The Story of Mariachi Music Continued

This post is continued from a previous post, which you can read here.

Last time, we discovered the Jaliscan origins of Mariachi music and the economic and social forces of industrialization and revolution that transformed the sound of Mariachi. The evolution of Mariachi music was far from complete, however; the plain clothes and humble status of Mariachi musicians would make performances from this period hard to recognize for audiences today. As the history of Mexico progressed, so too did that of the Mariachi tradition.

A charro about to attempt the "Pass of Death."

A charro about to attempt the “Pass of Death.”

During the post-revolutionary period the image of Mariachi ensembles began to take on its modern form. The colorful clothes of Mariachi ensembles today come from charros, the charreada, and early twentieth century Mexican cinema. Charros were Mexican cowboys who could perform amazing feats at charreadas, special rodeos with events like bull wrestling and jumping onto wild mares from the backs of running horses (known as the “Pass of Death,” some show-offs liked to do this trick backwards). Deserved or not, Charros became known for their flamboyant sartorial choices, macho attitudes, hard drinking, and womanizing. Unsurprisingly, charro-themed films became popular in Mexico, and the music chosen to symbolize the swashbuckling charro lifestyle was Mariachi. Henceforth, Mariachi ensembles began to adopt the dazzling charro style costumes we are familiar with today.

Although the Mexican Revolution officially ended in 1920, unrest continued to flare up during the following decade, and as the years progressed the new leaders of Mexico became eager to forge a strong sense of nationalism and to create a Mexican culture that would unite the entire country. They seized upon the increasingly popular Mariachi music as the musical glue that would hold Mexico together and began funding cultural projects to record and broadcast Mariachi throughout Mexico and the world. Mariachi ensembles became increasingly professional and technically accomplished, and Mariachi as the official music of Mexico was born.

Mariachi Cobre

Mariachi Cobre

The next time you hear Mariachi music, remember that this tradition isn’t just the aural equivalent of a postcard from Mexico. These songs are full of the sorrows and joys of generations, and reflect the dynamic history and culture of an ancient and fascinating country. The charreadas, the charros and Mariachi music no doubt appeal to nostalgia for a simpler time that, upon reflection, likely never existed. These songs embody the passions and yearnings of an entire people, universal emotions we can all relate to.

Since its mid-century rise to fame, Mariachi music has continued to evolve and transform itself as it has come into contact with new influences and spread throughout the world. Artists like Lola Betran and Lucha Villa gave the traditionally masculine genre powerful female voices and perspectives, and Mariachi music is now widely taught throughout schools in the United States. This Friday, Mariachi Cobre, one of today’s leading Mariachi ensembles, will continue this tradition of experimentation and innovation by performing a one-night-only concert with the Houston Symphony led by conductor Stuart Chafetz in what is sure to be an exhilarating evening that will take this music to places its first performers could only have dreamed of.

To purchase tickets for Mariachi Cobre, click here.


Ehecatzin. Charros Competing in a Charreada in Mexico. 2004. Flickr. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 23 July 2014.
Gonzales, Geraldo. Guadalajara Mariachis. 2006. Flickr. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 23 July 2014.
Gonzales, Sylvia. “History of the Mariachi.” Mexico, The Meeting of Two Cultures. New York: Higgins and Associates, 1991. N. pag. History of the Mariachi. Web. 23 July 2014.
Merrill, Tim L., and Ramón Miró, eds. Mexico: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1996. Mexico. U.S. Library of Congress. Web. 23 July 2014.
Nájera-Ramírez, Olga. “FolkStreams » La Charreada: Rodeo a La Mexicana » La Charreada in the USA.” FolkStreams » La Charreada: Rodeo a La Mexicana » La Charreada in the USA. FolkStreams, 2000. Web. 23 July 2014.
Posted in 2014-2015 Season, Specials, Symphony Summer in the City | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Untold Story of Mariachi Music

Mariachis performing in Guadalajara.

Mariachis performing in Guadalajara.

