International Jazz Day is nearly upon us (30 April 2020) and our love of the genre is only matched by our passion for Cognac. And this got us thinking about what Cognacs our favorite artists might have enjoyed sipping.
We have to admit, matching up the two took a little longer than expected. After all, it couldn’t be done without some pretty serious listening and tasting (thank goodness for that iTunes subscription) and, being somewhat old school, we’ve got a pretty impressive vinyl collection as well. So join us on a journey which can only be described as blissful, as we dive headlong into the perfect combination that is jazz music and Cognac.
#1 Miles Davis
Who else could top our list than the legend that is Miles Davis? The man was way, way ahead of his time, forever pushing boundaries and presenting a new-brilliance to his legion of loyal fans. With classics such as Stella by Starlight and Smoke Get in Your Eyes still among the most listened to tracks today, any Cognac that we paired with the genius of Davis had to be as iconic as the man himself.
In the end we took inspiration from the fact that all of the members of the American jazz quintet, V.S.O.P. had all been one-time members of the Miles Davis Quintet, plus that the man was also somewhat of a bad boy of his era.
Award-winning, instantly recognizable, and truly symbolic, we could definitely feel a connection between Davis and Jay-Z, both at the top of their game and leaders in their chosen careers. This VSOP was a hit from the moment it was launched, perfect in a cocktail or sipped neat if you like your Cognac brooding and powerful.
#2 Louis Armstrong
A man who needs no introduction, “Pops” was one of the most influential figures in all jazz history, with songs such as What a Wonderful World and Jeepers Creepers sing-a-long-a favorites around the world. Apple even used his version of When You’re Smiling in their 2010 iPhone advert, tantamount proof that his music is as popular in recent times as it was in previous decades.
But a Cognac worthy of this great talent? It had to be something very special indeed…
Grosperrin Millesime 1970 Grande Champagne
Naturally, it had to be a Cognac hailing from the year of his famous 70th birthday celebrations held in 1970. Hitting the spot was this vintage from Grosperrin, an independent family-run concern that’s bucked the trend by being a relatively new house (it was only created in 1992) and producing very old, vintage offerings that target those who appreciate the finer things in life.
We think Mr. Armstrong would definitely approve. Enjoy with his tunes played LOUD!
#3 Duke Ellington
A forerunner of big band jazz, Duke Ellington not only sported one of the coolest names in all of music’s history, he also had an uncanny ability to communicate drama within his music. Songs such as Take the A Train and It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing will continue to stand the test of time. In fact, many of his 12 Grammy’s were awarded posthumously—the latest was in 2000.
Famous for playing in some of the hottest clubs of the times, such as The Cotton Club, we had to consider a Cognac that was well-suited to cocktail use.
Frapin 1270 Grande Champagne
What Cognac cocktail is more iconic than the Sidecar? And the perfect Cognac to use in its creation is a VS that will blow away any preconceived ideas you’ve ever had regarding the youngest of all Cognac qualities.
Vibrant, original, and harmonious, the Frapin 1270 has been showered with a plethora of industry awards, and it deserves every single one of them.
#4 John Coltrane
Saxophonist, John Coltrane, was innovative and visionary, and his untimely death at only 40 years of age was a massive blow, not only to his family, but the industry as a whole. His memory lives on in iconic albums, such as Blue Train and Giant Steps.
It was the name of the former that led us to make the connection between his incredible talent and longevity and that of a Cognac that’s also remained much loved despite the passing of the years.
Martell Cordon Bleu
First brought to life by Edouard Martell well over a century ago, in 1912, this blend of 150 eaux-de-vie is as timeless as Coltrane’s compositions. Martell’s Cordon Bleu continues to rack up awards year after year, and is best described as a true symphony of flavors and aromas—and there’s surely no more fitting tribute to the genius of John Coltrane than this world-famous Cognac offering.
#5 Ella Fitzgerald
The Queen of Jazz, or First Lady of Song, stands out as being one of only two woman who made this illustrious list, which makes her incredible achievements even more noteworthy. The first American-African female to win a Grammy (in 1958) she was definitely the rags-to-riches, reality star story of her time, being discovered through an amateur talent show. Her achievements are even more fantastic when you consider her troubled beginnings—as a child she had to help out the family by running numbers and acting as a lookout for a brothel!
Ella’s influence on an industry that, at the time, certainly didn’t welcome women with open arms, made us think of the driving female force that can only be described as the most influential woman in Cognac—Pierrette Trichet.
But which specific Cognac to choose? That was the conundrum…
Remy Martin Centaure
Celllar Master at Remy Martin until 2014, Trichette was responsible for many of the ‘big four’ brand offerings that were introduced during her reign. But we eventually settled for the Extra quality Remy Martin Centaure, a Fine Champagne delicacy that was produced for the Chinese market (but you can purchase it for home delivery via the Cognac Expert online shop).
It’s a beautifully fruity Cognac that, despite its lengthy ageing process, is recommended as a great addition to cocktails, as well as enjoying it neat, of course. Read more about Pierrette and other woman who’ve made their mark in the world of Cognac in our article, The Influential Women of Cognac: Who are they?
#6 Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker was a leading figure in the development of bebop and advanced harmonies, and was hugely influential in the direction of the genre and therefore the music we enjoy today. His skill is even more exceptional when you consider his turbulent life, which sadly ended way too soon when he died in 1955, aged only 34.
Voyer XO Gold
Our choice for Parker’s Cognac had to be complex, as his character was certainly that. A multiple award winner, it mirrors Charlie’s many achievements, including his four Grammys, and certainly stands out from the crowd in the same way that this crooner did. This XO is old school—best enjoyed neat, or perhaps on the rocks, to fully appreciate the aromas and kaleidoscope of flavors on offer.
