Talent, smarts, looks—would be easy to hate this guy with a deep-green envy.
After all, he’s a genre-crossing trumpet virtuoso with 10 studio albums, the latest of which, Impressions, debuted in April atop Billboard’s Jazz Album chart, his third to occupy the top perch. He’s shared stages and studios with Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Sting, Yo-Yo Ma and Roger Daltrey. What else? … Oh, back in 2004, he was named one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People.”
Vegas Seven from his tour stop in Victoria, British Columbia, in advance of his July 6 appearance at The Smith Center.
Why was Miles Davis the jazz great that influenced you most?
I heard him play “My Funny Valentine” and within a couple of minutes I thought, I want to be a trumpet player for the rest of my life. I’d known trumpet players who played with big joy, Maynard [Ferguson] or Louie Armstrong or Doc Severinsen. When I heard Miles, that haunting, brooding thing, it resonated with me. It was when his chops were fantastic and he hadn’t ruined himself with his extra-curricular activities.
You toured with Buddy Rich. Did he live up to his mercurial reputation?
He was nasty, man. Yes, he was an incredible musician. … But I thought, if I ever got a chance to be a bandleader, I would try not to be that kind of bandleader. He would rule his band through intimidation. It was a militant dictatorship.
Did your collaborations with Sting offer better experiences?
He’s like my family now. I don’t have a career without his endorsement and belief in me, giving me breaks like letting my band open for his band. … He was on all my DVDs and sang on my records. Beyond that, it’s his work ethic, his ability to tour the right way, with focus and direction and discipline.
Do you mind being called a smooth-jazz artist?
If you listen to a smooth-jazz station now, it means adult—Sting, Sade, Tony Bennett, myself. I’ve had more success getting away from that. My new record goes from a Chopin piece to ending with Mark Knopfler, and in the middle is Herbie Hancock and Andrea Bocelli and Vince Gill. You can’t get a weirder cross-section. People would come to my show expecting it’s going to be some dumbed-down smooth-jazz thing, and they come out going, “Wow, I never expected that.”
You were quoted saying people tell you your music makes them cry or they fall asleep to it. How do you feel about those reactions?
I don’t want them to fall asleep in the audience or when they’re driving. But people come up to me and say, “I was diagnosed with cancer and your music gets me through.” I had a young man say he was serving in Afghanistan and something happened and it was so traumatic he was on suicide watch. One of the soldiers gave him an iPod with my music on it. He was breaking down in the autograph line, and it almost made me break down.
Are young performers well-served by American Idol and America’s Got Talent?
A young person is not entitled to be a star. There’s something brilliant about packing up your Volkswagen and driving from the Midwest to Los Angeles to put your ass on the line to fulfill your dreams. And those shows are basically karaoke, and you have to have a lot of versatility. Historically, artists who have longevity, most are not versatile. Can you imagine Paul Simon on Motown Night at American Idol? He would be booed off. Or Bob Dylan on R&B night? What makes Paul Simon so great is he does Paul Simon only. Those kinds of artists mean something in the world, long term.