Today, Mariachi music is an unmistakable symbol of Mexico and Mexican culture throughout the world. There are Mariachi ensembles in the UK, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, and Sweden, not to mention Mexico and the United States. Few people realize that Mariachi music as we know it today only recently evolved as part of the political, social, and economic developments of twentieth century Mexican history. The story of Mariachi is a story of revolution, urbanization, industrialization, yearning for the past, and the quest to forge a uniquely Mexican national identity. In many ways, to know the story of Mariachi is to know the story of Mexico itself.

The state of Jalisco.

The state of Jalisco.

No one is sure where the word “Mariachi” came from. According to one oft-repeated but discredited legend, the word “Mariachi” is derived from the French marriage because when the French briefly conquered Mexico in the 1860s (while US was too busy with the Civil War to enforce the Monroe Doctrine), the French liked to hire musicians to perform this music at weddings. In fact, the word predates the French occupation of Mexico, and might even have its origins in one of the native languages of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. The style of music that would become Mariachi arose in the Jalisco region of Mexico, and was also called son jaliscience. Field hands who worked on haciendas originally performed this music, especially to mark special occasions and to accompany dancing. Apparently, workers who could also play music were paid more than workers who could not. This early predecessor of Mariachi used mostly string instruments such as violins, guitars, and harps, and performers usually wore the plain white clothes of Mexican peasants.

Porfirio Diaz

Porfirio Diaz

This began to change under the reign of Porfirio Diaz, the president who famously ran on a “no reelection” campaign only to serve seven terms in office. Diaz attempted to bring the industrial revolution to Mexico, and while the economy thrived under his rule, he also oversaw a corrupt and often brutally oppressive political system. Mexico had always been a land of staggering economic inequality, but by the end of the Diaz era, 95% of Mexican land was owned by less than 5% of the population, and after Diaz blatantly gave up any pretense of democracy during the election of 1910 (he threw his opponent in jail on election day), the country descended into a revolution and civil war that would last ten years.

Industrialization, urbanization, and the Mexican Revolution forever changed the hacienda way of life that had given rise to the son jaliscience. As the old haciendas faltered in the new economic and political reality, field workers were let go, and many of them moved to cities in search of new opportunities. The ones who could play music often used their skills to earn a living or supplement their incomes in the new world in which they found themselves. New influences began to transform the old style of music: cross pollination with jazz, Cuban music, and European waltzes and polkas led to the introduction of trumpets to the traditional ensemble of strings and gave rise to the modern Mariachi sound.

While Mariachi had begun to take on its modern sound by the end of the Mexican Revolution, audiences today would be puzzled by Mariachi performances of this period: Mariachi was not yet seen as a symbol of Mexico, but as the sound of humble urban street performers, and the brilliant costumes Mariachis wear today were nowhere to be seen. Check back tomorrow to discover where today’s Mariachi look and status came from, and to find out how the Mariachi tradition continues to evolve today!

To hear some fantastic Mariachi music in Houston, come to the Houston Symphony’s Mariachi Cobre concert this Friday! You can get tickets here.


Ehecatzin. Charros Competing in a Charreada in Mexico. 2004. Flickr. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 23 July 2014.
Gonzales, Geraldo. Guadalajara Mariachis. 2006. Flickr. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 23 July 2014.
Gonzales, Sylvia. “History of the Mariachi.” Mexico, The Meeting of Two Cultures. New York: Higgins and Associates, 1991. N. pag. History of the Mariachi. Web. 23 July 2014.
Merrill, Tim L., and Ramón Miró, eds. Mexico: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1996. Mexico. U.S. Library of Congress. Web. 23 July 2014.
Nájera-Ramírez, Olga. “FolkStreams » La Charreada: Rodeo a La Mexicana » La Charreada in the USA.” FolkStreams » La Charreada: Rodeo a La Mexicana » La Charreada in the USA. FolkStreams, 2000. Web. 23 July 2014.
Posted in 2014-2015 Season, Specials, Symphony Summer in the City | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tribute to Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

The acclaimed Spanish-born conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, revered in the orchestra field and beloved by Houston Symphony musicians, passed away on June 11, 2014.

In tribute to Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos and his legacy, the Musicians of the Houston Symphony decided to share their April 8-10, 2011 performance, which Frühbeck de Burgos guest conducted. This concert, featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, was his final appearance with the Houston Symphony.

