Article by Norman E. Hill and Photos by Maralyn D. Hill

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Champagne Jazz Concert at Thornton Winery

September 9th, 2012

By Norman E. Hill (Photos byMaralyn D. Hill)

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and…”  At Thornton Winery’s 24thAnnual Champagne Jazz Series,John Thornton looked over the outdoor setting and said, “this will be the concert of your life.” He was right.

Two virtuoso smooth jazz performers were featured consecutively, Earl Kluge, a guitarist, and Kenny G on saxophone. With Kluge’s 75 minute set, a short break and Kenny G for nearly two hours – this concert at 3 ½ hours was definitely the longest and, arguably, the best concert I’ve ever attended.

Kluge’s band is comprised of four members: Lee, Finney, Cox, and Nelson Rangell – expertly alternating between sax and drums. Ear-catching highlight? Rangell’s drawn out whistle and an extended drum solo.

Kenny G and his ensemble made a noteworthy entrance – working his world-class magic from the back of the outdoor crowd – gradually, deliberately working his way up to the podium and his band members. He lived up to his reputation as a master showman during this audience walk. He would do this again later, this time up to the audience situated in the bleachers. Everyone had a closeup of legendary Kenny G in Temecula that day.

Music fun-fact delivered on the event program: In 1997, Kenny G was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone. Amazing! During one of his sets, one of his notes surely came close to that record in beautiful, long drawn out fashion.

Kenny’s band members have, in most cases, been with him for over 20 years. They were Robert Dempson on piano, John Raymond on guitar, Daniel Batterano on drums, Ron Powell on percussion, and newcomer Chris Golden on bass. Powell was masterful on percussion.

Right at the start, G announced that he would give away one of his saxes to a winning number.  The delighted winning couple came to the podium and stayed there to listen to one of the selections. He continued a love affair with the audience by saying he would stay awhile after the concert to autograph his CDs that were purchased by concert-goers.

The concert was deservedly sold out – what a memorable way to celebrate a California mid-summer evening.

There was more to music this evening – dinner from award winning Cafe Champagne included a starter of fig salad, an entrée of short ribs and roasted garlic potatoes, and dessert of chocolate trilogy and raspberry coulis. We were greeted with Thornton’sMéthode Champenoise champagne (their specialty!) and each course was paired with a selection from the vineyards. While we both always enjoy the champagne, Maralyn’s favorite on this night was Thornton’s standout 2010 Barbera.

For me, the food, wine, and world class performances of Kluge and Kenny G make this a concert one that will be forever remembered.