One overarching theme in Robin D.G. Kelly’s wonderfully detailed biography of Thelonious Monk traces how the perception of the jazz pianist and composer morphed from weird outsider to elder statesman. Monk (whose compositions included “Round Midnight,” “Straight, No Chaser” and “Crepuscule for Nellie”) played what was, at first, perceived as strange, dissonant music. But he gradually developed into a familiar figurehead who later was passed up by increasingly more radical players.
Reading it, I could not help thinking of the current war of words in the wine world over style. Specifically, the reaction to Monk’s music reminded me of comments in the media and online that rich fruit character in wine is the enemy. Some people believe the cost, in higher alcohol levels and what they see as a homogenization of taste, overrides the sense of pleasure most wine drinkers get from wines that taste primarily of the grapes from which they are made.
Monk was among the original gang of musicians experimenting with what became known as bebop, a form of jazz that relies on technical proficiency and speed (think Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie). Monk never bought into bebop, however, and throughout his career, stuck to his own personal form of jazz. It came directly from Harlem stride piano, unusual voicings and an open embrace of dissonance as its own form of beauty. As time went on, his music seemed a lot less harsh than the music of those who took dissonance much further, including Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor and the late recordings of John Coltrane.
Granted, the parallels are imperfect here. What is the wine equivalent to dissonance in music? Is it the high alcohols in today’s ripe wines, or is it the earthy, muddy, decadent flavors in the wines favored by the anti-fruit brigade? We all have our preferences, and it’s human nature to be intolerant of things that take a different path.
For me, something’s missing when a wine’s fruit character is lacking. I do like a hint of earth or decadence, but not if it’s more akin to waste products. A big whiff of barnyard is a big plus for others; for them, a wine that sings of fruit is humming too simple a tune.
Frankly, I can dig Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” as much as anyone, but I never could get into Dolphy’s atonality, especially not while reading a book or having dinner. For jazz piano, I always was a Bill Evans fan. He combined phenomenal technique with an ear for complex, even dissonant, harmonies that somehow never seemed jarring.
In the end, it’s the tone of this debate that reminds me of the virulent diatribes by traditional jazz fans against any advancement in the music. It all sounded the same to them. To those who championed the new music, Bill Evans was boring because he actually honored the chord changes and melodies.
In wine, the anti-fruit crowd sees the prevalence of fruit-forward wines as a sea of sameness, while the rest of us see subtleties to appreciate. We get plenty of pleasure in these wines that taste of berry, plum and apricot.
The world of wine is large and diverse; from my own tastings, I can assure you that this is so. If you can’t find a wine with the flavor profile you like, you’re just not looking hard enough.
Richard Gangel — San Francisco — March 1, 2010 5:56pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 2, 2010 11:06am ET
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel — Wine World — March 3, 2010 1:08pm ET
Richard Gangel — San Francisco — March 3, 2010 1:55pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 3, 2010 2:03pm ET
Dominic Passanisi — Los — March 4, 2010 12:43am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 5, 2010 11:48am ET
John Brody — Montreal Canada — March 8, 2010 11:28pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions