One of the most romantic, and creative periods in musical history, can arguably said to be the 20’s-40’s. The period, a veritable fountain of creativity flowed everywhere, from writers to artists, Broadway songwriters and musicians. Perhaps then, it’s properly suited that the soundtrack, and name of this era, is a musical styling that has branched into nearly every genre since, wrapping tenderly amongst the roots of metal, rock and more.
A term coined appropriately by F. Scott Fitzgerald as “The Jazz Age”. The yellow cocktail music that poured beautifully from New York City fire escapes, house parties and train stations, the notes mingling amongst the smoke, dreams and stars. There is a indefinable magic to the genre, the playing requiring each member to bend from heartbreak to soulmates, narrate the weary, as well as the vibrant, all in a few beats.
At the Kravis Center on April 6th, this ability was demonstrated both beautifully and perfectly by Chris Botti & Co, transporting the audience from era to era, all while exuding a charisma The Chairman of the Board would respectfully tip his hat to.
This magic was beautifully attributed to by the Center itself, embodying an old-school elegance you only see in films and read about in books about the illustrious era.
Sitting on the second balcony, if you squint hard enough, you just may see the ghosts of cinema past, Katherine Hepburn waltzing up the grand staircase, her hand gliding as she waited for doors to open.
Sitting inside is a bit like being inside Grand Central station, the ceiling a bit like what the kid inside you would imagine being inside a music box to be like.
And as the key of the night slowly wound up to the night’s performance, a few examples of the genre played over the amazingly selected pre-show music, ranging from Sting (who Botti has collaborated with), Malcom McLaren and Imogen Heap, queuing the unspoken magic of jazz, which is, “There’s enough magic for everyone.”
This adventure began beautifully as the lights went down, and Botti and his band emerged, as well as one of the special guests of the night, violinist Sandy Cameron.
Cameron & Botti would join forces many more times in the night, demonstrating just a piece of their awe inspiring talents in the opener, and later in the Spaniard inspired “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor”, also showing the quiet & powerful capabilities of guitarist, Ben Butler.
The slow and powerful build-up continued into a demonstration of the entire ensemble, each perfectly complimenting the other without a need to outshine or show off.
The vibe was so perfect that at multiple points of the night, Botti stepped off to the side, ego checked, to showcase proudly just how well this band could play, building up to a Beatles, “A Day in the Life” like splendor, headed by pianist (and as Botti jokingly commented, Bradley Cooper lookalike) Taylor Eigsti, just in the 3rd song of the night.
Botti’s talent was rivaled only by his charisma, talking to the crowd in between songs to kid around, as well as giving insight into the inner workings of the band. Introducing back Cameron, Botti elegantly said, in response to his being asked ‘How does one get into the business’, “in the business, your most important currency is how impressive you are to other people that play an instrument.”
If this is true, then Cameron is most definitely the Hope Diamond of violinists.
As she shone both in person, wearing a beautiful jewel studded dress, and in instrument, watching Cameron play is like seeing a shooting star descend in slow motion, presenting a level of stage presence, grace & off the charts talent, later brilliantly showcased in her solo performance of the night, going from classic violin performances, such as “Flight of the Bumblebee” to a full-out band back-up of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, worthy enough to make Page & Plant join in the standing ovation from the crowd, and rightfully so, showing the sheer beauty of the instrument.
The star studded currency of sound continued throughout the night, with tracks such as a moving and beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (accompanied hauntingly by Butler) and “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, the background screen turning to red as Botti and his ensemble perfectly emulated the feeling itself, going from a slow croon to the beats and leaps of being in love, demonstrating the unspoken credos of music; which is ‘We’re all in this together’.
Another element that perhaps makes Botti an exceptional musician is the fact that he’s an equally exceptional person, with virtually no ego, allowing every member of his band to shine in a song all their own, poignantly adding “there’s a higher power that places them, and give them interest in certain instruments, and they become good at that instrument, major personality traits reign supreme.” a fact that is not only highly true, but largely unspoken. Continuing, he added that all great jazz bassists carry a large chip in their shoulder as there isn’t enough bass solos in music.
Botti joked that upon giving bassist Richie Goods a solo, “in front of the whole audience, he morphed into Mariah Carey”, demonstrated as he did a perfect impersonation of a diva hair flip after the mention.
This chip was hopefully soothed as Goods gave an amazing bass performance, the shine from his instrument lighting the audience in a golden rumble.
This amazing display continued into the next guest of the night, Sy Smith, entering with a cover of “The Very Thought of You” sung in between the seats of the audience as Botti dedicated, and played the track in front of, a member of the audience.
Smith’s vocals were strong, resounding beautifully through the hall, matched by an equally gravitational personality (at one point acting as Botti’s fingers on the trumpet, nailing in brilliant timing and dexterity), and a smile that is virtually contagious.
It’s hard not to gush, and write in length about each member of the ensemble as they’re just that good.
Each special guest seemed to surpass the other, such as George Komsky, a singer who acted as a Andrea Boccelli stand-in of the night, with the voice and quiet confidence to back it up, collaborating with both Botti on “Italia”, as well as joining Cameron on a moving rendition of “Con Te Partiro”.
The award for best playing of the night, would have to most certainly have to be a shared podium between Cameron and drummer Lee Pearson.
If you look on the biographies of some of your favorite drummers, you will undoubtedly find that 75% of them have studied some branch of jazz. Upon watching Pierson, you understand without a doubt why that is, as he performed a solo which would make most metal drummers blush.
Along with a perfect showcasing of how drum magic is done, making sound without letting the audience know you’re even touching it, a vast array of tricks and feats were included, including, but not limited to, a solo purely based on cymbals, bass drum, playing practically blindfolded, balancing a drumstick on his head while playing one handed and giving the impression that two drumkits were being played at the same time, as well as removing his suit jacket.
The art form was not only brilliantly executed, but inspiring, showing just what the drums can do, and just how talented the players behind it are as well as how much fun it is.
And that’s one of the biggest gifts Botti and his amazing band, and guests, gifted to the crowd that night.
As Smith came back out to deliver one of the last tracks of the night, a stunning cover of “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, you saw that fun spread throughout the hall and urged by the act, as patrons rose to their feet, and were even invited to pit-like feel to join in the front of the stage.
Jazz has always started in the communal, played in various seedy bars and lower-class apartments, inspiring the daydreamers of various cities.
Along the way, the genre was given a promotion, played in the glitz and glamour of the upper class and unwillingly sometimes shutting out the people who started the genre, those dreamers who hoped to touch the stars.
Botti busted open the doors of restraint, or animosity laden ambiguity, as he reminded the audience that jazz is for everyone. Music is for everyone. No matter your age, race, class or living, you can dance, cry and be inspired by this amazing, and diverse genre.
And as the dance party wound, leaving just Botti and Eigsti on stage to conclude the night with a track to be played “at a dingy nightclub in New York City at 4am”, and the classic “My Funny Valentine”, Botti took his bow, but didn’t depart.
Instead staying for a little bit to take pictures and sign for the patrons who had come to the front, a refreshing and awesome sight to see.
As Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon” played over the PA system, you can’t help wonder how the Ol’ Blue Eyes would feel seeing this.
And you honestly can’t help but feel he’d be proud. The neighborhood back together, and a new waiting potential of new board members, all playing in the fire escapes of their heart.
And the yellow cocktail music plays on…