Notes from the Cellar: On soul
by Jeff Cox, Wine and Beer Merchandiser
This article was originally published in September 2008
“There’s a great difference between sentimentality and soul.”
— Duke Ellington
They make it look — and sound — so easy. But then, when it comes from the depths of your soul, it really is easy, no matter how much you had to woodshed to hone those chops.
In the Lincoln Center band (as scary good a group of players as ever has been assembled) a collective persona of unbridled, edgy cool reigns. The ’bone player swaggers and preaches with his horn, while the bass player and the drummer swing hard and smirk at musical inside jokes.
The bari player, a 50-something white guy who looks like a second-rate shamus out of a dime store novel, plays as bad-ass as it gets and he’ll break your heart with a ballad.
Or the piano player, a skinny, geeky-looking, crew-cut kid with glasses and big ears who looks like he should be home with his mother. But look out, baby — the kid can play, white-hot and wicked cool, oh baby.
It’s not about the money and it’s not about the fame. From basement dive to La Scala, it’s about soul. It’s about love and the joy just to play. Yeah, it’s about talent too, but chops are just what happens when you’re busy making music. But mostly it’s soul, ’cause that’s where it comes from and nowhere else.
Sentimentality, on the other hand, takes talent and panders with it. Sentimentality tugs at your heartstrings with platitudes — and makes sure that you pay for the favor.
Like the pretty boy, soprano saxophone guy who I love to loathe, whose every treacly, vibrato-drenched note is an appeal to the broadest common denominator, a marketing scam with enough schmaltz to make Hallmark proud.
Or the drawling, ambling, black-hatted country superstar, a drugstore poseur who’s as much a real cowboy as a certain frat boy Texan from Crawford.
Or the handsomely labeled 96-pointer — the one that’s smooth, rich and generous, showing plush, supple, deeply concentrated currant, blackberry and wild berry flavors, accented by layers of lush, toasty, mocha and vanilla-infused oak. It’s elegantly refined, expensive and scarce, with no character or soul to sully its universal appeal.
Or, you could drink honest wine. Plainly labeled, modestly priced and a celebration of sun, fruit and dirt. Wine that’s a marriage of provenance and the grapes that push down their roots in its soil. Wine that tastes of fruit and stones and wild things — and the inimitable je ne sais quoi of place. No pandering, no pretense, no marketing.
A wine that doesn’t have to please everybody, because it is what it is — and when you’ve got soul, that’s more than plenty.