Live at The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
28 November 2010
Matinee (3:00 PM)
"This night was our best Botti experience yet."
Those eight words were the last I posted to a review on this site, and to the Official Chris Botti Forum. Those eight words were how I chose to end my Gig Review of the Chris Botti concert at the Ram's Head On Stage in Annapolis, Maryland back in May of this year. My, oh my those eight words do taste delectable. For tonight, I am eating those eight words. And then some.
To think it could get any better than it did back then. To think it could get any sweeter. To think Chris could get any nicer. I am confident in saying that as my wife and I walked out of the Ram's Head Tavern on the night of 10 May 2010, we felt satisfied that we had experienced the best that Chris Botti had to offer. How wrong we were...
We arrive at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, home of The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, in downtown Baltimore, Maryland at 2:30 PM for a 3:00 PM matinee show. The five of us - my wife and I, our two young children, and my mother-in-law - prepared for an afternoon of great music and memories. Anyone who has read my past reviews knows that my mother and father-in-laws joined us to take in the Botti experience when Chris and his band came to Hershey, Pennsylvania in November of 2009. That would turn out to be my father-in-law's last concert in this life. He passed on in February of this year. To say that things have been rough since then would be an extreme understatement. My mother-in-law, having lost her husband of more than forty years, has struggled through and survived as only a woman of great character and inner strength can. But it has been a weary nine months. Thus, I was surprised when she agreed to join us once again to immerse herself in Chris's world of music and friendship... this time without her beloved husband. But agree she did, and off we went.
We slide into the Meyerhoff amidst a crowd of literally hundreds of people, though obviously some not the die hard fans we are used to. While waiting for my wife outside the ladies room, I observe an older female standing in line, waiting patiently for her turn. She shifts on her heels and speaks to another woman behind her:
"Who are we here to see again?"
"Oh." Very long pause. "What does he play?"
One must understand that many patrons of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall are season ticket holders, thus the Chris Botti show is one of many in a package deal that dozens obviously received. This is how many patrons spend their Sunday afternoons:
"Church in the morning, breakfast at a nice restaurant, off to the Meyerhoff to see... oh, who knows this week! But I'm sure it will be fun!"
I simply smile at the thought that these ladies (and probably a few others) will soon be blown out of their seats by what they will see and hear. No doubt they won't forget Chris's name in the future!
We make our way through the crowd and into our seats in the Center Orchestra Section, Row W. Two seats in from the aisle, comfortable, plush seating awaits us. Though a bit cramped in the leg room department, the Hall is otherwise radiant. Sweeping balconies extend along the sides from back to front, rolling like waves toward the stage. Three levels extend toward the heavens, beckoning the sound upward and out through all sides. My mother-in-law moves into the row and snags the dead center seat. My youngest next to her on her right, then my wife, then my eldest and me. I notice that we are exactly dead center in the Hall. Equal distance to the stage in front as to the exit behind, and a straight on view of the stage. Barely in our seats for a minute when I hear a soft voice to my right:
"Are you ****?"
I turn to find a lovely lady standing next to me with her hand extended, a warm, welcoming smile spread across her soft features.
"I am Jody. From the Forum."
Through some previous Private Messages on the Botti Forum, I had forwarded our seat location to kcjazzcat in the hopes of meeting up and saying hello. I am on my feet and shaking hands all in the same breath. I introduce my wife, our little ones and my mother-in-law and we briefly exchange pleasantries. Jody is with a lovely friend, and both have been fortunate enough to see Chris perform here over the past two nights. I ask how those shows were, and nothing but accolades flow. Keeping our conversation brief - neither wanting to outstay our welcome, we shake once again and offer to meet up at the post show Meet & Greet. Jody and her friend glide down the aisle - no doubt to their front row seats! - and I am down again. Not a moment later, a man plops down right beside me and starts to speak:
"You're probably thinking you have no idea who I am..."
I cut in:
"Oh, I know exactly who you are."
It is Jeremy, Chris's intrepid Tour Manager and all around nice guy. He and I have only recently (earlier this day to be exact) exchanged some brief posts on the Botti Forum. But I am shocked to find him seated beside me, because I know for a fact that in none of those posts did I provide our seat numbers to him. This guy is good. How good would become vibrantly clear in less than one hour from this exact moment.
