In The Presence of Greatness
Finding yourself in the presence of greatness can be a near overwelming experience. I’m not talking about walking into an elevator and finding yourself hip to hip to Tom Cruise. I’m talking about experiencing the kind of transcendent greatness that is almost only delivered by those rare artists that build steps for others that no one knew previously could support the kind of achievement these artists deliver.
I saw the 81 year old Oscar Peterson perform last night to a sold out crowd at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland, California. Peterson has been accused, like Mozart in "Amadeus" of playing "too many notes". Clearly he could not have laid his fingers on enough of them last night to satisfy me or anyone else in the crowd.
Peterson travels by wheelchair these days and is accompanied by an aid. A stroke a few years back nearly ended what was unquestionably one of the greatest artistic careers music has ever created. But he bounced back. Shuffling across the stage to a huge grand piano, Peterson made his way with an occasional nod to the standing audience. Even beneath the thunderous applause for him as he made his to his instrument, you could clearly detect the held breath of those who, like me, hoped he would make it across the stage.
There is very little that can be said about Oscar Peterson without repeating past honors. His huge hands move across the keyboard with an effortless grace that makes it all the more amazing when those notes and commanding melodies and and modal tones envelope a room. There is no indication of age or stroke or slowing down when Peterson plays the piano. His fingers and hands appear to be infused with a memory that prevents any obstacle from getting in the way of his art.
I’ve yet to experience with wine an occasion that I could so clearly describe as "being in the presence of greatness." This is particularly true after being reminded of what I mean by that idea last night as I sipped on a couple of Manhattans and watched this virtuoso.
I’ve drunk great wines, wines that are honored by their singularity (Petrus, Grange, ’74 Martha’s Vineyard, etc). But it’s not the same. While winemaking can surely be described as an art, it is not an art that we see continually evolving and not one that continually reaches new heights. Nor do we generally see a wine or winemaker help redefining the art the way Peterson, Monk, Coltrane, Tatum and the others in that pantheon have.
This is not so much a knock on wine-as-an-art, but rather an acknowledgment that as an art, wine has its limitations.
It doesn’t appear that Oscar Peterson does.