I remember it all as though it were yesterday, the first time I heard Chris Botti's music. It was a typical sunny Bel Air afternoon in October of 2000. It was my freshman year in college and I was studying for my first set of midterms. I went to my laptop computer, and noticed that I had just received an e-mail from my friend, who at the time was a sophomore at the University of California Berkeley. As I opened the e-mail I noticed that there was an attachment in MP3 form, entitled, Drive Time by Chris Botti. I remembered my mother mentioning the name Chris Botti to me only a few days prior to receiving the e-mail. Right away, I opened the attachment and started to listen to the song. I was amazed by the haunting melody. As I continued to read the e-mail, my friend who had played the trumpet in grade school, proceeded to tell me how I just had to go out and purchase Slowing Down the World, because Chris was his idol, and was a brilliant trumpet player. Drive Time was just a teaser which created an appetite to hear more of his music. After about fifteen seconds into the song I immediately knew that Chris was indeed a talented artist. As the afternoon ensued into the evening I had Drive Time on repeat as I studied into the wee small hours of the morning, no pun intended. I woke up the next morning and the beautiful tone of Chris’ horn was still reverberating within my being and I realized that he was unlike any artist I had ever heard before. Later that day, I went on one of my usual trips to Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard and not only bought Slowing Down The World, but also purchased First Wish, and Midnight Without You. After listening to these CDs I was instantly captivated. I found his music to be a veritable treasury of love that illumines the whole universe. I felt awakened basking in the sunlight of ethereal ardor as if I was entering the temple of bliss. I became like a wave of light, a ripple of peace floating on the surface of the sea, an ocean of light. It was as though every note he played was a dialog to my soul. He was a kindred spirit and on the sea of his music all beings would dance on the waves of such profound insights.
Since then, six years have passed leading up to a beautifully picturesque midsummer San Francisco evening, on which I was blessed with the opportunity to hear one of the world’s most incontrovertibly gifted instrumentalists perform at the exquisite Davies Symphony Hall accompanied by the illustrious San Francisco Symphony. I felt the same enthusiasm that evening as I did the first time as a freshman in college. As I had expected, the stage was set for an evening brimming with a profusion of musical illumination. As I entered this sold out venue and took my seat, to my pleasant surprise, I was seated next to Matt Domurat a young man who was to receive a private trumpet lesson in the weeks to follow from jazz leading light Chris Botti. Needless to say, Matt was very excited and grateful for this once in a lifetime occasion and was truly looking forward to what the future held for him.
There is an unquestionable resurgence of golden ageism: the belief bordering on an article of faith that everything was better, both artistically and commercially, in the relatively recent past, as evidenced by this sold out venue, the many symphony halls that are being built, ticket sales, and even classical tracks downloaded from the online music store iTunes. The evening commenced with the tremendously gifted Alastair Willis conducting the symphony in Leonard Bernstein’s evocatively transfixing Overture to Candide and Suite from Candide; music from Bernstein’s third Broadway musical which made its debut in October of 1956. The orchestrations melodically mirrored the various stages of a romantic courtship exuding such glory. This was an inspirational segue into Chris’ set that was to follow as the evening ensued. I might add these brilliant compositions could not have been more apposite for what the evening held for the mesmerized audience.
After an ephemeral intermission, Chris Botti, Billy Childs, Billy Kilson, Mark Whitfield, and James Genus took the stage. The set commenced with a deeply poignant performance of Someone To Watch Over Me. The communicative and mellifluous tone of Chris’ trumpet accompanied by the strings section of the symphony was nothing short of celestial.
The band was in magnificent form as they proceeded into the next song, When I Fall In Love. The band was energized and everyone displayed awe-inspiring charisma. Each solo was dynamically captivating. Chris Botti, Mark Whitfield, James Genus, Billy Childs, and Billy Kilson were emblazoned with charisma and improvised melodic revelations! Billy Childs is an ingenious mastermind on piano and Billy Kilson's outstanding ability never ceases to amaze. James Genus displayed zeal of the greatest magnitude on bass. Mark Whitfield's solo was remarkable, so much in fact that Chris jokingly shouted to him, "start over", and Mark smilingly retorted with "okay". This delightfully affable element of camaraderie takes place on stage between Chris and the band and it is a joy to observe. Flamenco Sketches which as Chris discussed is a series of a five chord progression, made famous by Miles Davis from perhaps the most legendary jazz album of all time, Kind Of Blue, was performed with perfect precision. This led into Leonard Cohen's strikingly emotive A Thousand Kisses Deep in which Chris' trumpet melancholy wailed the trumpet line. The audience was enchanted with the final reverberating note.
