I just returned from a Chris Botti live concert at the Orange County concert hall – the first time I have seen him live. It was done in conjunction with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and was a great event. Even though I sat in the highest section (waaaay up) and was a long way from the stage, I had a powerful set of binoculars so I could study the technique of Botti during the concert. I think that my findings should bring hope to all of us who feel that we are not doing everything according to “accepted” standards. Keep in mind that my observations are not in any way meant to be critical of Chris. He is an amazing player and puts on a great show. It was enjoyed by everyone there.
But, for comparison purposes, here are some of the things that I noted:
1. Chris plays a vintage trumpet – not one of the new mega-horns as well as using a vintage mouthpiece and mute. So, it is not necessary to have the latest hardware to be amazing. (Note: According to an article in Wikipedia and several other internet sites, he plays a Martin Committee trumpet but one poster here claimed it is a Handcraft Imperial.) Also, he uses a 1920’s Bach mouthpiece and an old Leblanc mute. The trumpet, whatever it is, is lacquered brass but is not in pristine condition – I could see lots of areas of missing lacquer and tarnish so he does not feel a need to have a shiny horn while playing. Also, he played the same horn for the entire show. He didn't switch to a Flugelhorn or a Piccolo or anthing else - just the man and his old Bb trumpet wowing everyone.
2. His embouchure is “old school” – he curls his lips over his teeth is a sort of modified “smile” embouchure – not the pucker style. Also, he plays with the mouthpiece off-center to the left and 75% top lip, 25% bottom lip (as far as I could tell). So, it is possible to be amazing without a textbook embouchure.
3. His face literally turns purple when he holds the long, high notes. He can hold those notes for a long time so he has learned to adapt. During breaks, when he puts the horn down, a red ring on his lips can be seen so he is apparently not a zero-pressure player.
4. He holds the trumpet very tightly with his left hand – it appears to be almost a “death grip” and he does not use any slide tuning that I could see. I have not seen a Committee in person but the photos that I have seen show an adjustable 3rd slide ring which Chris had removed. Also, I don’t know about a 1st valve saddle or trigger but his trumpet had neither. (Note: One description of the Committee indicated that is has very loose slotting which is apparently good for jazz and perhaps this feature allows him to lip the notes into tune without the need for adjustments.)
So, regarding equipment, embouchure, breathing, and intonation adjustments, he leaves all of us room for hope that we can play amazing even if we don’t fit the “standard” profile in every way. So, with that newfound encouragement, I’m off to practice.