As a frequent traveler between Los Angeles and San Diego, I have watched the “sleepy” little town of Temecula, in fact the entire Temecula Valley, transform into a thriving wine community. Thornton Winery is a centerpiece of Temecula Wine Country, best known for fine sparkling wines. But it’s also a destination in itself, and for 22 years has been the home of one of the most successful Jazz and winery “pairings” in California. Last weekend’s show in the Champagne Jazz Concert Series featured keyboard favorite Keiko Matsui, and The Sax Pack.
Thornton’s concert venue is designed as a Mediterranean terrace and seats around 600 very comfortably. With views overlooking the Temecula Wine Country, each seat also offers a great view of the stage whether the seating is general admission or reserved. Both types of tickets are reasonably priced, service charges are minimal, and gourmet supper packages are available. It feels like a “date night” setting as most of the concert goers are couples, and the beautiful sunsets contribute to a romantic ambiance. A well chilled and exceptionally tasty 2010 Chardonnay adds it’s own “jen ne se qua”!
Japanese born Keiko Matsui has been playing piano since age 5, recording since 1987, and has 22 albums to her credit. Splitting her time between Tokyo and Huntington Beach, Matsui became a staple of Smooth Jazz radio. Then in a continuing expansion of musical horizons, she recorded albums both in the New Age and World Beat genre. Matsui’s Thornton Winery set showcased both her well known favorites and tracks from her latest project “The Road…” She charmed the crowd with stories of recording the new album, while performing on multiple keyboards. Her exceptional back up band featured saxophonist Jackiem Joyner, a successful recording artist in his own right, with three albums and two number one singles to his credit.
The “who knew??” surprise of the night turned out to be The Sax Pack, featuring Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole, and Kim Waters. Each of them are well known in Contemporary Jazz circles for their solo careers, but what they bring together as a trio is a burst of sophisticated fun. While their name might bring to mind a six pack of beer, they have a lot more in common with the legendary Rat Pack than with any collection of bottled brew. These three had the crowd laughing out loud at their almost savage repartee and dancing in the aisles to their funky jazz and R&B stylings. Kashiwa, Cole, and Waters each got their own moment in the spotlight, but again it was the musical camaraderie that made the show.
The two acts together gave the appreciative crowd one of the best concerts of the summer. A television executive who was enjoying the Thornton experience for the first time said “I’ve been to a lot of shows, and this one was exceptional!”
The Thornton Champagne Jazz Series continues through October 15th featuring such major stars as George Benson, Brian Culbertson, and Chris Botti. I suggest making a day of it by visiting charming Old Town Temecula for lunch and a casual stroll down Front Street.
Oh, and did I mention the wine??