Our own Adam Dinitz, English Horn and Chair of the Musicians Committee, led the effort to make this recorded performance available to stream via our website and mobile app for a limited time. We asked him to share his thoughts about what it was like to work with Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos, and why our musicians were so inspired to honor the legendary conductor in this way.

A Tribute to Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos
By: Adam Dinitz

Adam Dinitz, English Horn and Chair of the Musicians Committee

Adam Dinitz, English Horn and Chair of the Musicians Committee

“Frühbeck de Burgos was one of the most universally respected and loved conductors of our time, especially among musicians. One of my colleagues recently remarked to me that he was the “last of the old school conductors.” I think what this person meant by that statement was that he was a no nonsense kind of conductor. He had a clear vision of how the music was supposed to go, and he knew exactly how to lead an orchestra in order to get them to buy into his ideas and give a spectacular performance. He also used this “old school” conducting baton that was extremely long. I used to joke with my colleagues that if he wanted to cue the French Horns, he could just reach over and tap them on their heads with it!

Something I always found amazing about Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos was his ability to rehearse without using a score. Many conductors refrain from using a score in a performance, but not using one in rehearsals is almost unheard of. He never made a big deal of it, however. It wasn’t about an ego or showing off, it was only about the music. (In fact, the first time I worked with him, I didn’t realize he wasn’t using a score until the third rehearsal!)

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

The performances with Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos were some of the most memorable concerts of my career in Houston. My colleagues and I felt it was important to share the April 2011 Houston Symphony performance because of how proud we are of what we created with Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos and what an honor it was to share the stage with him. We hope audiences join us in reliving a spectacular and rewarding weekend of music-making at the Houston Symphony.”

The 2011 concert weekend included:

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, conductor
Aralee Dorough, flute
Mozart: Serenade No. 6 in D major, K.239 (Serenata notturna)
Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major, K.314
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Opus 35

Listen to the full concert on our website!

This free stream of the concert broadcast – available online for three weeks – is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Musicians of the Houston Symphony, American Federation of Musicians, and Local AF of M 65-669 for making this streaming activity available without further compensation. Thank you also to our radio partner, Houston Public Media’s Classical 91.7, for recording the concert for broadcast.

Posted in 2014-2015 Season, Classical, Conductors and Musicians, History Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Musician’s Report: Principal Cellist Brinton Averil Smith Addresses Our Board

Near the end of each season, the Houston Symphony Society holds its annual board and trustees meeting. This year, our Principal Cellist Brinton Averil Smith spoke to the attendees on behalf of the musicians. His speech turned out to be so much more than a board address. We hope you will read it, draw inspiration from it, and be reminded of the true power of music.

Brinton Averil Smith, Principal Cello Photo by Eric Arbiter

Brinton Averil Smith, Principal Cello
Photo by Eric Arbiter

By: Brinton Averil Smith

Ladies and Gentleman of the Houston Symphony family, on behalf of all our musicians, thank you for joining us and welcome at this momentous time in our history. The last 100 years have seen vast changes, but there are still people in this room who knew Miss Ima Hogg. Who could have imagined 100 years ago, when she began a project to bring music to her small city, that her act of faith would grow to become an internationally renown institution serving every citizen of our booming metropolis?

In truth, the degree of success we are enjoying today on so many levels was hard to fully imagine even 8 years ago when I moved here. That was a challenging time, but I was drawn by the passion I saw in the orchestra here, and by the optimism and energy I saw in this city. Houston struck me as a place where people still believe the future is theirs to build, and build it you have.

When I attend board meetings these days I am amazed by how much activity is going on; how the orchestra is planning for the future, and reaching into every part of our city. The criticisms that are often leveled at American orchestras – that they are exclusionary, isolated, out of date or out of touch- are all dispelled by the work we are doing here. We aren’t waiting for a crisis to build relationships throughout our city, or to open our doors and share our music with the broadest range of our population, or to send musicians to bring music into our schools and hospitals. We are doing it now, in good times, because we believe in it. I have not seen a better staffed, better run orchestra anywhere than what you see here today, and I’m extremely proud of our team and all they are doing.

