Wine Travel Adventure

Bay Area & California travel blog

Tag: jazz

Hot jazz in Vallejo? Yes, Vallejo!

Yoshi’s in Oakland is the center for jazz in the East Bay, but there’s another place that connoisseurs of the heirs of Bird, Dizzy and Duke need to check out: the Empress Theatre in Vallejo.

Vallejo? Yes, Vallejo, now the home of le jazz chaud. One might reasonably argue that Vallejo is the new Brooklyn of the Bay Area, a place that has been the subject of much derision over the years but that is now gradually on the upswing. The center of this resurgence is the downtown Empress, a small, intimate refurbished theatre with a cocktail bar, comfortable seats, and a top-flight, knock-your socks off sound system. Continue reading

A truly Grand Bar, Italian-style

By Dave Nelson

One of the greatest bars I’ve ever been in, certainly the biggest, was occupied at the time by just six people—the bartender, my wife and me, and three German nuns. That was a first, drinking with nuns. Of course, we weren’t actually drinking with them. They sat at a separate table. And they were drinking coffee, not wine. And they may not have been nuns, but they dressed like nuns and they spoke German.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

How we got to this bar, and what we did there, is a simpler tale. My wife and I were staying in Lucca, in northern Tuscany, and decided to make the two-hour drive to Modena, north of Bologna. Modena is where the world’s finest cars (Ferrari and Lamborghini) and most exquisite balsamic vinegar are made. I have no idea what the two products have in common but we heard Ferrari was giving away a free bottle of vinegar with every purchase of one of their 12-cylinder models. So we were intrigued.

We never arrived at Modena, however. Not even close. We started late and, just 20 minutes into the trip, we decided it was time for lunch. (Vacation schedules are such a grind.) But where to eat? We pulled off the autostrada at a town called Montecatini Terme. There we found not just lunch but one of the loveliest afternoons imaginable.

While trying to find our way back to the highway after lunch, my wife spotted what appeared to be a palace surrounded by ornate, manicured gardens. “What do you think that is?” she said.

A few right turns (and a few wrong turns) later, we found ourselves standing at the palace entrance. Nobody was there! No cars in the parking lot. No tourists. Was it abandoned? Closed? Private? True, it was a drizzly, umbrella afternoon but even the most overlooked landmarks in Italy are usually jammed in May, no matter the time or weather. Yet, there was nobody.

The Grand Bar 1aWe peeked in and saw the most astonishing promenade—columns, stained glass, tile, and frescoes, classic Art Nouveau architecture. We found an admission booth and a lone ticket seller. I asked her if the place were closed. No! What was this place? She told me it was a “terme” (TEHR-meh). The word, “terme” had not yet entered my Italian vocabulary so I didn’t understand her answer. But, hey, two euros apiece and we were in! Continue reading

While tasting in Switzerland, taste this sweet jazz festival

While you’re wine tasting in the Lavaux Vineyards this summer, you may wish to consider a side trip to a very tasty musical feast that’s practically in the same neighborhood: the 49th annual Montreux Jazz Festival.

Montreux Jazz, one of the oldest, biggest and baddest jazz festivals in the world, takes place in Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva, a half-hour train ride from Chexbres in Swiss wine country. The festival is a short walk from the Montreux train station, so taking public transport is the perfect way to go. Last year’s festival, dampened a tad by rain, featured Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams in the Auditorium Stravinski and Jack DeJohnette and other cool jazz players in the smaller Jazz Club and Jazz Lab venues.

The festival began in 1967 and has hosted countless legendary performances, including the brilliant 1969 set by Les McCann and Eddie Harris that helped established Montreux as a global jazz destination and became one of the best live jazz recordings ever made, “Swiss Movement.” Their rendition of “Compared to What,” with McCann on vocals and piano and Harris going off on tenor sax, remains as vital today as the day it was recorded.

Swiss Movement

The 2015 festival takes place July 3-18. Tickets go on sale April 17. Visit Montreux Jazz for more.