Saturday, June 25, 2016

Chris Botti sticks it to me…twice

So call this the resurrection of Late to Jazz.

Back in April, we drove up to Nashville to catch our third Chris Botti show. Chris continues to try and build his reputation with an electric show of stunningly talented musicians playing an eclectic mix of jazz standards and less often heard songs, calling upon a diverse group of singers and soloists to add spark and interest and surprise. In Nashville, the biggest surprise was the appearance of young pianist Taylor Eigsti, an up and coming virtuoso who is recognized almost as much for his good looks as for his stunning pianistic skills. Of course, Sy Smith made an appearance, and the ever reliable Richie Goods, who I met a few years back, holds down the rhythm section.
L-R: Taylor Eigsti, Chris Botti, Richie Goods (Nashville)
Speaking of rhythm, Chris seems to have parted ways with his longtime drummer Billy Kilson, a percussionist of limitless talent who many, including myself, would have considered irreplaceable. But the man taking over the stool, Lee Pearson, is a force of musical nature unto himself. Besides incredible technique and force, he brings an originality and unique approach to his playing that adds so much more dimension to the music. His solo, utilizing everything from mallets, sticks, castinets, and even his hands, elbows, and head, leaves anyone who knows anything about music and drums just shaking their heads in amazement.
Sy Smith, Lee Pearson, and drumsticks during pre-flight.
Of course, he plays so fanatically, drumsticks occasionally go flying. And being in the front row, they end up tantalizingly close. Chris even picked one up and handed it to me. Then, with one laying on the stage as they strode off after their encore, I yelled to Lee to toss me the stick that was laying in front of his bass drum, and he did! We hung around just long enough to still be stage side when Lee came out to clean up a bit, and he was kind enough to sign the sticks. We almost got a photo of him doing so, but our goofy Nikon picked the wrong mode to use for the shot. (It does that a lot.)
Provenance: Lee Pearson signing a drumstick. Blurred image and lack of focus courtesy of our point-and-shoot piece-of-shit Nikon.
Then two weeks ago, we traveled to Atlanta to see Chris again, this time with Joshua Bell doing a classical bit up front, followed by a shortened version of Chris’s show with Joshua putting in a couple of appearances. Lee again did his solo, also a little shorter, with two sticks flying at the end. I was in the second row and this time, Chris just kicked the sticks to the front edge of the stage, well removed from me. At the end of the show, I casually wandered over there and asked the guy doing the breakdown if I could have the sticks. He said, “I’m sorry. They aren’t mine to give away.” Then he kind of looked away and said, “But I didn’t see anything.” I said, “I heard that,” and picked up the sticks. Just then, I noticed an usher at the end of the row heading toward me. I thought about hiding the sticks, but there was no sense, since he’d already seen me grab them. He said, “Those will make a really nice souvenir for someone.” I told him that I asked for them and that anyway, it was my second set from Lee. He just said, “Oh really?” and left it at that. I mean, I guess he figured that at that point, I wasn’t going to put the sticks back, they didn’t need to be put back, and somebody had to pick them up.
The mixed pair of drumsticks from the Nashville Chris Botti conccert, signed by Lee Pearson
So I’ve got four of Lee Pearson’s drumsticks.

The Atlanta concert, by the way, was the debut concert of a tour that Chris and Joshua are doing together. The classical bits that Joshua did with the orchestra were sort of in a traditional vein, with a bit of modernity thrown in with some lesser well-known pieces on the theme of the four seasons. (The show started with Vivaldi’s “Spring” and “Summer”.) Joshua kept it light, more or less setting the stage for Chris to rock out the place.

Joshua Bell and Chris Botti (Atlanta)
Chris’s numbers are definitely getting repetitive for me, but he continues to demonstrate incredible mastery of his instrument as his musicians help him and each other to dazzle. Geoffrey Keezer, who I also met acouple of years back, was on piano, and he was sensational and bluesy as always. He actually was another highlight of the jazz set, as he seemed to be crafting some edginess and surprises to throw in at unexpected moments. I think part of it was that he could see the orchestra, so he was helping his bandmates stick with the orchestra with musical signals. I noticed Lee had to keep turning around a lot and motioning with his eyes, head, and occasionally arms and hands. I won’t say the orchestra was missing their cues, but I think the conductor, Maxim Ashkenazy may have been a little out of his element.

L-R: Geoffrey Keezer, Chris Botti, Richie Goods (Atlanta)
Still, it was a great privilege to attend the first ever Chris Botti/Joshua Bell 2016-17 (?) tour concert, and we had a really great time in Atlanta. And I got four bashed up drumsticks for good measure. Not a bad deal all around.