Hosting its first performance of 2018, the Robert Mondavi Winery continues its half century tradition of presenting live music in Napa Valley. This Sunday, March 18, the Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS) presents Jack Jones in an afternoon concert in the Margrit Mondavi Vineyard Room at the Winery.
Kathy Magner, Mondavi’s hospitality director, spoke last week about the Winery’s musical tradition.
“The concerts date back to 1969,” she said. “In 1966, Margrit Mondavi came with Robert Mondavi from Charles Krug. She looked out at the beautiful lawn that we have out here and said, ‘Mr. Mondavi,’ because at the time that’s what she called him, she said, ‘We should do concerts here.’ And he said, ‘Don’t talk about it; just do it.’
“With that, Margrit took it over, and 49 years later we are still producing concerts. Legendary performances have happened out on that lawn — Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck. It’s the perfect venue. You’re right at the edge of the To Kalon Vineyard. The artists basically have the best view because they’re under the arch facing out at the vineyard.”
From the beginning, the intention was philanthropic. “The idea was to bring the community together, but also to give back to the community,” Magner said. “That first year, Margrit wanted to start a fund with the profits. Originally, the Napa Valley Symphony was the beneficiary. As the years progressed, the Napa Valley school music programs were added. In 2006, we donated to storm relief.”
“With the disbanding of the symphony, the schools are now the sole beneficiary of the concerts. Last year, we gave $20,000 to the school’s music programs. Vintage High School and Napa High School both benefit, their choir programs and music programs. ‘Music for music,’ is how we like to look at it.”
The outdoor summer concerts, now called the Margrit Mondavi Summer Concert Series, have been the centerpiece of the tradition.
“For many years, there was one person managing the concerts with Margrit,” Magner said, “and that was Julie Prince. She did an amazing job. She worked directly with the agents. When she left, we had a bit of a void.
“We worked with Live Nation. We’ve worked with the Napa Valley Opera House. For five years, we worked with Live in the Vineyard. Then this last year we started working with BottleRock. It was just a great opportunity to expand what we’re doing.
“They’re local, Dave (Graham) and Jason (Scoggins) and Justin (Dragoo). They’ve been coming to these concerts for years. They understand the Valley and they appreciate what these concerts represent.”
Magner described Mondavi’s effort, together with BottleRock, to raise money for victims of the wildfires last October. “We wanted to do a benefit concert and Dave and his team were immediately on board,” she said. “Our company, Constellation Brands, was very much behind it as well. They said, ‘All right, we’re going to pay to put on this concert,’ and several people donated money and/or services.
“Michael Franti generously donated his time. One hundred percent of everything that we made from that show was given to the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Michael was the perfect artist because he’s such a supporter of charitable events in this Valley. The concert raised $115,000 and Constellation matched it, so we donated a total of $230,000 to the Foundation.”
Jack Jones’ 80th Birthday Tour’
Jack Jones is among the most enduring and prolific jazz and pop singers of his generation. The two-time Grammy winner has recorded 54 albums over a span of 56 years and had 13 singles, including three number ones, in the top 10 on the adult contemporary charts. His most recent album is 2015’s “Seriously Frank (Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Frank Sinatra).”
Considered a “singer’s singer,” Jones earned effusive praise from Sinatra and from Tony Bennett. The much- admired jazz vocalist Mel Tormé called Jones “the greatest pure singer of our time.” Like these admirers, Jones made his name singing the Great American Songbook amid lush big band arrangements.
Later in his career, he ventured into more contemporary material, covering artists from Randy Newman to the Beatles.
At Mondavi, Jones will be accompanied by pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Chris Colangelo, drummer Kendall Kay with Paul Lowden on the Hammond B3 organ. The performance is a benefit for the NVJS Scholarship Fund, which supports college music studies for jazz musicians graduating from Napa Valley high schools. To support the benefit, Jones is waiving his fee for the performance.
Sunday, March 18, 4 p.m. (with complimentary winery reception at 3:15 p.m.). Tickets are $45, $25 (NVJS members). Margrit Mondavi Vineyard Room, Robert Mondavi Winery, 7801 St. Helena Highway, Oakville. Call 707-224-5299 or visit Nvjs.org for tickets.