You know already how well the orchestra is playing today. I believe I can say without exaggeration that some musicians in this orchestra are truly among the very best in the world at what they do.  And with our growing reputation it can get even better as we add new musicians in the coming years. We are about to embark on a new era with Andrés Orozco-Estrada. His intelligence, charm and blend of European and South American cultures sounds like a marketer’s fantasy, but only great musicianship wins the hearts of the musicians, as he has. I’ve had the good fortune to have worked with almost all the top conductors of my era, and Andrés is one of the most talented and exciting conductors I’ve ever worked with. His time with us could become the symphony’s greatest era yet.

As I conclude my years as a musician’s board representative, it has been humbling to witness how hard and how devotedly our board works for our symphony. It is inspiring to see our leading citizens give so freely, not only of their money but also of their intensely valuable time, thought and energy to build the institution. Your devotion to this cause is a profound testament to the power of what we do. In many other orchestras, musicians rarely, if ever, interact with the board members outside of negotiations. It’s not surprising, then, that each views the other with suspicion and mistrust. In Houston, our musicians and board members are not only well acquainted, but in many cases we are good friends. We celebrate together, know each other’s children and grandchildren- in some cases, we even know each other’s dogs! Familiarity brings mutual respect and an understanding of how vital both our roles are to achieve our common purpose. It doesn’t immunize us against hard times, but it does mean that whatever comes, we can meet it together, with mutual respect and true friendship. So, on behalf of the musicians, thank you to all of you on the board for your devotion and generosity to our mutual cause.

Houston Symphony 100th Birthday Celebration on June 21, 2013 Photo by Chinh Phan

Houston Symphony 100th Birthday Celebration at Miller Outdoor Theatre  on June 21, 2013
Photo by Chinh Phan

This centennial season has flown by and, for all the amazing concerts of this past year- our televised centennial at Miller Theatre, Renée Fleming on opening night, Yo-Yo Ma and John Williams, Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, and so many more- there is no concert that better demonstrates the special teamwork between musicians, management and board than the one that wasn’t planned at all. When weather grounded Linda Eder, canceling our Valentine’s Day concert and leaving hundreds of disappointed fans with no plans for Valentine’s night, our management worked overtime to put together and advertise a last minute, free concert of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. To pull it off, musicians had to agree to rehearse and perform on the spur of the moment, some voluntarily returning from their scheduled leave. John Rydman of Spec’s quickly and generously agreed to cover the additional costs, and with less than 24 hours notice, management scrambled to try to get the word out about the free concert. We went onstage that night not knowing whether to expect 20 or 200 people in the audience. Instead,  amazingly,  the hall was packed-  families with their children, young couples on Valentine’s dates, Linda Eder fans, people who had never been to Jones Hall before and some of our symphony regulars as well- all joined together for a moment of  great music on a night that otherwise would have been a disappointment and a dark hall.  It was not the most prestigious concert I’ve played with the Houston Symphony, but it was my proudest moment as a member of this organization.


Maestro Christoph Eschenbach with Houston Symphony and Chorus after Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand Photo by Bruce Bennett

Maestro Christoph Eschenbach with Houston Symphony and Chorus after Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand
Photo by Bruce Bennett

We know future challenges will come. Economies go up and down, generations change, technology changes and institutions must change with them. If we want to meet the challenge of Miss Ima and pass on a thriving symphony and musical culture to our descendants 100 years from now, we will need to be forward thinking, flexible and innovative, and we will need support. It is the endowment that best helps institutions weather the hard times and I believe building our endowment is the single greatest step we can take to assuring this institution’s future.

This is an interesting time for classical music. In the west, it has all but disappeared from the mass media, aside for articles announcing its demise. But similar articles written 50 and 150 years ago prove that ‘imminently dying’ is one of classical music’s longest running traditions! And yet, today, there are more orchestras in the US and around the world than ever before. For an orchestra, a ‘good’ year has always been one in which benefactors subsidize the difference between expenses and ticket revenue. But this is true for many public service institutions- what would the admission price be at an art museum if they had to fund all their acquisitions solely through entrance fees? What would tuition be at a university without donors and an endowment? And these institutions are considered to be thriving.

