This coming Tuesday marks the beginning of the latest chapter in the 136-year history of the Napa Valley Opera House. The new tenant is the world-famous Blue Note jazz club, its grand opening headliner Grammy winner Chris Botti.
The trumpet superstar will perform two shows a night in the newly renovated street-level supper club on October 25, 26 and 27, and there will be one seated concert performance in the upstairs Opera House Ballroom on Friday, Oct. 28.
On the phone from New York City last month, Botti said that he was proud to be the first performer at Blue Note Napa.
“It’s an honor for us to be there to open the new club,” Botti said. “I’m assuming that the room is going to be relatively small (Blue Note Napa will seat 150) and so the audience will get to really be right up on it. We just love coming to the Blue Note because of the intimacy factor.”
Botti’s first Blue Note experience, as a 21-year-old jazz fan in the New York club, was not what he expected.
“Boy, do I remember it well,” he said. “I went and saw Freddie Hubbard. It must have been like 1981 or ‘82. There was a fire in the club. In the middle of his set, in the kitchen, they had a fire.
“It may have been from the restaurant next door and it came into the kitchen through the walls. They shut the whole block down. We all just got to hear a half a set of Freddie Hubbard, and then they evicted us. ‘OK, it’s free, everyone get out, you have to leave right now. Like, everyone, get out!’”
Botti has come a long way since that incendiary experience. He has held down the prime winter holiday residency at the New York club for the last 13 years. This December, he will do 56 shows in 28 days.
“It’s an unusual place; all of the Blue Note venues are,” Botti said. “They have exceptional jazz acts every week. It’s a great thing. I’m sure Napa’s going to love having the Blue Note there.”
Napa’s managing director Ken Tesler said last week that the run-up to opening night is on schedule. Renovation of the ground-floor club includes an enlarged performance area with new lighting and state-of-the-art sound, newly constructed and configured bar, booth and table seating, and club-wide two and three-dimensional art designed by Gordon Huether.
Reconstruction has also included the complete removal of a corridor wall that blocked the interior from outside view. With the new design, the club interior will be fully visible to passing pedestrians through the large street-facing windows.
Tesler is enthusiastic about the team leading Blue Note’s culinary program. Veteran French chef Christophe Gérard’s Napa Valley experience includes Angele, Rubicon Estate and the Farm restaurant at Carneros Inn.
Sous-chef Jessica Sedlacek spent five years with the Keller group at The French Laundry and Bouchon and was part of the opening team at Goose and Gander in St. Helena.
“Probably the best way to characterize our food program,” Tesler said, “is that it’s market-driven, California Mediterranean. Christophe is really into changing things up with whatever his select group of purveyors have that day.”
A sample menu was sophisticated and varied. Main courses ($30-$40) included braised short rib, Mangalitsa pork chop, duck confit, day boat scallops and farro risotto. There was a large selection of share plates ($10-$15), as well as “late-night bites.” Desserts included elevated versions of hot chocolate cake, panna cotta and apple tart.
The jazz club will have three choices of seating: tables, booths (for parties of four) and the bar (some stool seating and the rest standing). All seating within each of these choices will be first-come, first-served. Blue Note performances in the upstairs ballroom will have traditional reserved seating.
In a prior Register interview, Tesler made a special point about the new chairs that have been acquired for concert seating in the ballroom. “We’ve brought in 450 heavily padded, extremely comfortable chairs,” he said. “These are stadium chairs, the kind that celebrities get in boxes at special events … we hope people will be comfortable.”
For the Oct. 28 Chris Botti show, Blue Note is offering a VIP package, which includes a cocktail reception, a special four-course dinner including wine, some social time with Botti and premier seating for the upstairs performance.