Wine & Jazz: Making You Think

I think jazz and wine tend to go together so nicely because both have the capacity to make you think while at the same time soaking up real pleasure. It’s why art and wine are often paired.

I am a jazz fan. Yet too often "jazz in wine country" turns out to be a "smooth jazz" kind of affair in which a mediocre sax player sits in with a synthesizer while bad brie is passed around. There’s nothing in that scenario that makes one think while feeling, and nothing about it that can do anything to make the wine taste better.

But sometimes there is an inspired combining of Jazz & Wine.

Witness the final date at the upcoming Healdsburg Jazz Festival at which the great McCoy Tyner will bang his way across the keyboard in the fashion that only McCoy can. The venue will be outside at Rodney Strong Vineyards in the Russian River Valley at 3pm on June 11, a Sunday.

Tyner is a giant in the jazz world. He played piano in the the John Coltrane Quartet, perhaps the most influential jazz quartet to play in the past 50 years. But it’s McCoy’s personal and unique way of coaxing an explosive yet melodic sound out of the piano that makes him very difficult to copy. It’s almost as though he uses the piano as percussion instrument at times. I remember the first time I heard Tyner’s own unique sound. I was pushed back into my chair. I thought "Art Tatum".  No..the next track was Bill Evans, but a better Bill Evans. Then I started to listen closely and I realized I’d never heard such amazing, emotive, personal jazz leap out of a piano.

There are wines that do the same thing to your head. They are familiar, yet they are clearly something more and something original. A lot of people who have tasted Le Montrachet claim this experience. Robert Parker clearly has this kind of experience when he comes across a wine that hits his 98-100 scale. You can hear the elation and moment of revelation in his words. It’s the kind of experience devoted wine lovers taste for.

Tyner delivers this experience.

I saw McCoy Tyner in person for the first time at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland with my wife, Ginny, about 3 months months ago. He played a short set. But it was enough. What was fascinating is how generous he was with the other members of the quartet. To revive the wine analogy, he gave the same way a great wine gives when it is perfectly paired with a dish. You want it on its own, but are taken with the way it works subtly to provoke greatness out of it’s table companion.

I think great wine should, perhaps, above all, make one think as well as feel and be pleased. It’s no coincidence that our palate is located in our head. I know this is what great music makes us do.

The Healdsburg Jazz Festival looks to be a good one. But clearly everything about it is a lead up to the final date. You can purchase tickets at the above link.

6 Responses

  1. beau - April 5, 2006

    Wine + Jazz = one of life’s true pleasures. As I type this, I’m sipping Viognier and listening to Donald Byrd – Live in Paris. Good stuff, daddy-o.

  2. tom - April 5, 2006

    Byrd is a very versatile guy. You listen to his early then later stuff and it’s clear he could go in so many directions. Which is good, because it gives you lots of choices of wine to choose from to listen with.

  3. Jack - April 6, 2006

    Slightly off topic: But have you noticed that almost every upscale restaurant in Sonoma County plays Jazz? (33% chance Ella Fitz, 33% chance that real popular vocalist that is slipping my mind this second, and 33% something else.)
    But here’s the thing: 1 out of 33 people like Jazz music. Yes, just 1 our of 33. 3% Says something about the imagination of restauranteurs, eh?

  4. Christopher Watkins - April 17, 2011

    Greetings Tom! Can’t resist the temptation to send you a link to a recent post of mine; I realize this might seem a bit self-promoting, but I have a secret feeling you might get a kick out of the perspective evidenced therein; I remain perennially in your debt for having thrown the spotlight on one of my early wine and jazz posts, and I think you might appreciate a bit of this piece as well. Cheers as always for all your good works!

  5. Christopher Watkins - April 17, 2011

    Ugh, forgot the link! Please see below …

  6. Christopher Watkins - April 17, 2011

    Ugh again .. what I mean is, please click my name!

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