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Chris Botti

Trumpeter bringing his Grammy-winning ways to the Paramount

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:55 pm   ::  

Chris Botti's latest CD, "Impressions," has made a lasting impression on the music world, grabbing a 2013 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

He's racked up numerous Grammy nominations and industry awards over the years, but this smooth trumpeter keeps it all in perspective.

"It feels fantastic," he says of his Feb. 10 accolade. "I try to always tell myself that my Grammy Award is being able to walk onstage and have an audience. And so when you actually win the Grammy, you don't let yourself get too high or too low. That's what I've always said.† So here I am and I feel very, very fortunate and lucky."

He'll revel in that feeling when he walks onstage at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Friday night (2/22). He and his band will play a "mishmash" from his discography -- some cuts off "Impressions," as well the "In Boston" album recorded with the Boston Pops and other tunes he's written, arranged or covered over the years.

Along with "A-team" piano, bass, drums and guitar, he'll bring a violin and vocalist, too.

The details

Despite all of his successes, Botti, 50, realizes he's not a household name like instrumentalists Yo-Yo Ma, Kenny G and Chuck Mangione. He says thatís actually worked to his advantage as heís built his solo career, touring 300 days a year the past nine years.

"The odds of being able to get across to the American public -- or any public -- as an instrumentalist is built on talent, but you're trying to find a needle in a haystack -- that something that clicks with an audience. And then someone goes, 'I got that blond guy trumpet playerís album' or whatever, or they recognize my sound,Ē he says by phone from his home in Los Angeles.

"It takes so much longer than a singer, because a singer can just basically have a music video or a pop song and everyone's going to remember their name. I'm a musician that tours all around the world and plays really big places and I have no hits at all. I've never had a hit," he says.

"In a way, thatís been my biggest musical weapon -- to not have one particular hit that defines a year or a place in time. So I can just basically build up my audience gig to gig. I feel really, really fortunate to be able to do that."

He relies on his music to make lasting impressions.

"Ultimately, I want people to come out of that theater saying, 'Iíve never seen musicians like that.' "

He says he's worked really hard to surround himself with "incredible players, like the top top top that you can get on every instrument -- the violin, the piano, the drums, the bass, everything."

"When people leave (the concert), the only currency I have (is) are they entertained, do they feel like they would come back tomorrow? That's the best kind of thing I can have -- to have people come back the next year or whenever I'm back in town -- or the next night."

Appropriately, his Cedar Rapids concert comes in the wake of Valentine's Day, since his latest album is filled with love songs romanced by such top top top musicians as Vince Gill, Herbie Hancock, Andrea Bocelli, David Foster and Mark Knopfler. In previous outings, he's worked with Frank Sinatra, Sting, Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer and Joshua Bell.

While he says he's "single, sadly," he is romantic in music.

"Sometimes I feel like itís so much easier to show that kind of romance onstage or in music than it actually is in reality," he says. "I'm a big fan of a beautiful melody. That's what I like in music and what I've made my signature -- to play beautiful music and not be apologetic about playing beautiful music."

"Impressions" begins with his stunning arrangement of Chopin's Prelude No. 20 in C Minor, followed by "Per Te," featuring Andrea Bocelli, before spinning into a mix of standards like Gershwin's "Summertime," R. Kelly's "You Are Not Alone," some Latin and world flavors, then ending with "Over the Rainbow" and perhaps the most gorgeous rendition ever recorded of "What a Wonderful World."

The centerpiece of all the songs is the lovely, mellow tone of his 1939 trumpet, made by the Martin Company.

"God forbid if anything ever happened to it," he says. "I have some other trumpets, but I only play that one. It's not like a Stradivarius, it's not worth millions and millions of dollars, but to me, I have a very, very close relationship with it."

He's had it for about 13 years.

"A friend of mine brought it to a concert and said, 'Chris, you should play this horn.'† So I played it, and loved it. I played one note on it and said, 'Youíre not getting it back.' It has a beautiful, not edgy sound, but also, when you want to step on the gas and really put sound through the horn, it doesnít get bright and brittle. That's a rare characteristic in a trumpet."

Born and raised in Oregon -- to a concert pianist mother and linguist father -- Botti also spent part of his childhood in Italy. He picked up the trumpet as a child.

"Trumpet is such a difficult instrument, especially when you're a kid," he says, "but somehow I knew that it was just my instrument. I saw Doc Severinsen on television and I started messing around with the trumpet and liked it. It fit well with me."

His parents supported his musical pursuits, which took him to Indiana University before he set out for New York City.

"My mom and my dad allowed me to jump off the ledge and sink or swim," he says. "They let me do my thing, and that was probably one of the biggest things that happened in my life -- to enable a kid to do their craft."

He's come a long way since his starving artist days, playing Christmas carols outdoors along Fifth Avenue and 2 a.m. gigs in the Bronx, then being thrilled when he could pay his rent with money earned through his art.

"All those little steps led to a career," he says. "I did everything you could do. Every part of music, I've stepped into along the way. That's what makes me, ultimately, able to have massive success in my 40s and 50s. It makes me very appreciative of that journey."