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Chris Botti makes a stunning impression with San Francisco Symphony, go tonight!

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Chris Botti "Impressions" tour at San Francisco Symphony

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Chris Botti plays his second of two “Impressions” concerts tonight at the San Francisco Symphony with his own long standing jazz personalities. Fans will see many differences between the new award winning CD and the live performance, the big difference being the conductor Steven Reineke and a big band sound behind the groove illuminated by a host of vibrant young talents. Opening night guests experienced violin soloist Caroline Campbell, sexy Sy Smith on jazz vocals, opera tenor George Comsky and jazz pianist Taylor Ecksley.

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Band Botti

Billy Kilson, Botti’s long time drummer, could probably steal the show with his antics and charisma. Kilson put on an athletic show of his own, powering through in his crips white shirt. Ben Butler in casual weathered black, the guitarist from Australia, played some lovely Spanish melodies besides going rock star with Kilson, leaving the audience energized and wanting more.

Botti announces the show from the stage and plays a dazzling array, love songs ranging from a soft and free spirited, light hearted “La Belle” sung in French by Sy Smith, seated; to what is popularly known as the theme from "Shrek", the reverent “Hallelujah”; to West End high theatricality with “Time to Say Good Bye” for an encore.

Face to face with Botti

On that note, Botti delighted a long line of fans who waited patiently to get his autograph on discs, CD liners, the ticket, the program. He came out after the performance in a black leather jacket and a little red round mark on his upper lip. It’s from his trumpet, he said modestly he normally covers it with makeup but he didn’t have any, and he looked around at those near him. All I had was my new lipstick. You will see that the red mark on his lip does not match my “walnut” colored lipstick. That is me, however, holding my “Impressions” liner which he autographed “To Cindy” CB.

I was last in line. I waited until I could get that photo with the handful of signed liners, including “Italia”, “When I Fall in Love”, “December” and “Chris Botti in Boston” where he sings with Steven Tyler as well as Sy Smith and Sting and many others.

Tony La Russa and his wife Elaine sat in the middle row at the end of the aisle of row K. Botti actually greeted the couple during a song when he and Sy had strolled up the aisles. Botti mentioned the La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation in Contra Costa County, which places dogs in foster care. Back in about 1990 when I taped my own features, the La Russas were my first guests and I taped them in their own backyard in the foothills of Mt. Diablo. I kicked a ball around for Res, their dog.

“Tony is the best manager in the world” he said.

“How am I doing?” Botti asked.

La Russa as most know is half Spanish, half Italian. Botti’s father was Italian and he spent some time in his father's homeland when younger.

“How is your Italian?” I asked Botti after the show after all the autograph seekers had left. He looked down shyly and answered in Italian.

“Va bene” I said and finally, “grazie”.

He has such soft looking white skin, the skin of somebody Scandinavian or Germanic who works at night and indoors. Yet his tone seems so genuine, if not boyish and sweet, relaxed if not docile, completely natural and unaffected with each person who came up and spoke words of pride and adoration. Not surprisingly some women asked for a kiss. He was sitting down so women and children could reach him. He also shook hands at his own initiation and posed for pictures with children.

A personable and consummate professional

That approachability, his manners. That excellent ear and eye and the ability to create original sounds with diverse artists would be Botti’s gift besides his own trumpet performance. He acts like a teacher of sorts. The man shows a talent for leadership, fostering young musicianship and his own band members individually; Botti’s bringing out the qualities of others and himself with deft arrangements, pairings and pacing. It’s not an act, that was my impression.

That said Botti invites a host of young and good looking talent to the stage who differ from the talent on the CD but pay homage to them. Botti’s performers perform with the symphony all around them but separated by transparent partitions on stage. The audience sees the vast San Francisco string section with some complementary brass, about sixty performers all together on stage at once. It’s bigtime, roof raising star power. So, whether you are a longstanding fan of the 51 year old six foot blond blue eyed jazz trumpeter from Portland or have never seen him before, he puts on a rousing and beautiful show ranging from tenderness and sweetness to full blown brass.

His guests add so much range and color to his performance how can this veteran traveler ever get jaded or even tired, even with 300 days a year for ten years on the road with the same band. Caroline Campbell opened the show with Chris. She’s an eye-opener to say the least, as stunning and lovely in appearance as she sounds with her violin. She’s almost as tall as Botti and wore a form fitting black lace sheath, strapless, with her long blond hair cascading down her back in soft waves. She looks young and aristocratic while he looks worldly and cool in his black suit and black tie, the jacket remaining buttoned the entire concert. He never breaks a sweat but only takes a seat briefly toward the end.

Campbell along with young opera tenor George Comsky let the music cascade through the symphony hall in swirling currents, the notes gently rolling, crashing, wave after wave breaking and rising again. Campbell makes an enrapturing performer and a fresh new face although she appears with Botti on his Grammy winning new CD “Impressions”, on “Oblivion”. It’s a sexy pairing of feminine strings and masculine brass. Comsky in contrast adds a powerful and driven European male flair, the opera singer in no need of a microphone. It was homage to Andrea Bocelli, who appears with Botti he often has, on Botti’s CD “Impressions” with “Per Te”.

Campbell joined Botti for a song he performed that was meant for the movie “Troy” with Brad Pitt but had become the subject of a controversy between the songwriter Gabriel and the movie company that fired him. Botti played peacemaker and performed the piece, saving the baby from being split in two. Campbell received the music the day before the performance with Botti, Tuesday. The two played it once he said. The song title means eternal love and it does have an epic sound as if the heralded bond was meant to be sounded by the trumpet like something Biblical.

Botti also pays tribute to David Foster whom he met in 2007. Botti said at the concert Foster led him to his long standing association with Bocelli. Botti plays Gershwin’s “Summertime” with Foster on the CD.

Note Botti played no Christmas music, just tweaking the audience a little, playfully tooting a few bars from a Christmas song once.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band will present another Creole Christmas at Davies Symphony Hall soon.

Related: CBS SF: Best Holiday Celebrations in the North Bay 2013

Brian Copeland's new solo show for Christmas, "The Jewelry Box" in SF

Bay Area Cabaret in the Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel with Jim Brickman

Tickets range from $45 to $100. One intermission.

Parking vouchers and ticket info here.

Easily walkable from Civic Center BART, one tiny bike rack outside the lobby.

Grove Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin, across from the opera house
San Francisco
(415) 864- 6000

For more stories by this writer check out CBS San Francisco's website under Eye on the Bay, San Francisco arts & culture "Best Of"; and San Francisco Arts & Culture on Examiner.com. Subscribe by hitting the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article.

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