Growing up in Corvallis, the song that changed the life of trumpeter Chris Botti was a Miles Davis recording of “My Funny Valentine.”
“That was real, real powerful for me,” Botti said, evidence of the musical territory and emotion that the trumpet could claim. He was 12 at the time and had been playing the trumpet for some three years, initially inspired by Doc Severinsen.
The Davis track was from a 1964 concert, featuring one of Davis’ typically top-notch bands, including pianist Herbie Hancock.
Flash-forward to 2011: Botti, now a musical star in his own right, has been invited to the White House to play at a star-studded state dinner to fete the leadership of China. There, Botti is asked to play “My Funny Valentine.” Sitting in on the piano: Herbie Hancock.
“How does a kid from Oregon all of a sudden find himself here?” Botti said of the White House encounter — another musical journey coming full circle.
Another of Botti’s musical journeys comes full circle next week, when he returns to Corvallis to play a pair of concerts with the Corvallis-OSU Symphony Orchestra.
It’s a calculated risk by the orchestra to raise its profile in the community. (See the related story at right.)
For Botti, of course, it’s a homecoming of sorts, although he was born in Portland.
In a quick telephone interview this week with Botti, who now lives in Los Angeles but spends some 300 days a year on the road, he recalled some of those early days.
After a couple of years in Italy, the family moved to Corvallis, where his dad taught at Oregon State. An early musical influence was his mother, a classically trained pianist and part-time piano teacher.
Botti said he forgot most of his English during those years in Italy, leading to some early struggles at Hoover School in Corvallis.
By the time he was at Crescent Valley High School, his trumpet prowess was such that he convinced school officials to let him essentially finish his senior year at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, known for its jazz program. It was an arrangement that let Botti play in Portland-area jazz clubs in the evenings.
Botti continued jazz studies at Indiana University, but left during his senior year for short tours with Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich. In 1985, he moved to New York City and eventually started making noise in the city’s studio scene: During those years, he worked with musicians including Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler and Joni Mitchell.
In 1991, he toured with Paul Simon and was in Central Park for the “Concert in the Park” event. A first solo album, “First Wish,” appeared in 1995. In 1999, he was invited to join Sting’s “Brand New Day” tour as a featured soloist, and Botti gives Sting the credit for much of his success: “He unlocked all the doors,” Botti said. “He’s become like my big brother.”
A jump to Columbia Records helped forge some of Botti’s breakthrough albums, with discs such as 2003’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep,” 2004’s “When I Fall in Love,” and a pair of collaborations with PBS: 2006’s “Chris Botti Live: With Orchestra and Special Guests,” and 2009’s “Chris Botti in Boston,” which included duets with musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Tyler, Josh Groban and Sting.
After his Corvallis dates, Botti and band head to Europe for shows in Russia, the Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland, all part of a brutal touring schedule.
How does he manage the pace?
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world,” said Botti, 48. But he added: “You get so much energy from performing.”
It’s helped that he’s worked with such a wide variety of musicians and has watched how they dealt with success.
It also has helped, he said, that he found success relatively late in his career. He’s watched some younger musicians become successful much earlier in their lives and has noticed that “some of them take their audience for granted.”
In Corvallis, Botti said, expect the band and symphony to tackle a variety of music: “The band is fantastic,” he said: “They’re just world-class musicians,” and the playlist includes symphonic selections to jazz and all the way to R&B workouts.
For Botti, of course, the Corvallis trip comes with an added benefit:
“It should be a real nostalgia trip for me,” he said.