Unlike some artists, trumpet great Chris Botti revels in the touring life of musicians.
“I have a home in Los Angeles. I’m there about five days a month,” he says, on the phone from Southern California, getting ready to go to Paris before returning to The City to play a concert of jazz classics with the San Francisco Symphony this week.
“We’re about to celebrate our 10-year anniversary of being on the road for 300 days a year. It’s really revved up my appetite for loving being on the road,” says Botti, 51.
He talks about the unusual circumstances of his success: “I’m an act that sells concert tickets, but I’ve never had a hit record. That’s an unusual space to occupy.”
His longevity in show business — as a young artist, he appeared and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler and Joni Mitchell, and went on to long stints touring with Paul Simon and Sting — might be attributed not just to his extraordinary talent, but to his philosophy.
“My formula is to hire the best musicians in the world,” he says, describing his band of nine, which includes three special guests. “Instead of spending money on a light show, I find the best piano player, the best drummer, and allow them to stretch.”
Botti enjoys offering audiences the chance to see and hear incredible artists doing more than playing parts he has dictated; for example, solos by his pianists Billy Childs and Geoff Keezer will be very different.
Modeling himself after Sting and Miles Davis, both dedicated to sharing the stage, allows Botti to bring variety to his shows. “You’re not just hearing the trumpet the whole time. You need to take the listener on this ride, and straddle between pop and jazz. If I played straight-ahead jazz, I’d lose half my audience,” he says.
He remembers two visits to San Francisco when audiences were unusually small. One was not too long after 9/11; the other was during the dot-com boom, when he arrived at a beautiful new dinner club, which was empty. He played for one cop before the place was shut down because it had no liquor license.
He enjoys the contrast between working large spaces, like Davies Symphony Hall (“I have a love affair with the San Francisco Symphony”) and small clubs, such as his annual holiday residency at New York’s Blue Note, where he’ll do 42 shows in 21 nights.
When not playing music, he finds time to do yoga every day and play chess online. He says, “A 12-year-old in India is kicking my butt now.”
IF YOU GO
With the San Francisco Symphony
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday
Tickets: $15 to $100