OK, for me, he’s just a smooth jazz cat who is great at dancing on the fence between jazz and pop. Just this year, he won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Being a friend and sincere Rattler (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University), it was up to me to secure tickets and hang with my college partner; plus, I had never seen Botti live, so it would be a new experience. Sunday night, we hit the Blue Note. We got there early at 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show, and the place was already packed and four-deep at the bar.
One middle-aged woman standing next to me noted, “I’m so glad I got in. There are so many people, and I drove in from Connecticut. A couple in front of me was from Australia and said they came in because of the long lines outside, ‘it must be a good show if so many people were on line.’”
The moment arrived. Botti and his quintet hit the tiny stage. They opened with a mid-uptempo tune, and one could notice immediately Botti does have a smooth, easy tone. His rendition of “The Very Thought of You” was truly outstanding. His sound was smooth as butter, with feelings that touched your toes, and vocalist Sy Smith was the icing.
His bio noted he really didn’t take to jazz until he heard Miles Davis playing “My Funny Valentine,” which could be why his repertoire is somewhat ballad heavy, and that isn’t a bad thing.
Botti’s band, which has been together for 10 years, is basically an intuitive machine. The members include; pianist Geoffrey Keezer, keyboardist Andy Ezrin, guitarist Leonardo Amuedo, drummer Billy Kilson, guest violinist Serena McKinney, and vocalists Sy Smith and George Uomsky. Botti, wearing a blue suit and tie, noted the band travels 300 days per year.
At one point, as the band went to the improvisation, a nearby person noted, “That’s not jazz.” No, it wasn’t. The guitarist had stepped into some funk, and the band didn’t let up. Their version of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” had some funk muscle with vocal assistance from Smith, who was dressed in African attire. Botti’s repertoire covers smooth jazz, pop and a tad of R&B.
The audience consisted of young folks, the middle-aged and those in between. He has managed to merge the genres of smooth jazz and pop. He has his own style—a mellow, mid-range bravado and high-pitched keys with a nice muted horn, probably practicing while listening to the perfection of Miles.
May everyone have a great, healthy and prosperous New Year. And for everyone I have met who honor me by saying you read this column, I am truly grateful. Please keep reading and swinging; jazz is our history and future, like this Black newspaper. Thanks for your continued support.