Jeremy pulls out a set of tickets - make that two sets - and fans them out in his hand as he begins to speak. I am not really absorbing what he is saying because I immediately calculate which upcoming show these seats must be for. It never occurs to me that Jeremy means to offer us better seats for this show, because... frankly... our seats are fantastic. I bring my mind back into focus to hear:
"... I've got two together closer up, and these two are to the left if you want. I am sorry I don't have five together..."
Oh my goodness, no. I couldn't. Strange as this may sound, I want to stay right where I am. With my family. I mean, my wife and I could move up... thus leaving my mother-in-law and our two kids. Or my wife and her mother could move up, thus leaving me and the kids. Or my mother-in-law and I could move up... No. It is far too generous of an offer, and I cannot accept. But how do I convey this to Jeremy without offending him? The offer is so generous, and to turn him down might send the wrong message. I bite my lip and speak softly:
"Oh no Jeremy. Thank you so much but we are fine here. These seats are great."
Jeremy smiles knowingly:
"But he can't even spit on you here!"
"But my mother-in-law..."
Jeremy places a hand on my arm and smiles. All is well. He rises to leave, but before he goes we exchange some brief conversation regarding a question that I had posed earlier on the Forum. The query answered, Jeremy departs with a sunny:
"Enjoy the show!"
I watch Jeremy make his way to the side of the stage and disappear into the catacombs. So much has happened in the span of five minutes and the show has hardly begun! But if I am making the mistake of thinking that this is all that will occur to dazzle me this day, I am to be severely shocked.
Just then, Jeremy appears on stage as the lights dim. My eldest grabs tightly to my arm and smiles. She can sense the anticipation, and her joy fills me with pride. Only six and she is swallowing as much music as her soul can digest. Jeremy makes the usual announcement and we are underway.
The countdown to an unknown and unforeseen surprise has begun...
AVE MARIA: Here comes the man himself, Chris Botti, waltzing on from stage right. Looking somewhat slimmer than when we last met, decked out in the customary black suit, crisp white shirt and black tie, his polished horn reflecting the stage lights in a dazzling array of shimmering fire. I wonder briefly how good of a view Jody is getting as Chris softly announces the first few notes. Somewhat slower than previous versions, this one sells nonetheless. A quick glance to my left reveals tears in both my wife's and my mother-in-law's eyes. A memory of my father-in-law's viewing creeps into my subconscious, and I remember that we used the CD version of AVE MARIA as the background music for the slide show of images of a strong man many years before sickness and heart problems took their toll. Snapshots of a life set to AVE MARIA. I am deep in this somber place when THE NOTE strikes. If I told you that Chris has found a way to make THE NOTE even longer, would you believe me? If I told you that Chris extends THE NOTE for so long on this day that I stop counting the seconds because I become breathless watching his effort, would you call me a liar? Circular breathing be damned. Botti is not breathing, his horn is. It is as if by exhaling into the beautiful instrument, Chris is actually inhaling into his soul. Just know this: You don't have to believe me. You can call me a liar. But you would be desperately wrong in doing so. The man does this and more, and if I am being completely honest... Chris Botti is still playing THE NOTE as I write this! The house becomes a mass of applause, cheers and cries of ecstasy. A simple smile from Botti, a bow and up comes...
