Bringing Focus and Attention to Jazz and Wine


Branford Marsalis, the great jazz saxophonist and member of the remarkable Marsalis jazz family, is coming to Napa Valley. He along with his longtime pianist partner Joey Calderazzo will play the intimate Napa Valley Opera House on March 29th.

Jazz, like wine, remains largely an experience that is most fully appreciated by a relatively small sector of the American population, despite it being an original American art-form. While I wish more Americans would find greater pleasure in appreciating the intricacies, complexities and inspirations that are inherent in both wine and jazz, I understand the barriers to that appreciation.

What's really interesting about both wine and jazz is that for so many Americans both provide background to other activities, rather than being the objects of attention.

The number of people actually able and willing to sit in one spot for an extended period of time and absorb the chaotic balance of Mr. Marsalis or most jazz musicians from the Bop era forward are as equally small as those folks willing to sit in front of a 10 year old Pinot Noir and let its complexities and meaning flow over them. However, as long as the wine acts as a prop for their unattended hand and as long as the jazz is faintly in the background, most Americans will happily tolerate these things for hours on end…as long as they are not the focus.

I've never actually been able to fully articulate what it is that attracts me to Jazz. Yet I know instinctively that it is the best musical analogy for wine, at least as I and other geeks understand wine. The seemingly chaotic though integrated folds and movements of a wine that strike us at first taste can evolve and change over a short time as that wine is in the glass or as the bottle slowly empties over the course of an hour or two. The same is often true for jazz.

So often when I sit and listen to good jazz I'll find myself chuckling at the music for the way its course and direction can so playful shift in tempo and mood then eventually find an unexpected way to return to its original melodic themes in full force. I sometimes find myself listening and thinking, "Ok, how are you going to get yourself out of this transition and back…?"

There's nothing in the evolution of a fine wine that is so directed and purposeful as the course of a well rendered jazz tune, but there remains that moment of surprise when the wine evolves and takes the drinker down a new path that didn't seem open to the drink when it was originally poured. I like that moment.

Branford is a member of that most remarkable family that includes father Ellis and brothers Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, all jazz musicians of remarkable talent. They serve wine at the concession at the Napa Valley Opera House, but I sincerely doubt I'll have the intellectual wherewithal or skill for dual focus to concentrate on both at the same time. But a concert featuring Brandord Marsalis is no time to focus on anything but the music anyway.


8 Responses

  1. Ryan - March 23, 2012

    And his talents and creative contribution extends beyond traditional jazz as well…

  2. Edible Arts - March 23, 2012

    Another similarity between jazz and wine is that, at least for aged wines, no two performances are exactly alike. (Newly released wines from the same bottling can differ as well, but hopefully not as extensively). Opening a bottle that has been stashed away for awhile is as fraught with anticipation as wondering how a sax solo is going to rediscover the theme.

  3. Jerry D. Murray - March 23, 2012

    Some years ago while reading a book on the recording of “Kind of Blue”, I started to wonder about the commonality, not just between jazz and wine but, between the language needed to describe them. In both cases language must address texture, movement and time. So often wine descriptions fail to do so.

  4. Mr. Freeze - March 24, 2012

    “I sincerely doubt I’ll have the intellectual wherewithal or skill for dual focus to concentrate on both at the same time.”
    My God, man, unclench your keester and just drink it! You’re allowed a meaningless fling every once in a while.
    Now, on to more serious matters. Can you do something about the purveyors of Smooth Jazz and their Denigration Marketing? When they use Smooth Jazz to lift up their offerings, they do so to demean all other forms that, if not Smooth, must by definition be unSmooth. As in rough, prickly, scratchy. (It could mean nothing else; I checked the dictionary.)
    For the love of all that is holy, use your powers for good and end the madness.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - March 24, 2012

    Mr. Freeze,
    Too funny–and spot on.
    Kenny G, get thee behind us…

  6. Tom Wark - March 24, 2012

    Mr. Freeze,
    If I had it my way, “Smooth Jazz” would be altogether banned from the marketplace. That said, My guess would be many jazz musicians and a number of jazz lovers would agree that great jazz is decidedly NOT smooth and are happy to be implicitly called “unsmooth”.

  7. Jim Caudill - March 24, 2012

    Tommy, indeed….

  8. Christopher Watkins - April 8, 2012

    Tom, I KNOW you know how I feel about jazz and wine! Cheers for continuing to bring attention to this wildly valuable aesthetic comparison …
    Christopher Watkins
    Retail Sales & Hospitality Manager, Ridge/Monte Bello
    Host: “4488: A Ridge Blog”
    p.s. next wine blogger tasting at Ridge will be a celebration of Paul Chambers’ birthday, as well as the 3-year anniversary of our blog!

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