Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jazz Cruising - Taking music appreciation to a higher level..


Posted by: editoron Thursday, November 20, 2008 - 10:11 PM
By Babbie De Derian

For the past seven years, Jazz Cruises, llc has hosted jazz lovers and top jazz musicians on the only full-ship cruise charters in the world dedicated to live jazz music. They offer four different jazz cruises for every jazz music taste including: The Jazz Cruise; The Smooth Jazz Cruise, hosted by Wayman Tisdale; Dave Koz & Friends at Sea, and their newest edition to the family, the Playboy Jazz Cruise™.

I must admit I am not a jazz aficionado; seven nights and days of jazz as part of a captive audience of 1,950 jazz fans aboard Holland America's Westerdam was a little daunting until I met Dave Koz and his saxophone.I quickly became part of his family of fans who are here to spend a week of music packed performances, workshops and seminars with their idols. From the time I embark to the time I disembark, I find myself clappin and hootin just as loud and as often as the rest of the crowd.

We get off to a stompin start with a 4:45 sail away party by the Lido Pool. Dave Hooper, Rayford Griffin and Ramas Yslas jam to everyone's delight. Later that evening, Rick Braun and Richard Elliot join Dave when he hosts the "welcome Show".

The scheduling and rotating of performances to accommodate the early and late dinner seating, makes it possible to miss a concert one night but see it two days later.The second night at sea, Richard Elliot almost blows me into the water with his sensuous and faithful love affair with his saxophone. I later tell him that when he sank to his knees writhing with passion over every note that came out of his sax, I felt we were watching and listening to him make love on stage. Rick Braun joins him and together they send mellow haunting notes into the night in a duet with his trumpet and Richard Elliot's sax.

Lynne Fiddmont, who has sung back-up for an astonishing roster of singers that includes: Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estafan, Whitney Houston and Seal, wows me with her sultry velvet voice and calming stage presence. Her voice, the music she writes and her story are waiting to be heard; it is time for her to spread her talents into a solo career.

One night on my way to one show, I pass the lounge where Denise Williams and Eric Benet are rehearsing a duet for her 11 o'clock show. I feel compelled to sit and listen as they prepare a soulful rendition of "Too Little Too Late". Legendary Ellis Hall, singing and playing the piano, is another moment in time that will be slow in fading. U Nam, "the guitarist with the memorable name and an acrobatic, soulful and sweet melodic touch" who calls his music "classy, jazzy, funky and Frenchy" performs hits from his CD: "Back From the 80's. Jeff Golub's dexterity on his electric guitar sends chills up and down my spine.

One of the highlights that touched me deeply was the Gospel Hour featuring Jonathan Butler & friends. When he sang "Falling in Love with Jesus" regardless of your religion, there wasn't a dry eye on the ship. On a lighter funnier note, Comedian Alonso Bodden was absolutely hilarious; I couldn't stop laughing as tears ran down my face.Not only did I get to appreciate these performers in concert, but I also had the opportunity to interact with them and their families, personally and informally . . . from chatting with Eric Benet on the beach in the Dominican Republic to hanging out with Ellis Hall and George Duke . . . to a wine tasting and brisket cooking demonstration with Dave, his sister Roberta, his brother-in-law Pat Wilson and his older brother Jeff , a jazz musician in his own right who inspired Dave to pursue a musical career.The KOZ Idol contest was a big hit; quite a few devoted fans who brought their own instruments, or a practiced vocal renditions, auditioned to perform with all the stars the last night at sea.

Everyday brought new surprises; when we docked in St. Thomas special guests Tower of Power come on board to play two shows at 7:15 and 9:30; the group is celebrating 40 years of playing together.Brian Simpson, an extraordinary musical director and talented recording artist, captured my heart with songs from his latest album, "Above the Clouds" and some of his biggest hits like "It's all Good". Candy Dulfer, another special guest, flew in from Holland; when this blond, beautiful performer put her sax to her lips, the power of her mastery was electrifying.I skipped two musical workshops: guitars in the round, featuring four unique artists each with a different sound and style; Jonathan Butler, Jeff Golub, Dwight Sills and U Nam who shared how they master their craft; and the sax academy with Candy Dulfer, Richard Elliot, Najee and Dave. Quite a few passengers brought their own saxophones on board to hone their techniques, and have the honor of jamming informally with Dave & his friends. I would have liked to meet the Jazz Historian who was on board to answer questions and share a little jazz history, but I went off on a shore excursion instead.