WHEN I FALL IN LOVE: I notice almost immediately that Billy Kilson's drums are much quieter than usual, and not because of any lack of force on his part. Gotta be because it's a matinee. Must not have wanted to scare anyone. But I say bring it on, Sir. Bring it. This crowd can handle it. Watching Chris during this song, I take notice of a strange phenomenon, one I have never seen before. During a few of the more energetic parts of the song, Chris's face is becoming redder and redder. Not an angry, violent, pissed off sort of red. More like an intense, focused, passionate kind of red. He is really working today. This redness... this passion... will continue throughout the entire show, as if Chris is out to prove something. What that could be is not immediately clear. But as the song (and the show) move further and further into the sublime world of near perfection, I begin to wonder if Chris is perhaps trying to win over the "Season Ticket Holder" crowd. It is almost as if he overheard the same conversation that I did between those two neophyte ladies in line at the restroom, and he is staking a claim to their ears right here and now. Chris Botti is saying - for all in attendance to hear: "Listen up folks. My name is Chris Botti. I've been doing this a long time, and you better pay attention because there is a reason the BSO chose to add me for a three night stint in their house. So sit up straight ladies and gentlemen and repeat after me. CHRIS BOTTI! That's two T's!" Though I doubt Chris would ever allow himself to be so aggressive. So he lets his horn do it for him. Kilson's drums seem to have sharpened up by the time his solo comes around, but I am so fixated on the idea that Botti is yelling at the crowd through his horn that I barely notice. Red faced and smiling, Botti brings the song to a close and begins to address the audience for the first time. He introduces Billy Childs and makes a few comments regarding the fact that everyone in the hall has chosen to forgo a Baltimore Ravens football game in order to be present with him. A game, I might add, that I was supposed to be working at this very moment, but chose to skip just to see Chris again. (I work every Ravens home game in uniform on an overtime basis, patrolling the area of the fifty yard line on the concourse level and basically getting paid to watch the game from the best vantage point possible, blah, blah blah. Botti is better.) Anyway, the small talk done, Chris bring on the slender Caroline Campbell for...
EMMANUEL: I have seen it done with Campbell. Twice. I have seen it done with Micarelli. Twice. Any way you cut it, any violinist you put into the mix, it always comes out perfect. That is the genius of Chris Botti. The guy knows exactly who to use for every song. Dressed in a long red dress (not sure if barefooted or not) Campbell sways and shimmers as her instrument swells and ebbs. Rarely does this song cause goose bumps for me. I don't know why, okay? But today is the exception. I am shivering by mid-song and shaking by the end. Stunning. Kisses from Botti - on both cheeks - and she strolls off. Just in time for...
FLAMENCO SKETCHES: Five chords. Six musicians. And my youngest falls asleep. About mid way through the song, my wife taps my arm and points to her left. My youngest in balled up with her head on the seat, almost doubled over, sound asleep. Don't take offense boys. She's four. And she did not have a nap today. Hell, she fell asleep at the Mark Knopfler concert back in May during SPEEDWAY AT NAZARETH, a song comparable to a freight train colliding with a nuclear power plant. Towards the end of the song, Billy Kilson and Mark Whitfield are trading blows like two boxers duking it out in the title bout. I have visions of bowling balls slamming into pins, bats cracking fastballs, and all manner of smashing, banging and clanging. A cacophony of sound mixed with sheer precision on the parts of both Kilson and Whitfield. Masterful. Then Chris brings on a new vocalist whom I have never had the pleasure of listening to. Ms. Lisa Fisher ushers in...
THE LOOK OF LOVE: She is tall. Amazon tall. At least six feet. Her caramel skin is smooth and absorbs the light in a way that seems to fill her entire body with a glow. And her voice? Man, oh man... her voice. She uses her instrument in ways impossible to understand. At once dropping into a register that would make James Earl Jones blush, followed by a soaring flight into the upper reaches of human expression, Ms. Fisher displays clearly why The Rolling Stones have been utilizing her vocal skills on tour for the past eighteen years. I did some singing in high school and college during my theatre days, and the one thing I remember most is being told that one can always tell how good a singer is by the distance from their mouth that they hold the microphone. The idea being, the further away they hold the mic, the better their ability is to project their voice. Well, by God there are times during Ms. Fisher's performance (of not only this song but the next two) that she nearly drops the mic on the floor, (and I don't mean to imply that she loses her grip, I mean to state that she lowers her arm below her waist line on purpose) and her voice is a powerful and as clear as if she were kissing the microphone as deeply as a lover. Now that is talent. This power continues through...
THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU: Chris not only dedicates this song to a woman in the audience associated with PBS (thanking her for the endless support shown during the promotion of his LIVE IN BOSTON CD/DVD) but both he and Ms. Fisher venture into the audience and serenade the woman up close. The stage is bathed in a mixture of blue and green light, and I am overcome with the sensation of being underwater. Not an uncomfortable feeling, though. More like the feeling I experienced while floating on my back in the warm ocean just off the shore of Jamaica when my wife and I visited there on our ten year wedding anniversary in 2009. We would slip into the ocean during the hottest part of the day, lie on our backs with our eyes closed, spread our arms out to our sides and let the water fill up around our ears. Once encased in the quiet cocoon of bath-water-warm salt water, we would float almost to the point of slumber, the salty water washing occasionally over our lips. My wife called it her "happy place." The combination of blue/green lights, Ms. Fisher's voice and Botti's soothing trumpet transport me right back to that spot, and I know as I sit here that I have found a new "happy place." I am still floating as the band starts...
GOOD MORNING HEARTACHE: This one moves so quickly - the tempo sped up slightly from previous versions - that I barely have time to slip out of my blue/green coma. The song is over before I know it, and all of the band members depart the stage except Chris and Mark. I turn to my wife and mouth the word Hallelujah. I know by the fact that only Mark remains on stage with Chris, and I know by the fact that Jeremy has told me on the Forum that this song would be played today. What I don't know is the thunder shock of a surprise that awaits me...
HALLELUJAH: It must be clearly understood that this song holds a deeply personal and somewhat painful place in my soul for any of what I am about to impart to you to be of value. It must also be expressly understood that neither Jeremy nor Chris Botti have ANY IDEA that what I am about to tell you ever happened. Very briefly, my mother died of cancer in 1986. I was fourteen years old; she was one week shy of her forty-second birthday. I was by her side when she took her final breath. There have been a few songs during the past quarter century since that crushing day that have moved me with regard to this occasion. One is Chris Botti's live version of HALLELUJAH from the LIVE IN BOSTON CD/DVD. From the moment that I first heard that performance, it has seared itself onto my heart. And each time that I listen to it (not too often because I sometimes just can't take it) it burns a little deeper. Like a branding iron. And on each of the three previous occasions that my wife and I have attended a Botti concert, I have waited and wished for Chris and Mark to play it. To no avail. But as I said, Jeremy has told me via the Botti Forum that it will be so on this day, and as I listen to Chris describing the various versions of the song, I begin to day dream. I hear the story about Chris listening to Justin Timberlake performing his version - which he and Mark immediately dismiss as not up to their standards. I hear the SHREK reference. And in my day dream I fantasize about hearing Chris say the following:
"You know, we've received a lot of requests for this song to be played, especially today. In fact, there is a person in the audience today that requested we play this. He is a Baltimore Police Officer by the name of ****, and we'd like to dedicate this song to him. Where is ****?"
I am thoroughly enjoying my little fantasy scenario in which Chris Botti singles me out of this huge crowd and dedicates this song to me, when I suddenly feel my wife's hand squeezing my left arm. At this exact moment, I am blasted out of my dream world (like a swift kick below the belt) and into reality as I realize that every single word that I have just fantasized in my head was actually being said on stage! Allow me to clarify: What you just read was not fantasy. Chris Botti is standing on stage, his hand drawn close over his eyes to shield the glare of the stage lights, searching the audience... FOR ME! I leap to my feet without thinking and raise my hand in a wave. Chris is unable to see me, and asks:
"Can we bring up the house lights? Where are you, ****?"
Unable to process all of this, I shout the only thing that comes to mind:
"You're the man, Chris."
The house lights begin to glow, and suddenly I am standing smack dab in the center of the floor, surrounded by hundreds of Botti fans, receiving a salute from the man himself. Chris says:
"****, this is for you."
As I return to my seat, Mark mentions something to Chris about unpaid parking tickets, which draws a few laughs and this response from me:
"I got your back!"
And then they play it. Not a sound is uttered from the crowd. Not a whisper, a clap nor a whistle. Each note flows forth in an uninterrupted series of hushed tones that sooth and weeps. I am shuddering. Sobbing. I am right back in my mom's bedroom where she drew her last breath. In the seat next to me, my eldest daughter shifts toward me and wraps her arms around me in a comforting hug, the kind only a child can render. And as soon as it begins, it is over. On this day, not a soul makes a move until both Chris and Mark have slipped their last notes out into the hall. When they do, I rise to my feet and applaud softly. It. Is. Flawless.
