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REVIEW: Chris Botti’s All-Star Variety Show (Dakota Jazz Club)

Trumpeter Chris Botti and his all-star lineup played at the Dakota Jazz Club last night, with five more shows to come over the weekend.

For those who are shy and introverted, the lockdown isolation of the early-stage COVID-19 Pandemic was tolerable, perhaps even welcome. But for someone like Chris Botti, who literally lives on the road (for many years he did not even own a house, sometimes performing 300 nights/year), to be away from live performances for so many months must have been a difficult trial. 

Less so his role models Miles Davis (on the trumpet) and Frank Sinatra (the first performer for whom Botti worked, just out of college). “I always thought,” Botti said in a recent interview. “Miles or Frank would sit down and drink martinis until it was time to go back to work.” While his role models might have been fine with that, Botti – one of the best-selling American instrumental artists of all time – is clearly more than ready to be back to work. At Thursday’s performance, the full house at The Dakota was equally enthusiastic about welcoming him back.

A publicity photo of trumpeter Chris Botti with his instrument.

Botti brings a pure and soulful sound to his trumpet that few have been able to produce since Miles Davis passed away in 1991. Botti paid homage to his role model with two pieces in the night’s set: “Blue in Green” and “Seven Steps to Heaven”.  The other now-Botti-standards during the evening included “When I Fall in Love”, “Hallelujah”, and “Someone to Watch Over Me”. Botti ranges effortlessly across jazz, pop, and also classical, as seen in the “Prelude No. 20 in C Minor” recording from his 2012 Grammy-winning album Impressions.

In interviews, Botti expresses deep gratitude for the way that Sting featured him, back when a young Botti was just a player in the band on the latter’s tour.  Botti has clearly been “paying it forward” ever since: his concerts are showcases for all the musicians and vocalists joining him. Last night was no exception – almost an all-star variety show, with many fabulous performances within each song and playful, almost joyous banter among those on-stage. 

In the early part of the set, the spotlight was on the dramatic violinist Sandy Cameron and the jaunty piano work of Holger Marjamaa.  In the middle of the set, the focus shifted to drummer Lea Pearson, Bass player Reggie Hamilton, Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, and star saxophonist Andy Snitzer (Pearson would also feature on the Encore song, “What a Wonderful World”, doing a half-joking Louis Armstrong imitation on the vocals). The end of the gig belonged to two vibrant singers, Sy Smith (“In the Wee Small Hours” and “Embraceable You”) and Veronica Swift (“There Will Never Be Another You” and “Moanin’”).

The set ended with Smith and Swift joining forces to belt out Earth Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star” – and the promise “We’re here all week.” That is true, indeed: Chris Botti continues at The Dakota today (Friday) and Saturday with performances at 7 and 9:30 pm, and Sunday at 3 and 7 pm.

Brian Bix