After several years wondering what the “Temecula Experience” would be seeing a great Jazz act at Thornton Winery, I finally took the leap and drove from Los Angeles to see guitar legend Lee Ritenour. While best known for fine champagnes, Thornton Winery produces a great variety of wines both white & red, and for 22 years has been the home of one of the most successful Jazz and winery “pairings” in California. The concert venue is actually a Mediterranean terrace overlooking the Temecula Wine Country, and offers both general admission and reserved seating with supper packages. Both types of tickets are reasonably priced, and thankfully can be purchased with just a minimal service charge. After a friendly escort showed me to a table with a great view of the stage, I was ready for Jazz.
A product of Hollywood, California, Lee Ritenour is one of the best known and most respected guitarists not only in Jazz, but in all of contemporary music. Known as “Captain Fingers”, his career has spanned over four decades, and includes both bench mark solo recordings and Grammy winning collaborations. Perhaps best known by mainstream audiences for the adult contemporary standard “Is it You?”, Ritneour has over 40 albums and 35 chart songs to his credit. He was a founding member of Jazz supergroup “Fourplay”, and went on to record the critically acclaimed “Wes Bound” and “Twist of Jobim”, two of the best contemporary Jazz albums of the ‘90s. His most recent project, “6 String Theory” is a collaborative effort featuring guitar giants from BB King and George Benson to Steve Lukather and Neil Schon. It adheres to the same high standards, in fact “6 String Theory” has enjoyed 55 weeks on the Billboard Jazz chart and spawned a guitar competition now in it’s second year.
Ritenour had just three backing musicians, but each was a show in their own right, especially the legendary Patrice Rushen on keyboards. The almost 90 minute set included favorites from several past Ritenour albums, as well as two extended jams from the 6 String Theory project. Lee featured Rushen on her iconic “Forget Me Nots”, while also making sure to give his bass player and drummer plenty of time in the spotlight. Both made the best of it and after several standing ovations, the appreciative crowd demanded the band back on stage for a well-received encore.
Opening the show was saxophonist Jessy J. While best know to music fans for her monster Smooth Jazz hit “Tropical Rain”, Jessy showed herself to be both a competent vocalist and engaging entertainer. Who knew?
All in all, it was a great experience. The venue was beautiful, the staff friendly, the food good, and did I mention the wine? Try the Voignier 2009. The Champagne Jazz Series runs through October 15th, and features a truly impressive lineup of Contemporary & Smooth Jazz artists from Herb Alpert to Candy Dulfer. Take time to make it to Thornton Winery, you’ll enjoy any one of these shows.