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Easy on the ears & eyes

Jazz musician Chris Botti (and, please pronounce his name the proper Italian way, with a long O _ Boh-tee) gets as much ink for his sublime, romantic trumpet playing as he does his good looks. (Can a guy help it if he has a nice mug? And fantastic hair?)

Botti shrugs it off good-naturedly. He knows he's got the musical chops, as evidenced on his latest A Thousand Kisses Deep, and a passionate love for the instrument that Miles Davis turned him on to.

From his apartment in Manhattan, Botti, 41, answers 10 Pressing Questions about his music and his hair-care regimen.

1. Do you mind getting so much press about your looks?

I'm fine with it. . . . When you're a singer and you have lyrics and MTV and a bunch of ways to sell yourself, and to sell records to people, it's an easy thing to grasp onto, but when you're an instrumentalist, it takes something else. It takes your looks, or your political stance, or something, to try to reach out to an audience, if you're at all interested in selling a lot of records.

If you look back at the history of jazz, whether it be Louis Armstrong, who was this very jovial personality, or Miles Davis, who was this very brooding kind of moody guy, or Chet Baker, who was this matinee idol gone awry, they all had a personality that you knew.

Miles is someone you respect a lot. Is it fair to say he's your musical idol?

He's the guy for me who's had the most impact musically. I think he's the greatest jazz musician of all time. Some people would say Louis Armstrong, but for my taste, Miles Davis. Not only because he made great music, but because he took the trumpet _ which is a very, very difficult instrument _ and he softened it and made it very romantic.

Before he came along, most people were playing the trumpet in a real kind of bravado, over-the-top way, Louis Armstrong being a case. They would kind of project themselves through the trumpet. Miles basically introverted the trumpet. He brought it into his heart.

Is that why you tackle My Funny Valentine, too?

I first heard Miles Davis do it when I was 12 years old. There was a live recording of it from 1962. It was the first time I really experienced music that made me feel sad, but joyous at the same time. Because, you know, there is that edge between between melancholy and happy.

I knew right then that I wanted to be a jazz musician. Based on that one song played by that one performer. It was so powerful.

Your mom was a classical pianist. Was this a rather rebellious act, to go into jazz?

Yeah. She made me play the piano at 6 or 7. It was tough, getting up there and playing those scales. My feet couldn't reach the pedals. I really just didn't love the piano. So I think I probably saw Doc Severinsen on television and thought, "Oh that would be cool to check out the trumpet."

Once I got into the trumpet and started to put some hours into it, (I) realized at an early age that my tone was really good on the trumpet. That's what makes the trumpet so difficult is getting a sound on the instrument, it's much more difficult than people realize. So, by the time I was 12 or 13, I was pretty much set on living in New York and being a jazz musician. (laughs).

How is your mom feeling about it now?

Despair. (Laughs) No, she's fine with it now. She's been my biggest supporter throughout my life. . . . She kind of let me take a risk by being a musician. It's tough for parents when their kids tell them they want to be musicians. It's a real leap of faith. I'm grateful for her.

2. I read that you recently acquired a 1941 Martin trumpet. You compared it to a rare Jaguar or a Porsche.

Basically, all the great trumpet players, Miles, Chet, all played a particular brand of trumpet called a Martin, made in Wisconsin. When you find one of those, most of the time they no longer work. The reason there are 300-year-old violins is because there is no moisture in the instrument. When you play the trumpet, there's moisture coming from the body. . . .

Do you mean SPIT?

Yeah! Well, condensation, it's really not spit, but I hear what you're saying. Spit. But the instruments are really just eaten from the inside out and they fall apart. So to find an instrument like this, the rare kind that Miles played _ if you look on the front of Porgy and Bess and Kind of Blue, this is the exact model of trumpet he played. I found one from a collector. I've only had it for a couple of years, but I wake up every day and go, (whispers) "I can't believe I have this horn." It's just the most beautiful, warm. . . .

You hear about guitarists who, you know, sleep with prized guitars. Do you do anything corny with your Martin?

It's not in the bed every night, but sometimes in the hotel I'll, I'll . . .

Give it a little cuddle?

I'll kind of cuddle with it a little bit, yeah (laughs).

3. You grew up in Portland, Ore.?

Born in Portland. Lived in Italy for a few years, then I lived south of Portland in a city called Corvallis.

Is it real hippie-dippy there, too, like Portland?

Yeah, but the real hippie-dippy area is Eugene with the University of Oregon. It's like granola city there.

Was your family like that? Pretty leftist?

My father taught Italian at Oregon State University. They were about as leftist as you could be back then, not quite as radical as things there today.

Were you real outdoorsy?

(immediately) No, oh God, no.

Strictly an indoor boy, playing your trumpet?

I'm heavily involved in yoga.

That's the extent of your athleticism?

Nowadays when I go back to Oregon, all my friends are like, "Hey, man, we can go kayaking, or we can mountain climb, or rock climb" and I'm like, "Forget about it, take me back to New York where we sit in an outdoor cafe."

You love New York?

I LOVE it. Don't you? I love walking and looking at the buildings. It's freezing out right now and we have 5 inches of snow and it doesn't bother me. I live right in the city, Seventh Avenue and 20th Street, right downtown.

4. Is there any character in The Wizard of Oz you most identify with?

(laughs) What was the Tin Man? What did he want? A heart. The Lion needed courage . . . then there were the Munchkins (laughs). I identify most with the Scarecrow because in the record industry you really need a friggin' brain: (dramatically) "Why the heck am I doing this? What possessed me to do this?" (laughs)

5. If you had to eat one food every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?


6. What were you afraid of as a little boy?

(laughs) Country music.

7. How much time do you spend on your hair?

(laughs loudly) Are you serious?

What goes into your daily regimen? What products? It looks really good.

(laughs) This is hysterical. I spend no time on my hair.

Oh, bull.

I just wake up and go, "Fling!" and it's done. I throw some Aveda junk in it.

What kind of Aveda junk?

(laughs) Wow, you're kidding me!

I want to know.

Some pomade stuff, but I get it colored. I did that yesterday. So, that takes about three hours.

8. Okay, back to serious stuff. You've worked with Paul Simon and Sting and Joni Mitchell _ all by the age of 41. Who do you still want to work with?

I'd like to work with Keith Jarrett some day. I'm a big fan. It's like golf, there is only one Tiger Woods. Everyone can play the piano, but there's only one Keith Jarrett. I have so much respect for him, it's ridiculous.

9. When you were living in Italy, what struck you the most?

The style everyone has. I go back to Italy often now. When you see the people during their afternoon walks, the women all walk around the square together, chatting. The way they dress. I think that's what made me get into clothes when I was a kid. The style, the wine, the clothes.

10. Last question: Who's hunkier, you or Peter Cincotti?

(laughs) You've got to give it up to youth. I think I'm more hunky, but the girls will all like Peter. You've got to give it up to youth.