Weekly Online Interview Magazine
Chris Botti: Believe in yourself and roll the dice
Music + Sounds

Chris Botti: Believe in yourself and roll the dice

Named world’s best trumpeter, American musician Chris Botti opens up about the intimate relationship with his instrument and the true love of music.

What jazz can teach us about life and love?

– I think learning an instrument can teach you to not be afraid to do one thing great. A lot of young kids these days want to do many different things and they have many different distractions. Playing an instrument will give you some grounding point to do one thing great. For me, I focused on jazz music. I just basically forgot about everything else or did away with it. At a certain point, you’re committed to something to an extent that you would do anything, and I’ve always been that way since I was a kid. I was really committed to practicing music, very, very ambitious and dedicated as a young person to my trumpet, and so it was many hours a day, many, many hours a day that I practiced. I never said to myself, “If I don’t succeed in music I’ll sell real estate.” I always thought I’d keep at it, or die trying. It helps to be young and naive.

…And you never gave up.

Back then when I was playing on the street and doing horrific gigs in bad neighborhoods, I was really enthusiastic and blinded to the reality. Now, more than ever in the music industry, you have to be very certain it’s what you want. Drive is the most important thing. Talent can be shaped and manipulated — Joni Mitchell used to say, “Musicians are 1 percent talent and 99 percent crazy” — but if you don’t have drive, you’re never going to have a career.

In what other ways has jazz transformed your life?

– It’s a never ending relationship with my instrument, practicing everyday. Trying to get better at my craft of music and make records that people love. And that’s the most important thing to me right now in my life.

Joni Mitchell used to say, “Musicians are 1 percent talent and 99 percent crazy”—but if you don’t have drive, you’re never going to have a career.

What’re your rituals on creativity?

– Every day I practice. My practice regiment is the same as it has been for the past 25 years. I do the same routine that I learned from my trumpet teacher, William Adam, who I studied with in college. It’s very disciplined with long tones, arpeggios, chromatic scales, classical exercises, etc… to make sure that I’m flexible and that the apparatus is working on the trumpet. Then the jazz aspects take over in more of a fluid and elusive way, but the core of the trumpet technicalities need to be tended to daily

You have toured and recorded with the likes of Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, Sting, and even the Chairman, Sinatra himself. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from any of them?

– One thing Sting taught me was that “you have to believe in yourself and roll the dice”. What he does and the way he conducts his life, I try in many ways to emulate. It’s based on being on the road a lot, the dedication you get from music, performing the music, landing in a city and getting straight to yoga, maintaining the practice, all those sorts of things that I have picked up from him have helped me enormously in my career.


Chris Botti, Sting, Yo-yo Ma, Dominic Miller – Fragile

Tell us what happened when you first met with Sinatra.

– Sinatra, I was just so in awe of! I was only really with Sinatra for two weeks. With Frank Sinatra, we were the opening band and he used Buddy Rich’s horn section to be his backing group so, he was more removed. I didn’t drive around in a bus across the country with Frank Sinatra, we just did this one section of gigs in L.A. The brief handshake I had with him and being able to see him work was amazing. What I remember was how he engaged the audience. If you ever look at any of his old concert footage, he was always kidding around with the audience, engaging them. And then half the time he and Sammy Davis, Dean Martin and Don Rickles would be kidding around with each other as well. It was pure entertainment, heckling each other from the bar, the audience or whatever. The fans would feel like they were let into “the club,” that we were included! Old school stuff!

You took home a Grammy two years ago for best pop instrumental album. What has changed in your career?

– I don’t think much has changed. It’s nice to have the acknowledgement but to be honest, having the ability to walk on stage and perform every night is my true Grammy Award.

Is there a particular song that never fails to move you emotionally?

– I think that the ability to listen to music as a song has hurt so many things in music. You have to listen to an album, a tone, an artist, so I would respond by giving you my favourite album – Keith Jarrett “The Melody At Night, With You”

You have an intense performance schedule. What does it like to be living out of a suitcase?

– We’re on the road 300 days out of the year and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t have a life outside of my music. I mean it sounds crazy to say but it’s really sort of the truth. I go speak to young people all the time, and say ‘if you really sure you want to be a touring musician, then you have to really love it and that means you may not be able to have a dog and a plant and a cat, and you know, relationships can be very difficult, but the upside is so fantastic. I have found myself in the last ten years being in this constant orbit and I love it!

Do you ever miss the feeling of being at home?

– Never! ☺

Do you have any travel rituals? Things you can’t travel without or places you love to performs etc.

– Well, I used to have a little bit of sake before every show but now I’ve curtailed that quite a bit. I don’t have any rituals but I will say that the most important thing is to make sure to practice everyday. You can slip up once and take a long trip to China, that takes all day and when you arrive you decide you’re too tired and you don’t’ want to practice. Then, the trumpet will make you feel very humiliated quickly so my real ritual and something I won’t shy away from is putting that horn on my face everyday.


Photo credit: Erik Almås / Genlux Magazine

What is the state of jazz, in your opinion, these days?

– Jazz is forever changing and evolving so I try to focus on my trumpet and my fans. As far as the state of jazz…I don’t involve myself with it. My only concerns are “Do I have a growing audience?” and “Are my fans at my concerts enjoying themselves?” and as long as these two things are taking place, I am more than happy.

Describe your ideal live music experience.

– There is nothing more immediate than playing a live show and when those people get up and they walk out of that theater and they’re buzzing and they feel that they’ve been moved emotionally that’ the greatest thing in music. The other things are more delayed you record a record and then it doesn’t come out for six months and then it takes a long time to know if people like it. But when you do that show and people come home and go wow I just thought I was going to see a trumpet show and I had no idea it was going to be like this or I cried or I laughed or it was entertaining. Those are really big compliments for me and keeps you going on the road.



Follow on Instagram