It seemed fitting that singer, songwriter and jazz saxophonist Mindi Abair kicked off Thornton Winery’s 24th-annual Champagne Jazz Series Sunday afternoon.
Both Abair and the Thornton family clearly know how to turn a concert into an experience.
Under shaded alcoves and surrounding a Mediterranean-style fountain, nearly 600 came to groove and dance to the spirited music of Abair, a petite, platinum-blonde who told the audience she was wearing her dad’s embellished ’70s-era jeans.
Abair, a kinetic force on stage and a solid entertainer with an intense stare, was joined by her impressive band comprised of drummer Jamey Tate, keyboardist Rodney Lee, bassist Derrick Frank and guitarist Jay Gore. She also was accompanied by contemporary jazz guitarist Jeff Golub and former Ambrosia front-man David Pack throughout the 2-hour-and-20-minute concert that included a nearly 25-minute intermission.
“I look forward to this all year,” Abair emphasized to the audience more than once, calling herself the “luckiest person in the world” to open the series that features nationally and internationally recognized jazz artists.
While flashing smiles and creating an almost rock concert-like feel on stage while playing pop-tinged, upbeat jazz, Abair made an impression with the sassy opening number, “Any Way You Wanna,” her morose rendition of “Summertime,” and her rocking cover of her encore, “Pinball,” during which she made her way into the audience.
“I think saxophones are coming back,” Abair said at one point. “I think it’s cool again.”
She should give herself credit for that if it’s indeed happening. Abair’s distinctive energy and youthful, rocker style recently was displayed for millions as she accompanied “American Idol” contestant Phillip Phillips during the Top 7 finalists rounds. Abair’s inspired on-stage performance was noted by judge Steve Tyler after she accompanied Phillips on seductive renditions of Maroon 5′s “Give a Little More” and Usher’s “U Got It Bad.”
She performed on previous “American Idol” season, as well, when she was the featured soloist with Paul McDonald and Idyllwild’s Casey Abrams.
Abair also recently performed on “Late Night with David Letterman” on April 3 and 4.
But lucky for Southwest Riverside residents, Abair performed two sets full of her music, covers and the music of her friends, such as guitarist Jeff Golub, who turned heads with his controlled, quieter bluesy moments, such as on “Freddie’s Midnight Dream” off his “The Three Kings” album.
“Every real bluesman has a hat and a story. I’ve got both,” said Golub, who is perhaps best remembered for performing with Rod Stewart on four albums and five world tours.
Abair’s friend David Pack crooned the nostalgic Ambrosia number “How Much I Feel” and “Biggest Part of Me” with his clear tenor vocals and falsetto.
Many found time to dance during these numbers after indulging in the winery’s Gourmet Supper Package that attendees may chose when attending any concert of the series. The package includes a reserved table under a covered patio and a three-course meal paired with wine prepared by executive chef Steve Pickell.
Whether enjoying the supper package or sitting around the fountain in the general admission seating, a unique experience is to be had at Thornton during their jazz series that features incredible talent at such an intimate outdoor venue.
To purchase tickets for upcoming concerts like Chris Botti, Dave Coz and George Benson, call 951-699-3021, visit thorntonwine.com or text “Champagne Jazz” to the winery at 55469.
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