American trumpet player Chris Botti is king of the road

When Chris Botti describes his life as “crazy, crazy busy,” but he’s “very happy about that,” you’d best believe it.

The American crossover jazz composer and trumpet king is a man who lives, thrives and survives to entertain, and spends most of his year on the road doing just that.

In fact, a recent New York Times piece actually noted that the Portland-born Grammy winner is a man with no permanent home — just a suitcase, instrument and several suits. He’s a drifter. Literally.

“Absolutely true, yup,” the artist says jovially. “I live in a hotel in New York. Although, I’m hardly ever here, my suits have a nice place to stay.”

With travel time, rehearsal time and performance time, add it all up and Botti thinks those suits are lonely and he’s happy and crazy, crazy busy for a good 260 to 280 days a year.

That includes his recent visit to Calgary, which will see him perform with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Wednesday night at the Jubilee Auditorium.

It will be an excellent opportunity to see a man who has toured and performed with such diverse artists as Paul Simon, Natalie Cole, John Mayer, Josh Groban, Yo-Yo Ma, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Natalie Merchant and Roger Daltrey, and who has crafted his own career that keeps one foot in the jazz world and the other in the land of contemporary pop.

Prior to his local concert, Botti spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: That amount of time on the road is ridiculous, it really is. But I guess it’s much better than the alternative, isn’t it?

A: For me it’s just incredible, and I think anyone that is a musician that complains about all of that stuff needs to have their head examined because I feel it’s a real honour to walk onstage and have an audience, whether it’s Calgary or Chicago or Melbourne, Australia. Wherever it is, it’s a real pleasure to carry the musicians I have on the road and be able to do that. I feel real grateful for it.

Q: You mentioned Calgary and the show with the orchestra, do you enjoy doing those shows? You’ve had such a varied career, from the pop to the straight-up jazz to doing something like this, is this just one more thing that keeps things interesting for you?

A: I love doing the orchestra shows because texturally, the very grandiose regalness of standing … in front of an orchestra in a great venue like that, it’s always an amazing feeling. So you can do a lot of little jazz clubs and be freewheeling and blowing jazz and all that stuff, but there’s something very buttoned-up and classy about that orchestra experience, and that’s why we do so many of them all around the world.

Q: What is the program you’ll be doing with the CPO?

A: We carry two singers with us, one is an opera singer (Rafael Moras), so we do a couple of big classical numbers. And we carry a concert violinist (Lucia Micarelli), so we do stuff like (the Michel Colombier composition) Emmanuel and (Joaquín Rodrigo’s) Concierto de Aranjuez, and there’s another singer (Sy Smith) that I’ve had with me a long time that does popular jazz stuff. So the move from song to song all rapidly around from R&B to jazz to rock ’n’ roll and, of course, with the backdrop of the orchestra. 

And most of all it’s unpredictable because so people come to the show and if they’re seeing me for the first time, it’s very hard to explain that it’s a show with all sorts of different terrain of music. People just think it’s going to be me and my trumpet or me just kind of duplicating my records and that’s really not it at all. What I do on an album is sort of in the same vein and trying to make someone have it on at their house, but when you do a live show you want to have a real virtuoso element to it that doesn’t necessarily translate to a record, but in a live context it’s incredible. You’re going to see flashy solos and drum solos and arguably lots of technique, and when you need to as well there’s all the beautiful stuff. So that’s important to me, to craft a show that makes them leave there wanting to come back.

Q: You mention recordings, it’s been a little awhile. The last studio album was 2012’s Impressions, which earned a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

A: Well, yeah, the music business has (laughs), the music business has left the building, sort of. I’ve been so lucky with the very busy touring schedule and so we’re booked right now through to next March or April (2018). And when that happens, maybe next April or May we’ll think about doing another record in the summer of next year …

Unlike a rock group that puts out an album and then they tour that album, we’re in this very fortunate place of being a jazz group, but also one that relates to people, and they know that when they come to the show they’re going to see great artistry from all of the musicians. And that’s trickled down from word of mouth, and it’s made for a real stable touring environment, which isn’t necessarily hinged on the latest hit. I’m an artist that can play all of these venues and  I’ve never had a hit, quote, unquote, song. We’re a hit act, but maybe not someone based on radio play, etcetera.

Q: And you’re also one of those rare artists that, I think, has the jazz purists on your side, while also having a pretty broad, pretty mainstream audience.

A: Yeah, and that sort of happened slowly, but surely. So I can go do duets with Herbie Hancock and turn around and do duets with Sting or (Andrea) Bocelli. I think musicians know if someone is at a certain level on their instrument and I think that’s made it for critics being favourable to me or something. I’ve worked with so many different people, like legitimate (jazz musicians) like Herbie Hancock and obviously rockers like Sting and Steven Tyler, so it’s definitely been an interesting journey.

Chris Botti performs with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Wednesday night at the Jubilee Auditorium. For tickets go to

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.