The beautifully affecting Cinema Paradiso was the next song performed. As Billy Childs gently stroked the piano, and the violins sighed, I wiped away the tears gliding down my cheek, and I could not help but ponder that Chris connects with listeners on an intensely profound level. I felt my spiritual center lit up from within. His compositions are hauntingly imploring and intimate, his expertise is beyond comparison. They capture the true unadulterated essence of the powerful longing sensed in the deepest alcove of your being; to lose yourself in the anticipation of a romantic encounter, the yearning of an embrace, a lingering caress, a fervent kiss, entrancement in reverie, what it is to surrender to and believe in the supremacy and all knowingness of love. The great Irish poet Sir Thomas Moore said, "the soul needs amorous sadness, it is a form of consciousness that brings its own unique wisdom, if we view love only from a high moralistic or hygienic peak, we will overlook its soul settling in the valleys."
Chris Botti's music eradicates the deficit that has existed within the world of music. It enables the listener to be moved in such a way that one is not merely passively listening to a song, but is actually engaging in a distinctively unforgettable experience. An experience in which you feel the sound of each note spreading through the brain and hear its continuously pounding roar. You hear and feel the music surging into the spine, and feel it resounding through every tissue, every feeling; every cord of your nerves and every blood cell, suddenly bursting open the doors of the heart as every emotion dances on the sea of roaring vibration. My mind's inner ear was opened, and through these penetrative songs, he has captured the joy of introspective sweetness, and I am destined to pursue this bliss.
The very talented, Jeanne Jolly took the stage to perform Good Morning Heartache and What'll I Do? Ms. Jolly is a very adept singer and is capable of communicating the emotional nature of these songs to an audience which translates in inciting an emotional response from listeners. The pitch of Chris’ trumpet is that of almost a caringly delicate cry.
Chris stepped off the stage to perform My Funny Valentine and there was a poignant moment in which the lights dimmed in the symphony hall with the spotlight on him; silence calmed the audience as his trumpet lamented the song. He not only plays the music but he is the music, and in this way as if by fate that befell him, he became music's breathing manifestation. I observed the spreading of his cosmic sound as it swept through my body and mind into the earth and surrounding atmosphere. I moved with it, into the airless ether, and into millions of universes of matter. His music is a living incarnation of the essence of love. In a vast world, with its far reaching corners, Chris is a radiating light shining over the world for all to see; a luminosity of such a degree that must be acknowledged.
Billy Kilson and Mark Whitfield displayed their astonishing gift on drums and guitar during their fanatical solos on Relativity. And the evening ended flawlessly with a standing ovation following the final song, Time To Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiro) made famous by luminary Andrea Bocelli. Throughout the evening each song was executed with zealous bravura, which signaled the completion of a truly unforgettable experience.
A blessed soul is eternal, perpetual, timeless, and it transcends all boundaries. Chris Botti is that blessed soul and through his music he has transcended the boundary that is the corporeal realm that we know and identify with. If love in its purest form were audible it would be that of the sound of his trumpet. His tone is other-worldly. His songs are pictorial and in that way they awaken inner stirrings of bittersweet melancholy, and ethereal heartbreak. It is as though his music is answering your soul’s supplication to be open to love.
Although these songs are timeless, Chris breathes new life into each song while maintaining their original authenticity. In the golden age during which time these songs from the Great American Songbook were superlative, love was not merely a fleeting circumstance but was a declaration of what we as spiritual beings are capable of retaining love that endures and surpasses the tribulation and boundaries of time. As Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed, "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience."
I believe the greatest thing that an artist can hope to achieve is perhaps best expressed in a quote by the great 13th century poet Rumi, "when you are dead think for your resting place not in the earth, but in the hearts of men". Rumi also believed that one must, "let the beauty of what you love be what you do." Chris Botti’s music will live within the hearts of mankind eternally. His music awakens the consciousness of humanity to the divine within.
From my spirit to your spirit bless you. Namaste.