Another argument you often hear is the implication that music written by ‘dead, white, European, males’ will have little place in our increasingly multi-cultural society. This argument rather condescendingly assumes that instead of cultures melding together, combining the best of what each has to offer, that each culture must live ‘separate but equally’ and enjoy only their own music.  Fortunately, reality doesn’t care about the opinions of arts journalists, and classical music has never been more popular with more people, in more cultures, around the world than it is at this moment. Japan and Korea are major established centers of classical music. In China, nearly 100 million people are studying classical instruments and their biggest stars play in sold out stadiums. South America is rising fast, not just with El Sistema in Venezuela, or Andrés’ Colombia, but throughout the continent. Astoundingly, even in a desolate Paraguayan slum, children raised in the most dire circumstances are changing lives, playing in an orchestra with instruments constructed out of salvage from a trash dump. I urge you to watch this so called “Landfillhilharmonic” video and see the passion in their eyes. I saw a similar passion first-hand in Natal, Brazil last year, where one of the students who played for me sold fruit by the freeway during the day so that he could afford to study the cello.

The Landfillharmonic

In the middle east, Qatar has begun an major orchestra, and a few years ago I met volunteer musicians from the Iraqi National Symphony who literally risk being shot on sight for carrying their ‘Western’ instruments to rehearsal, but refuse to give it up. India and even Africa are beginning to awaken too. Today in perhaps the most unlikely place in the world, in Kinshasa in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, a volunteer orchestra with almost no outside direction trained themselves to play their instruments to the point where they are performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony quite well. They rehearse almost every day, with some of the volunteer musicians walking for hours through dangerous countryside in order to get to rehearsal. If you watch the 60 minutes story you can see their intense dedication and poignant joy amidst the outside chaos of their war torn country. If you need any further proof that truly great music- no matter who wrote it, or when- is the one immortal language that binds us all, just look into the eyes of those children in Paraguay, or the volunteer musicians in the Congo, or of the young students we work with here in Houston.

Joy in the Congo: A Musical Miracle
By: CBS News

A symphony is not designed for efficiency. It requires up to a hundred highly-trained virtuosi from around the world to come together and rehearse a program for a week, in order to play it for just a few thousand people. Some in that evening’s audience may have a truly transcendent experience, but how much time and how many resources were invested to bring them there? Could it be worth it?

I love the space program and often think about what it must have been like for Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard to be the first human eyes to see the Earth from space. How many billions of dollars, how many lives and resources were invested just to bring just these two people to that one moment? And yet as they viewed, for the first time ever, a single vision of the entire world, where every human, every thought, every nation, every people in history has lived…as they absorbed that view, it revealed for all of us a new outlook on our world- a fundamental truth that had always existed, but which we had never truly understood until that moment.

A featured image from the Houston Symphony's commissioned film + live orchestra project titled  The Earth - An HD Odyssey Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL

A featured image from the Houston Symphony’s commissioned film + live orchestra project titled
The Earth – An HD Odyssey
Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL

In a different way, great music can do the same thing. When you find that moment- that musical epiphany- it changes your view of the world. When you realize that the sounds that move you at this moment similarly moved men and women distant from you in language, culture and time, then the eternal nature of its beauty reveals a deeper reality, beyond the confines of our own consciousness. Somerset Maugham once wrote “Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them.” We are shut off, alone inside our minds, but where words fail, music is the sole common value that can pierce those towers and convey the treasures of our hearts.

I wish I could share with you the experience of what it is like to play music.  We spend our entire lives trying to improve, to get closer to the ideal. Clumsy human hands and mind never do it true justice, but as you inch closer, you begin to sense the existence of a perfect beauty, even if you can’t entirely make it real.  Just as Michelangelo quipped that he started with a block of marble and simply removed everything that wasn’t David, so we begin to understand that the composition is not the origin of beauty, but rather that it is making concrete a beauty that already existed unseen in the world. As a performer, you try to capture that essence and share it with the audience, and if you do come close for a moment, it is a feeling of transcendence. You have slipped your earth-bound vision and briefly glimpsed a higher truth, and at that moment you, your ego, your instrument or any of your worldly problems don’t matter.

