Romantic notes, jewel tones and a contagious enthusiasm were in the air at the the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall the moment Corvallis native, Grammy-winning trumpeter Chris Botti and the Oregon Symphony took the stage Saturday night, May 3. Forget the rain (and Rip City, for a moment), and settle in to the magic unfolding on stage.
Delicately, the Oregon Symphony and Chris Botti – with his band, including pianist Geoffrey Keezer who shared a big smile and fast fingers; cool and collected bassist Robert Hurst; dynamic drummer Billy Kilson; and Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo – began to dance. Together, they reinvented Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches,” with Botti hitting the high notes.
Throughout the night, Botti introduced musicians and told stories about his chosen songs from Miles Davis, Burt Bacharach and Sting, among others. Violinist Serena McKinney took the stage, gracefully echoing Botti until her presence gained undaunted momentum. When she finished her last long note, Botti shared one of my favorite comments of the night: “No Facebook post, Pinterest image, or tweet can really frame the beauty of this backdrop tonight with the Oregon Symphony.”
Having heard Botti three times, I agreed with him. There was something magical about the night. You could see it on every performer’s face and hear it in the audience.
One minute we were sitting on the edge of our seat looking for the next soloist with quick staccato notes and the next minute the mood shifted to soul-warming smooth tones.
The performance was personal and intimate. Mid-song, Botti removed his trumpet from his lips and asked his drummer, “Should I go loud or go high?” Billy gave thumbs up to going high, so the high note went on and on and on and on. Next to me, a woman gasped.
Together Botti and guitarist Amuedo played their version of Hallelujah. Next, Botti invited the gifted improvisational singer Sy Smith on stage. She challenged his trumpet and together they joyfully fought for the right to be heard. (All, while the Oregon Symphony created a beautiful backdrop.)
On a personal note, Botti explained how his mother had hired the number one trumpeter in the Oregon Symphony in 1976 – and drove him to Portland every week for lessons. He shared with us how grateful he was for her ability to know what was best for him and with that, he unexpectedly jumped off the stage, walked up the aisle and gave his mother a big hug and kiss — a lovely pre-Mother’s Day moment.
There, amid the audience, hanging with his mom, Botti began “The Very Thought of You,” a love letter. (Hand me a Kleenex!)
Botti introduced another talent during the Impressions Tour, Canadian George Komsky, who sang “Italia” and other classics. After the concert, I had the chance to meet George, who said, “I believe tonight was one of our best shows ever! We all got in early this morning and were completely exhausted. Just two hours before the show I could barely keep my eyes open. And then, the Portland audience shares this amazing welcome. To top it off, having Chris’ mom and family in the audience was just so special. I am so grateful for tonight!”
Combining jazz and classical musicians is unique because they speak a different language. As Botti noted, The Oregon Symphony conductor, Paul Ghun Kim, did a wonderful job of bringing them together effortlessly.
The next song, “Time to Say Goodbye,” featured soloists in the Oregon Symphony, as well as Botti’s charismatic, fast and graceful drummer, Billy Kilson. His tick-tick-ticking, shoulder pulsations and huge grin spoke louder than words.
After a (typically Portland) standing ovation, hundreds of fans waited in line to get a Botti signature and selfie. My husband and I let the sounds echo in our hearts as we enjoyed a post-concert stroll downtown.