I chat with other passengers. After all, we're in this together. Some comments worth sharing: "What works about this is that people not only go on a physical, but also an emotional journey. Its an experience you won't find anywhere else" . . . " I'm from Philadelphia, Dave Koz left no stone unturned"… or the couple from Virginia "its our first jazz cruise, but it won't be our last, we've already signed on for the Dave Koz/Wayman Tisdale 2010 Cruise". Richard Elliot tells me"The difference between this and a show or a festival, where we do our gig and leave, here we get to play and hang out with our peers in front of our fans".

Our last day in paradise is spent on Harbor Cay, Holland America's private island, where we ride horses into the sea, swim and feast on a beach BBQ. When we return to the ship, the afternoon ends with a poolside jam session that brings fifteen artists together to tell their last melodious story; it is one that reverberates across the sea and into the hearts of old and new fans and friends. Dave, carried away by his own emotions, takes off his shoes and socks and walks into the swimming pool, playing his heart out as he wades through the water, bending down to play in the faces and ears of cheering seated fans. Dave Koz: the unconventional, the original, the eclectic and the amazing belts out what everyone has come on this cruise to hear. I look up to the sky and watch two pelicans flap their huge wings to the smooth sounds of Dave Koz and Friends.

It's equal parts party and equal parts music. As jamming goes, its great quality music, not just noise or stumbling on genius. It is a willing suspension of disbelief and a suspension of reality for the moment. I stand in awe; it is totally unplugged, uncensored and unrehearsed. "Even if you don't like smooth jazz, it's a great party".

Our last night at sea, Dave Koz & friends go over the edge. I am humbled, honored and inspired. It has indeed been a floating celebration, a series of musical adventures, the beginning of new friendships, a chance to feel and hear the passion of 40 artists playing with their peers, and the love that flows and connects us all.

Dave Koz: " you and your friends are living legends in the world of jazz . . . a title you have all worked hard, and traveled far, to earn".

The fun, excitement and camaraderie of my first jazz cruise far exceeds my expectations. There is no other cruise, jazz festival or music venue that offers such personal interaction with so many jazz stars; the venues are intimate and the dress code is casual, which made it easy to meet, mix and share the incredible wealth of unbridled and uncensored talent with other jazz lovers.

Nowhere else can you treat yourself to such a unique vacation; one that offers a bountiful array of delicious food, pampering in the ship's beautiful Greenhouse Spa and a wide selection of port tours and beach activities. Swimming is my passion and the Caribbean beckons on every island.

Once we dock, every artist is off to another challenge. I spent a lot of time chatting with gentle, caring George Duke who has become my new idol.. George is going back into the studio. He's working on an album with a female singer from Cameroon. He tells me: "you have to love people, you have to love to give, my fans are very important to me; if there were none of them, there would be no me. Art has to communicate; music is the ultimate wireless communicator. This is the "music boat". What I do is continue to make the music I am spiritually led to do; if it happens to be a hit, that's fine, but I do not make music to make a hit, my music is a little funkier". Richard Elliot is going to play a nightclub gig for a week; Dave Koz will be preparing for a December concert at the Nokia Theatre in New York City.

I am hoping to trade the January blahs and blizzards for another sensational week of world class jazz when the 8TH Annual COOL JAZZ CRUISE, hosted by Wayman Tisdale, sails out of Ft Lauderdale, January 17th to the 24th, 2009 with a line up of musicians that includes: Jonathan Butler, Jeff Golub, Marcus Miller, Everette Harp with special guest RUFUS, featuring Chaka Khan . . . or on the January 28th Inaugural Playboy Jazz Cruise, featuring Dianne Reeves, with special guest Herbie Hancock.


For more info and to book a cruise:www. jazzcruisesllc. com or USA & Canada 888-852-9987.International: 1-800-852-9987

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