In a time of unprecedented wealth, health and longevity we have many noble charities dedicated to enriching public health and income around the world, and these are wonderful, deserving causes. But it will be a tragedy for our age if we fail to support the spiritual side of life as well. Ultimately, our brief lives are measured in quality more than quantity. Today we are lucky enough to live far longer than even our grandparents, and we have access to comfort, technology and information beyond their wildest dreams. And yet somehow we seem to allow ourselves to feel much less; we shy away from dreams of beauty, from bold passions.  We live in an age where cynicism passes for philosophy, irony debilitates art, lust supplants romance, and it is considered naïve to think that there could be more meaning to our consciousness than a mere a series of electrical impulses in our brains. I love science, but the greatest scientists I know are not jaded by what is already discovered, but humbled and impassioned by the profundity, complexity and beauty of our universe. This also is my feeling about music. If you believe that the gift of culture is meant to uplift souls and open minds, then we must stand together now and find a way to cut through the noise of modern life, to convey this gift to the next generation. It may be the most important thing we could ever give them.

Let me end with words from one of the people I admire most. Alice Herz-Sommer died this year. Born in 1903, she was, at 110 years old, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. Alice was also the world’s oldest pianist. She said of her time living in terror and starvation in the Teresienstadt camp, “Whenever I knew that I had a concert, I was happy. Music is magic. We performed in the council hall before an audience of 150 old, hopeless, sick and hungry people. They lived for the music. It was like food to them. If they hadn’t come [to hear us], they would have died long before. As we would have.” Alice was an amazing and profound woman. “Only when we are so old, only [then], are we aware of the beauty of life” she said. She practiced for hours every day until the end, finding more meaning and beauty in music with every passing year.  Alice lost most of her family, and her entire world in the camps. She faced things no one ever should have to, and yet she lived a life of gratitude and profound happiness, because in music she found beauty and true joy. Ladies and gentleman, I wish for you, for your loved ones and for all those who will live in this city during the next 100 years the same joy and beauty that Alice had in her life. Thank you for all you do to make it possible…

Alice Herz-Sommer

Read more about Brinton Averil Smith.

Read more about the Houston Symphony’s 101st Season with new Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada.

Posted in 13-14 Season, Classical, Conductors and Musicians, Development, History Archives, Houston Symphony Chorus, Staff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mark Hughes, Principal Trumpet, Interviews Chris Botti, Grammy® Award Winning Trumpeter

Chris Botti, trumpet

Chris Botti, trumpet

One of the most exciting things about playing with the Houston Symphony is having the opportunity to perform with legendary guest artists on a regular basis. This weekend, we are excited to host Grammy® Award winning trumpeter Chris Botti. When we found out we would have the opportunity to interview him for our blog, we thought we’d let our resident trumpet expert Mark Hughes, Principal Trumpet, pose the questions. Read the interview below:

Mark Hughes: I remember working with you, for the first time about a decade ago, when I worked with the Atlanta Symphony. We were performing out at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre. I’ve had a few incidents with insects sitting in the back of an orchestra. I’m sure it must be worse being in the spotlight. Any funny stories you’d care to share?

Chris Botti: Yeah, it can certainly be funny and treacherous up there, especially when it’s humid and you’re in an exotic location and some crazy bugs are swarming on you… it’s happened to me a couple times.

M.H.: Not knowing your playing back then, I remember being curious as to how good you really were. I remember being wowed that first night many years ago. Since that time, I’ve had the pleasure of working with you on several occasions and each time I hear you, I’m more impressed. Not every musician progresses in their career. How do you keep getting better?

C.B.: I never take a day off and I try to remain somebody who is curious about learning things about the trumpet.  I think I’m a far better trumpet player at 51 than I was at 41, than I was at 31.  A lot of that comes with experience on stage but also with your emotional desire.  I think people get side tracked in their lives and they don’t practice as much as they should. I’ve made this field a paramount force in my life and so I’m very dedicated to the horn… even more so now.

