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Trumpeter Chris Botti's discs are mellow, but his shows are 'fired-up'


Chris Botti will be in concert at 7:30 tonight at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets are $35, $45, and $55 from Ticketmaster and the box office, 419-381-8851.


There are scores of highly talented jazz trumpeters, but precious few have ever dodged paparazzi or been fawned over by People magazine.

Chris Botti, the Grammy-winning trumpeter who will be in concert tonight at the Stranahan Theater, laughs about being stalked by photographers while dating Katie Couric, and of being named to People's "50 Most Beautiful People" list.

At the same time, the Oregon-born jazz star is grateful that the tabloids boosted his name recognition.

"I always look at the pop culture part of stuff as the icing," Botti (pronounced "bo-tee") said in a recent phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "The real cake is underneath - to have a great band, try to practice your instrument, evolve, and make better records."

Being in People and smiling for the paparazzi, which Botti described as "Um, weird," has helped bring his music to the attention of millions who otherwise might never have heard his soulful smooth-jazz recordings.

"These kinds of things allow you to get on television, which is the new radio now. It gets you to sell records," he said. "I'm not in any way [griping], but the first few times it happens, the things they write are either completely true, or 100 percent false. There's no in-between."

Botti, 44, who was born in Portland, Ore., and grew up in Corvallis, moved to New York in 1986 and studied with the late trumpet master Woody Shaw.

Influenced greatly by Miles Davis' ballads, Botti said he realized early on that it would be best to distance himself from New York's traditional jazz scene. That field was dominated by Wynton Marsalis the way the PGA tour is dominated by Tiger Woods.

"I thought, 'How am I going to compete against Wynton?' Because I have so much affection and respect for him, and that really is his territory," he said. "But his disciples have never really achieved that level of superstardom. That is ground cut out for one."

On the other hand, he said, he noticed that many skilled jazz musicians - including David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, Richard Tee, and Randy and Michael Brecker - were crossing over and getting terrific gigs in the studio and on tour playing pop and rock music.

Botti followed their lead and recorded with many well-known pop stars, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant, Burt Bacharach, and Frank Sinatra.

Asked what it was like to play in Sinatra's band, Botti laughed and said it was "a huge, massive rush for me and a non-issue for him. It was a short gig, 2 1/2 weeks at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. I went up to him and tried to bond with him. I was delusional. I thought me and Frank Sinatra were close based on the fact that he said I played a good solo. His assistant came over to me, put her arm around me very gingerly, and said, 'Never bother Mr. Sinatra again.'•"

In 1990, Botti was hired by Paul Simon, with whom he toured and recorded for five years before launching his solo career with his 1995 debut disc, "First Wish."

A breakthrough came when Sting hired Botti for his band in 1999. The trumpeter traveled for 2 1/2 years on Sting's Brand New Day tour.

"Sting is the guy who made my career," Botti said. "Once in your life, as a musician, you have a collaboration and you become friends with a person and it goes way beyond music. That's what happened with me when I met Sting. We collaborated, I joined his band, we became friends - best friends. He's almost family to me."

Sting has invited Botti to be the opening artist on other tours, giving him the chance to play to audiences of 10,000 every night.

"That opened up my fan base," he said. "Now I can roll into Indianapolis on a Tuesday night and sell it out. I couldn't sell it out on New Year's Eve a few years ago."

Botti has released eight CDs, including the 2004 hit album "When I Fall in Love," which topped the jazz charts for 17 weeks and sold more than a million copies.

His latest disc is "To Love Again," which has sold 500,000 copies but would have sold many more if not for a technological glitch that not only hurt sales, but also Botti's reputation.

"To Love Again" is a star-studded collaboration with such guest artists as Sting, Paula Cole, Gladys Knight, Michael Buble, and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, but much to Botti's surprise, Sony encrypted the CD with a new anti-piracy spyware that made it unplayable and caused problems with computers.

The disc had to be recalled and was literally off the shelf for the six weeks leading up to Christmas 2005, missing the busiest time of year for album sales.

"It was a huge setback. That record would have gone platinum," Botti said. "Those are the things you never think about when you're growing up, learning to play the trumpet. It was like a surreal situation. Suddenly I was a poster child for bad CDs and corporate greed. It was just the worst."

Botti currently is on tour with a quintet and said his concerts are much more high-energy than fans might expect from his smooth-jazz recordings.

"The records are designed, conceptualized, and recorded with one purpose in mind: to put people in a daydream, in a melancholy place," he said. In the live shows, however, "we really stretch out" and play "fired-up jazz."

Chris Botti will be in concert at 7:30 tonight at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets are $35, $45, and $55 from Ticketmaster and the box office, 419-381-8851.

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