Contemporary Jazz

Jazz Among The Vines

21 SEP 10 JONATHAN WIDRAN

For contemporary jazz fans in Southern California, nothing beats a warm summer or early fall afternoon down in Temecula Valley, a wine region an hour north of San Diego where Thornton Winery has hosted superstar artists at its popular Champagne Jazz series for over 20 years. Concerts are held in a spacious stone courtyard, where wine, champagne and a party atmosphere flow freely. Two consecutive September Sundays featured great artists from the Concord family -- Mindi Abair, Spencer Day and David Benoit.

Abair was paired perfectly with her opener, the talented, diverse and ultra-charismatic pop/jazz singer Day. Like Michael Buble but with far more original songs, Day wove cool anecdotes into a set of tunes like "Joe" and "Till You Come Back To Me" from his must-hear Concord Jazz debut Vagabond, as well as a few surprises. His charm won over my female companion who had never heard or seen him before. She said it all: "Sexy! Sexy! Sexy!"

Abair has been one of the genre's consummate crowd pleasers for close to 10 years, and it was great to hear her complement her famous radio hits with a whopping six tunes from her Heads Up debut In Hi-Fi Stereo. the best of these were "Girls Night Out" and two songs with soulful vocalist Ryan Collins, "Be Beautiful" (her song for breast cancer awareness) and "It's A Man's Man's Man's World."

A week later, legendary pianist David Benoit -- working with saxman Jeff Kashiwa of the Rippingtons -- complemented his always infectious hit parade with a spirited medley of songs from his Heads Up debut Earthglow, the most energizing of which were "Will's Chill" and "Botswana Bossa Nova." Other highlights were his tongue in cheek "Moonlight Sonata"/"Freedom at Midnight" mash-up and an encore of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" featuring his opening act, the brilliant young jazz ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro.

in this playlist.