Here is what happens next:
CINEMA PARADISO: Good song, but I am officially done. For me, the show ended when Chris and Mark played their last notes on HALLELJUAH, and I have subsequently lost my ability to accurately report anything further!
CAROLINE CAMPBELL VIOLIN SOLO: Like I said, done. Got nothing for ya' except that at some point during this solo I turn to my wife and ask:
"Did that really happen?"
"It did." she says with a smile.
INDIAN SUMMER: Ummmm yeah. Something happens here on the drums, but I am lost in another world.
ITALIA: Whatever. Good song, blah, blah, blah. Look folks, I am spent here, okay? Like Bob Dylan said: "The human mind can only stand so much..."
NESSUN DORMA: Over and out.
The post show Meet & Greet is short and sweet. I approach Jeremy in line and clasp his arm. He turns to me as I say:
"I know that was all you."
He just smiles. Jeremy tells me that he mentioned me to Chris prior to the show, but he is showing no signs of bragging. The guy is just that nice.
I should stress here that no specific request had been made on my part. I simply posted a comment on the Botti Forum in which I stated that I hoped that Chris would play HALLELUJAH. Jeremy took it from there. I say that to illustrate just how thoughtful and considerate this group of people are. Jeremy took a simple comment, made with no intentions of going further than that, and put forth such thoughtful effort to make one fan very happy. And, of course, Chris brought it all home. I mean, it’s one thing for Jeremy to mention my name to Chris. It is something far greater for Chris to remember it through most of the show, and then make the effort to dedicate a song to little old me. I am humbled. What did I do to deserve this? I almost hesitate to even mention it for fear that others will feel slighted. Just know that it was the single most enjoyable moment of any concert – Botti or otherwise – that I have ever experienced.
Our turn with Chris is upon us, and my wife hands Chris the CD booklet from the A THOUSAND KISSES DEEP album, which he signs. He is seated behind a large table and looks a bit weary. Must be from all of that “red faced” trumpeting! Then Jeremy says to Chris:
“This is ****”
Chris looks up… and lights up. He smiles a broad smile and reaches out to shake my hand. I turn over my DVD cover from the NIGHT SESSIONS concert and shake his hand. I am shaking as I say:
“What you did… I am speechless. Never in my life have I been without words…”
Chris looks me hard in the eye and says:
“Thank you for all that you do.”
I want to say the following, but it just doesn’t come out:
“No Chris, thank you for what you do. I may protect lives, but you save them.”
Boy that would have been a good line, no? Chris then signs the DVD cover: To **** Thank you.
There is one last exchange between Jeremy and myself that bears mentioning. While waiting our turn to meet with Chris, I whisper to Jeremy:
“You know, he ruined it. I mean, how can I ever see Chris perform again? How do you top this?”
Jeremy just smiles and says:
“Oh we’ll top it. Don’t worry.”
You know how you guys can top it? Pick someone else out tomorrow night in Pittsburgh and do the same thing. Give them what you gave me. Then do it again in the next town. And the next. And the next.
As for me… I’ll never see Chris Botti live again. How can I? After all... "This night was our best Botti experience yet."
Yeah right. Haven't I heard that somewhere before?
THE SET LIST:
WHEN I FALL IN LOVE
EMMANUEL - FEATURING CAROLINE CAMPBELL
FLAMENCO SKETCHES – FEATURING JUSTIN KISOR
THE LOOK OF LOVE – FEATURING LISA FISHER
THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU - FEATURING LISA FISHER
GOOD MORNING HEARTACHE-FEATURING LISA FISHER
HALLELUJAH - DEDICATED BY CHRIS TO ME!
CINEMA PARIDISO - FEATURING CAROLINE CAMPBELL
CAROLINE CAMPBELL VIOLIN SOLO
NESSUN DORMA - FEATURING ENTIRE BAND PLUS JEREMY ON DRUMS
The signed items: