Acclaimed jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson, 46, is a two-time Grammy nominee for Kindred with Stefon Harris and Into The Blue and has performed at some of the world's most prestigious concert halls and international jazz festivals, from the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center in the United States to the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, to the long-running Monterey Jazz Festival to the big annual events in Montreal, Holland and the Italian town of Perugia in Umbria.
Born in Berlin, Terrasson grew up in France and now lives in New York. Inspired by his parents’ love of music, Terrasson first showed an interest in the piano around the age of 5. His father, who played classical piano, pushed him to practice every day. (“An hour of scales as soon as he'd come home—and it paid off, you could say,” recounts Terrasson.) His mother, who had worked for an interior decorator who redid Miles Davis’ apartment, contributed to his jazz education, telling stories about the famed jazz musician and playing recordings by Bessie Smith, John Coltrane, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday and other greats. Terrasson’s first professional gig was at age 17. In 1993, he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, which was followed by his first recording with Blue Note Records, Jacky Terrasson, released in 1994. He has since released a total of 14 albums and says that what he plays today is not strictly jazz: “I like to express feelings through the piano. My classical background adds to the palette and gives me more choice.”
Terrasson also has a growing passion for wine, which he fuels on his frequent tours in Europe. He recently sat down over some jazz LPs and a bottle of Gigondas to talk about his love of music and wine.
Wine Spectator: How did you get interested in wine?
Jacky Terrasson: My dear, dear grandfather, who made it to 91. He got me into wine. At every party, he would show up with one of those little wire carry baskets with six bottles of wine. He would put five out for the party and then give one to me and say, “Keep this one for later.” I love how he talked about wine.
I loved him so much, I measured the distance from his lower lip to his nose and had a wineglass custom-made for him. I didn't know what the heck I was doing, but it seemed like the right idea. I have no idea where that glass is now.
WS: What kinds of wines was he bringing to the parties?
JT: I remember L'Evangile for sure. And there was another Bordeaux called St.-Christophe. He was definitely into Bordeaux, both great names and ones you didn't know.
WS: So your grandfather instilled a love of Bordeaux in you. But do you have other wine favorites?
JT: My grandfather would keep pulling a bottle of Haut-Brion out of his cellar, and he would tell me “This is my last one.” And this kept going on for years. As he got older, he couldn't drink as much, but every bottle was his last one, so that was funny. But yeah, with him, it was mostly Bordeaux and that's what turned me on first.
But I like all kinds of wine. Burgundies from Chambolle and Morey-St.-Denis, and Pinot Noir from Alsace too. Spain, Italy. In Italy, I find it difficult to pick the good ones. There are so many appellations, I find it crazy. I just know when I'm sipping something great. In Spain, I love the way they approach wine, the way it's so part of the culture. At a tapas place, you'll see all generations sitting there and you'll see cheap to expensive wines on the tables. From 18- to 72-year-olds sitting there with a platter of jamon or calamari. And there's a guy whose job is a ham cutter. I mean, like, hell yeah! I just love that stuff, man.
WS: What's the best wine you've had lately?
JT: I had an '04 Château Latour à Pomerol that I didn't know beforehand. Wow. [pauses] There was a smoothness about it. The nose was incredible. I've usually been a St.-Estèphe or St.-Julien guy as I like a more robust Cabernet. I haven't had too many Pomerols. So that wine really messed me up, man. It was like meeting a new girlfriend. It was a real discovery. It had an elegance and power at the same time. The lack of robustness made it more interesting. I didn't know wines could be delicate and deep at the same time.
WS: You played a concert at Château Palmer in Bordeaux. How did that come about?
JT: They were getting ready to celebrate the '09 vintage and [general director] Thomas Duroux wanted to start doing some events. To be honest, I was very nervous about it. I didn't really know what to do. But Thomas was cool. He said, “Just come over and see the terroir and go from there.” So I visited, tasted and walked through the vineyard with Thomas. And I really got into it.
What really nailed me though was tasting all the separate parcels of what eventually goes into Palmer. Everything tasted good, and I kept asking, “Why don't you make a wine just from this?” But at the end, Thomas made the blend there and did his magic. And after two glasses of Palmer, playing was a little easier [laughing].
What was interesting was I tried the grand vin and then the Alter Ego (the château's second wine). I know the grand vin is the better wine, but I was more touched by the Alter Ego and more inspired by it. It was more accessible, more shareable. And wine is about that.
WS: How is wine like music?
JT: There is really a close relationship between improvised music like jazz and drinking and cooking. In the same way you don't want to listen to the same thing over and over, you don't want to drink or eat the same thing over and over. You might learn essentials from a recipe, but you have to get away from the recipe and do your own thing and make it different every time. You have to challenge yourself to try new things.
WS: Is wine popular in the jazz culture or is it still a scotch-and-soda crowd?
JT: I would say more and more guys are getting into it—thanks to me! I take a lot of pride in educating young musicians as to what's good and not. … Man, they drink some [crap] before I get them into wine [laughing].
WS: Do you have a clause in your contract requiring a good bottle of wine backstage?
JT: Yeah man, there's a clause. It's simple: It says “good wine.” But most of the time, they mess it up. I play anyway though. And I bring my own [laughing].