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The Thornton Winery in Temecula, southern California is now hosting the 29th edition of its “Champagne Jazz Series,” and while I might seem like a relative “newcomer”, I have been fortunate to attend shows for the last seven years, enjoying jazz icons like Lee Ritenour, David Sanborn, and Pat Metheny, to name just several. Now let’s add the name Boney James, not just to the list of great players to grace the Thornton stage, but also to the list of greatest entertainers of the contemporary jazz genre.
Born James Oppenheim, Boney James has an impressive resume as a sideman and session player for such acts as Morris Day, Bobby Caldwell, and Randi Crawford. It was on a Randi Crawford tour that the young thin sax player was given the nickname “Boney”, and it has stuck for 17 years. James recorded his first solo album in 1992, and has continued a long run of successful albums that include at least four RIAA Certified Gold. He has won a Soul Train Award, NAACP Award, and been nominated for four Grammys. His 16th album “Honesty”, released in August, just spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard jazz chart.
Boney James has toured constantly since the 90’s, and has distinguished himself as a headliner of most of the jazz festivals around the country. With his signature fedora and curly hair, this man knows how to work a crowd, although the 650 fans who packed the sold out show were ready to go from the first note. He performed favorites such as “After the Rain”, “Batucada”, “Sarah Smile”, “Cry”, and of course his version of Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” which remains one of the most popular songs in Contemporary Jazz. Boney also worked in tracks from the latest number one album “Honestly”, and his fans honestly loved every minute. Since he plays sax using a wireless mike, he is able to really move around the stage. His forays into the crowd had everyone on their feet, and more than a few appreciative ladies danced right onto the stage.
A special mention is deserved by the opening act, keyboardist Brian Simpson. Simpson has a string of Contemporary Jazz hits in his own right, and surprised the crowd by coming back to play keyboard for Boney’s set.
Thornton’s performance venue is actually their large terrace overlooking the vineyards. Considered to be one of the finest intimate venues in California, it’s just a great place to see a show with good views of the stage from every seat. Enjoying a Jazz show as the sun sets is truly special. Gourmet Supper packages are available, or you can order food ala carte. And of course the wine is excellent. Thornton is known for their sparkling wines, but offers nice varietals of both red and white. My discovery this show was the Viognier. Nicely chilled, and paired with a cheese plate and a smoked salmon sandwich, it made for quite a pleasurable dining experience.
The Champagne Jazz Series runs through October 14th, including artists such as Peter White, Marc Antoine, Jeffrey Osborne, Mindy Abair, Brian Culbertson, and Chris Botti. Check out the full lineup at www.thorntonwine.com.