all, in a free-form program with the occasional musical surprise.
“Jazz, classical, pop — that’s been my calling card,” said the 56-year-old musician in a phone interview from New York. “What I want is a identifiable show of musicianship . . . What makes it so enjoyable is the unexpected parts. It certainly makes it more enjoyable for the audience. Ultimately, we’re playing sophisticated music.”
Botti’s sterling three-decade career combines critical and popular success — a 2013 Grammy Award, best-selling jazz and pop albums, multiple television and radio appearances — as well as collaborations with a Who’s Who of, well, music. Botti has played and recorded with such pop stars as Josh Groban, Sting, John Mayer, Paul Simon and Gladys Knight; opera singer Andrea Bocelli and cellist Yo-Yo Ma; jazz pianist Herbie Hancock; and country musician Vince Gill.
That certainly opens the door for all sorts of musical cross-pollination, abetted by Botti’s supple, fluid style, but the star trumpeter says his focus has always been on honing his play.
“I’m super-dedicated to my instrument. I practice four to five hours a day. At rehearsal, we migaht kick up some new stuff, but my commitment to my horn is relentless,” he said. “That’s what people come to hear, the sound of the trumpet. It’s like Yo-Yo Ma: People love his cello playing.”
For those who wonder about that instrument, the Oregon native said his go-to trumpet, a Martin Committee Handcraft, is only 79 years old, in contrast to the two or three hundred years of a prized Stradivarius, Amati or Guarneri violin. Moisture from use limits the lifespan of a brass instrument, he explained.
How has his playing changed over the years? Botti has a simple, if obvious, answer tied to his continual practice. “I know for sure I’m a far better trumpet player than when I started,” he said.
Relentless also applies to Botti’s performance schedule, which has him on the road some 250 days a year, and he and his combo arrive in Waco at the start of their peak season, December through February.
The non-stop nature of their touring forces the well-oiled precision of their stage show and leaves little time for writing new music or recording it, he said.
Changes in the latter, in fact, have Botti reconsidering plans for an album next year, a follow-up to his Grammy-winning “Impressions” in 2013. In the past, musicians would use recordings to make some money and build fan interest in live shows, but that business model has eroded in the era of digital music and social media.
“I had been doing an album every year and a half or so, but that’s completely burned and tombstoned. It’s crazy what’s going on in the industry,” he said. Botti, who has released some 14 albums in his career, said a greater portion of his revenue comes from live performances and it’s buzz from social media, not new recordings, that draws attention to those performances. “Social media has turned into the next record business,” he said.
Which brings us to Botti’s return to Waco on Nov. 15, which provides fans with an opportunity to hear the trumpeter live as he, his ensemble and the WSO run through a genre-blurring program of sophisticated music.
“Bring your kids,” he said. “You’ll hear real musicians play real instruments.”