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.
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?
C.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? 🙂
Don’t Miss Chris Botti with the Houston Symphony this weekend!
An Evening with Chris Botti
April 25, 26, 27, 2014
Stuart Chafetz, conductor
Chris Botti, trumpet
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.