It’s been four years since the lovely “Italia,” Chris Botti’s last studio album. Since then, there have been a well-received concert disc (the guest-star-laden “In Boston”) and a grueling live schedule that keeps the photogenic trumpet man on the road 300 days a year.
Botti, who turns 49 in a few days, came to major attention on a two-year stint touring with Sting. His solo career blossomed, so much that he emerged as something of a smooth-jazz sex symbol. Botti performs Sunday at the Orpheum Theatre.
Question: When can we expect a new studio album?
Answer: We’re about 80percent done on the new one. It will probably come out in late March. Our touring is so heavy it takes time to get things done.
Q: Will it have a theme like “Italia?”
A: I don’t think so. If there’s probably one thing I’ve learned from the success of “In Boston,” it’s that we can go from someone radical like Steven Tyler and follow him with Yo-Yo Ma. I want this same kind of variety (on the new album), with special guests from the worlds of classical, pop and jazz.
Q: That’s a broad mix — are your audiences equally broad?
A: We get bits of everything. I always say my audience is all colors between 9 and 19, and 35 and 90. The kids I get that come to our show are maybe opera singers or violinists or trumpet players, of course. When a (music) kid becomes 20, he checks out rock music. I wouldn’t say there is a whole mess of die-hard jazz fans. It’s more like people who are peripherally interested in jazz music. It’s not like we’re doing (Thelonious) Monk tunes.
Q: Do you hear “I don’t like jazz, but I like your music” a lot?
A: Very much. I think that has to do with the way the show is structured. You have really great musicians playing simple. A lot of times, jazz musicians are maybe not the greatest, and they want to play complex. Something I really love in jazz is when Keith Jarrett plays a solo piano. Sometimes when talent is simplified, it connects.
Q: Your shows are fun because you know how to talk to a crowd.
A: The obvious thing for people when I was starting out was, “Chris, you need to sing,” and it was because Chet Baker sang and you need to be able to communicate other than just through your instrument. I worked with so many great singers that I thought that would feel shticky. I don’t sing as good as Harry Connick Jr. or Michael Bublé, so why do it? But I can do something else by telling a story about the music and by trying to draw an audience in by highlighting how great the musicians are.
Q: Did you learn that from any of the singers you worked with?
A: Well, being around Sting for so many years and seeing the way he worked with his band and his ability to make sophisticated music so simple. … A lot of his stuff is quite heavy, and he’s able to get the audience looped in somehow. That’s surely something I’ve gone for. I’ve tried to recognize the paces of a show and the peaks and valleys. A lot of jazz musicians aren’t interested in that. They play a 20-minute solo, and they’re gone. It’s important to me that the audience gets taken for a ride.
Q: We spoke a few years ago, and you said you were essentially homeless and you loved the nomadic lifestyle. How is it now?
A: (Laughing) I must be honest. Two years ago, I did what every musician dreams about and bought a big, flashy house in Los Angeles. It’s the weirdest thing: The minute I get to my house, I really don’t know what to do. You know how a lot of musicians think they’re introverted onstage? I’m more out of my skin when I’m not onstage. So living in the house? I’m not necessarily sold on the concept.
Q: You’re a guy who is known for his looks as well as the music. Is that fun or a nuisance?
A: When nobody kind of knew who I was, it gave me a tagline. As time has gone on, there is a lot less made of that. Now, it’s “He’s the guy who played in Central Park with Andrea Bocelli and worked with Pete Townshend and wrote a song with Herbie Hancock.” Now there’s more talking points than “the blond trumpet player.” (Laughing) Plus, I’m approaching 50 next year. I gotta face reality and do something that has some sort of teeth.
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