Mark Hughes, Houston Symphony Principal Trumpet

Mark Hughes, Houston Symphony Principal Trumpet

M.H.: One of my favorite aspects of your playing is your ability to use such a wide color palate. Did you develop this consciously or is it more of a reaction to your surroundings?

C.B.: I think it’s more of a reaction to my surroundings. You kind of figure it out as you go along and you add little nuances – “Oh that works, oh that got the audience to feel this way, or that felt good to me that way,” etc., but I think to say when you’re a young musician, “Oh I want to have a lot of different color palettes,” it’s hard to know what that’s going to feel like in a gig. So I would say you need many years to develop and hone the way you react to the shading of the trumpet, to the music you’re playing.

M.H.: You have used a microphone that attaches to your bell each of the times I’ve seen you perform. This seems to work great. Do you find it difficult to use mutes with this mic? Also, how do you manage to get that Miles Davis “Harmon mute on the mic” sound?

C.B: The mic is a Shure mic. It just clips on the bell but it sits out in front of the bell enough that the mute slides in perfectly.  It works fine with a mute, it works fine without, but it also gives me a little bit of freedom to turn.  The stationary microphones that a lot of jazz musicians use, they’re not visually interacting with their band.  It’s not like I’m doing dance moves at all but I want to be able to move around the stage and interact with different people and it’s given me that ability quite nicely.  As far as the “harmon mute on the microphone”, I think it’s really about making sure the sound engineer turns the mute up enough so you can play soft.  So you’re not pushing, so you’re not over blowing to hear it or to make it heard.  That’s really the key, so you back off a little bit and you play it a little more gently and the sound engineer gives you that kind of stature out front.

M.H.: Two of my favorite jazz trumpeters are Clifford Brown and Chet Baker. I hear a lot of their playing in you. Is this a coincidence?

C.B.: You have great taste and I love them both.  There’s not a real long list of trumpet players that young trumpet players look up to:  Chet, Clifford, Wynton, Freddie, Dizzy, Woody Shaw, but for romance… certainly Chet is there and for technical joy, prowess Clifford is at the top for sure.  I was a big fan of both of them and I still listen to them. Probably more so now, I listen to Clifford over Chet but they are both just so enormously iconic.

M.H.: You always seem to have a great deal of endurance when you perform. Being a traveling musician and being in hotel after hotel, how do you manage to keep your chops in shape? Do you practice with a practice mute, make a pillow box or what? If you use a practice mute, would you care to endorse your favorite brand?

Chris Botti_Impressions 2C.B.: I used to put a cup mute in but I don’t even do that anymore, and l just figure by the time I get to the hotel it’s mid-afternoon. So, I play an hour and a half before I get to the venue and then I play there a little bit and then we do the show. So by the time you add all that up it works.  Really I’m just exploring the trumpet at the hotel room in the late afternoons and I’ve never really had anyone complain.  I’ve had fans say to me, “Oh I had the hotel room next to you,” and, “Why do you only play scales, why don’t you play one of your songs?” But generally, everyone has been pretty cool and I just kind of open it up but I don’t go crazy with the volume, but you know, I certainly stretch it out a bit.  My feeling is, when you practice with a practice mute it kind of screws with the air stream and for me I’d rather play a little bit more mezzo-piano and work on finesse early in the day and then get to the theater and in my dressing room let it rip open and go for it for an hour and then get on the stage and then really go for it during the show.

M.H.: Care to get a drink with the trumpet section after a show this weekend? :-)

C.B.: Sure!

Don’t Miss Chris Botti with the Houston Symphony this weekend!

An Evening with Chris Botti
April 25, 26, 27, 2014
Stuart Chafetz,
Chris Botti, trumpet

Buy tickets now!

With his uniquely expressive sound and soaring musical imagination, superstar Chris Botti is heading back to Houston to perform some of his favorite tunes along with music from his newest album Impressions. Since the release of his 2004 album When I Fall in Love, Botti has become the largest selling American jazz instrumental artist having appeared in countless PBS specials, had four #1 jazz albums and multiple Grammy® Awards throughout his career. Don’t miss this incredible trumpet talent, performing together with your Houston Symphony.

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