#7 Billie Holiday
Born Eleanora Fagan, “Lady Day” was perhaps one of the most influential jazz singers of all time. Another artist who battled with turmoil and addiction throughout her life, the song that’s considered to be one of her signature ballads, Strange Fruit, was originally rejected by the record company, Columbia. It just goes to show that the so-called experts don’t get it right all the time…
The title of this song, along with the unique richness of her voice, led us to think of two rather special Cognacs that recently came to market.
Godet Single Grape Montils & Folle Blanche
The rare grapes (or strange fruits) that make up the Godet Single Grape Cognacs of Folle Blanche and Montils were the perfect match for Billie’s unique style. Both of these forgotten grape varieties hark back to the pre-phylloxera glory days of Cognac production. The Montils version presents a creamy, toasty taste experience, while the Folle Blanche leans towards the spicy elements of the taste quadrant, with hints of delicate violets and lilac.
Both have their own distinct character, very like that of the legend that is Billie Holiday.
#8 Stan Getz
Stan Getz, known as The Sound, thanks to his smooth, warm saxophonist tones, lends himself to a Cognac that has to showcase the very same attributes. The Bossa Nova Jazz extraordinaire wasn’t afraid to step outside of his comfort zone, and dabbled with digital sound effects during the 1970s (much to the chagrin of many of his purist fans).
Uber-creative and bringing melodic masterpieces to the world many times over, we were torn between two Cognacs that best represented this musical maestro
Marancheville XO & Deau U’RBN De Luxe
If smoothness in a Cognac is what hits the spot, then it doesn’t come much silkier than the delicious Marancheveille XO. Max, in particular, fell in love with this when he first tasted it back in 2016, and his love affair with the Grande Champagne XO hasn’t waned one little bit.
But then… We were torn between the Marencheville delight and the curiously addictive flavors of Deau U’RBN. It’s another amazing example of a smooth Cognac, yet this award-winner has an edgy feel and lends itself perfectly to cocktails or shooting it neat straight from the freezer. While it’s a VS blend, so not usually a Cognac we’d pit against one of XO quality, U’RBN epitomizes cool, yet boasts a depth of character not normally found in one so young.
#9 Thelonious Monk
Pianist and composer, Thelonious Monk, not only had the best name of everyone in this list, but his creative DNA was at such a level that many found it challenging to buy into his unique sound. But this didn’t prevent his genius from receiving the recognition it deserved, and with songs like Straight, No Chaser, we immediately knew what Cognac we could pair with the guy’s unique style and musical ingenuity.
Prunier XXO Family Series No 1
One of the first Cognacs to be produced in the new XXO category (and the very first from a small independent house), this premier offering in the series combines complexity with the all the characteristics you’d expected from a superbly-aged Fins Bois eau-de-vie. It’s a blend of two vintages—1992 and 1996—with only 500 bottles produced. Definitely one for the collectors out there…
#10 Bill Evans
The standout feature of the talent that was Bill Evens was his rhythmically independent melodies. The New Jersey born Evans had, in common with many highly successful jazz musicians, a somewhat turbulent childhood. This obviously shaped his musical journey, and this, along with a real interest in classical music (particularly that of Mozart and Beethoven) were hugely influential during his formative years.
His distinctly independent approach to music and his collaborations with many of biggest musical names of his era, led to what many consider to be the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue.
Dobbe Heritage Petite Champagne
Of course, we had to select a truly independently-created Cognac to best represent the talent of Bill Evans. And we have to say, this one is rather special indeed…
The Dobbe Heritage Petite Champagne is instantly recognizable, boasting a crystal decanter, heavy stopper, and distinct patterning. The aromatic splendor and concentration of rare flavors delight, such as mocha, leather, and the mushroom-esque earthy tones of rancio. This is a Cognac for a special occasion and, just like the music of Evans, should be enjoyed when you have the time to sit back, take plenty of time, and simply enjoy…
#11 Oscar Peterson
Oscar was called the ‘Maharaja of the keyboard’ by Duke Ellington, and if there was ever a better term used to describe the musician’s sheer brilliance then we’d like to hear it. This Canadian-born pianist was the master of swing, with impeccable timing, and an uncanny ability to weave different styles into every performance.
Our choice of Cognac just had to have the same royal connection running through its very soul, and we think this Baron Otard exemplifies the brilliance of the artist and that of the cellar master who brought it to life.
Baron Otard XO Gold Extra Old
This multi-award winner somehow combines a plethora of different flavors into a perfectly rounded sensory-fest. From the first moment the tendrils of aroma connect with the olfactory region of your brain you’ll be hooked. In the same way as Peterson’s eclectic style electrifies the listener, the Baron Otard XO Gold takes you on a roller coaster sensory journey that, once started, you just have to ride to the finale.
A Little Jazz and Cognac Trivia for International Jazz Day 2020
In our research we came across a couple of other things of interest. For example, did you know that In 2008 Ellington’s family successfully sued a company for producing a Cognac produced using the artist’s name and signature. However, despite the successful legal action it appears that most of the bottles of the limited run have disappeared. No doubt they’re sitting pretty in the homes of those who snapped them up before the official action came into play.
We also discovered this great Vintage Camus Jazz Cognac
As if that wasn’t enough, Camus also produced a one off masterpiece to celebrate their 150 year anniversary back in 2013. Named the Camus Organoleptic, it’s a unique collection of five Baccarat Crystal decanters presented in the shape of a piano in a letter C. We wrote an article about it at the time that can be viewed here, and displays the creation in all of its artistic glory.
And then, just because… We thought you might appreciate this old (well, 2011) Hennessy jazz advert.