The Smooth Jazz Cruise 2014

Jan. 23, 2014

The Smooth Jazz Cruise 2014
January 12 – 19, 2014

All-star SJC

One for the Contemporary Jazz Music History Books

Let me start by saying that I have attended many of the smooth jazz cruises, including a couple early on that were not associated with Entertainment Cruise Productions. All of them have been great, offering spectacular features that captivated and convinced one that he or she should be part of this experience on a regular basis. Peter White -- SJCHowever, never before have I experienced a cruise like the most recent Smooth Jazz Cruise 2014, which was simply more than words could ever describe.

There was such a sense of fun, euphoria, and camaraderie among the gleeful, excited, and most courteous and friendly fans. There was a sense that the artists took their respective performances up several notches, and the ship’s crew and staff added just a touch more accommodation of one’s wishes than ever before. Why? Who knows — and who cares? Being a part of this — truly the greatest of the greatest party at sea – will live with me and, I’m sure, many others for years to come. How Michael Lazaroff, the creator of this awesome experience, can top this year’s adventure is beyond me, but we shall see.

First of all, we were treated to the elegance of the much larger Holland America Eurodam cruise ship. While the Westerdam has always been more than sufficient, the Eurodam provided yet another level of perfection.

From the smooth embarkation process which included our cabins being ready immediately upon boarding, to cabin stewards whom one can only dream of having attending his or her needs, to exquisite meals that your palate could only dream of experiencing (of course, the latter two are generally the case, anyway), to entertaining themes each night, to the illuminating talent that graced stages all over the ship each and every day and night, this was one for the musical history books.

As for the talent, the first show started with a breathtaking, colorful intro to the cruising experience with an all-star lineup appearing onstage to welcome all of us with beaming, Candy Dulfer -- SJCexcited smiles and a musical groove that was powerfully gripping.

On the heels of that came the night’s first acts: The illustrious Englishman Peter White offering such treasures as his “Promenade,” Caravan of Dreams,” Here We Go,” Bueno Funk,” and his James Bond-like skit along with a tribute to the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” And that was just the beginning. Was he ever “on.”

The talented, sexy, and fiery saxtress Candy Dulfer followed, not be outdone, and offered, among others, her classic “Lily Was Here” in a duet with guitarist Randy Jacobs, the smoky “Music = Love,” and the crankin’ cover of “Pick Up the Pieces,” all with the mighty and soulful music director/keyboardist/friend Chance Howard stirring the pot of funk to a boil and adding the rousing percussions of the most competent Sheila E on a blistering Latin-flavored mover (the title escapes me at the moment, but the track was truly ablaze with rhythmic heat).

There were so many incredible moments on this week-long journey of musical bliss that I am certain to inadvertently omit one here. There was the stellar performance by the lovely, always creative and imaginative Keiko Matsui whose amazing keys and piano work simply mesmerized. Her “Black Lion,” “Bridge Over the Stars,” Dream Seeker,” Keiko -- SJCand “Antarctica: A Call to Action” were highlights that held the audience pleasantly captive as she grasped the colors of her music and sprinkled them generously about the stage. Truly a one of a kind artist.

The iconic Kirk Whalum, the energetic Brian Culbertson, the great David Sanborn, the nightingale Maysa, the lovely and always engaging Mindi Abair, the master of the low frequency and composer bassist Marcus Miller, the hilarious Alonzo Bodden, the ever-inspiring Jonathan Butler, “Mr. Smooth” Boney James, and the cool crooners Larry Braggs and Jeffrey Osborne were all in the truest of form. Speaking of Osborne, his electric performance, which included inviting the audience’s participation via random individual renditions of his classic “You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song)” was priceless. There were actually some really entertaining vocalists in that audience.

Let me not forget the hot and saucy performance of the lovely percussionist Sheila E, who practically caused a stampede onto the stage by loving fans responding to her invitation to come and dance it up. Ay, que caliente.

Sanborn, Berry, & Miller -- SJCLet me also stop and give huge thanks to the cruise’s backup musicians (Randy Jacobs, Nate Phillips, Andre Berry, Patches Stewart, Ron Reinhardt, Dwight Sills, Ramon Islas, Ricky Peterson, “Third “ Richardson, the “house band” DW3, Arlington Jones, Jay Williams, and all of the other polished musicians I haven’t added here) who, having to learn about 932 songs (well, maybe not quite that many), rocked the ship with precision, professionalism, and spirit.

While all of the previously mentioned tunes and performances, as well as such tunes as Whalum’s “Big Ol’ Shoes,” and Boney James’ “Ride,” were more than enough entertainment, the cruise went far beyond that with such events as theme nights that knocked off one’s socks.

There was the International Night where the artists dressed in the garb of the country of their respective origin. This was one of the most hilarious and entertaining highlights of the cruise with vocalist Larry Braggs (dressed and singing/talking like James Brown) and Candy Dulfer (dressed in her native Dutch hat and wooden shoes) crackin’ up the audience with humor that made me wonder if they shouldn’t have also considered comedy as a career.

Another event was the powerfully funk-laden “Chance Howard’s Boom Boom Room,” a late night gathering in one of the many smaller lounges Jonathan B -- SJC(this one being the Ocean Bar) where the keyboardist set the place on fire, jumping off with a super-funky version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” and carrying us further into funkville with other offerings like “Superstition.”

There was even a late-night “R” rated gritty tribute to the blues by guitarist Keb Mo, accompanied by Marcus Miller. The blues bared in all its natural state.

Perhaps the most touching and heartfelt moment of the cruise was the last night of sailing where Sirius XM Radio presented its 2nd annual Watercolors Jazz Hall of Fame ceremony in which Marcus Miller and the late great Wayman Tisdale were deservedly honored.

Before the presentations, the winner of the cruise’s annual amateur contest, held in an American Idol-like setting (with Marcus Miller, Boney James, and Brian Culbertson as judges) presented a stunning sax version of “Summertime.” Remember the name: Jasmine J.

Mindi Abair -- SJCMiller’s gracious acceptance speech upon receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hall of Fame ceremony was followed by a serious demonstration of why he was chosen to receive the award as he performed, among others, the track he wrote for the one and only Miles Davis, “Tutu.”

The most poignant moment of that night came when all attention was turned to the other award recipient, our fallen brother with the funky bass and beaming smile, Wayman Tisdale. Big-screen pictures of the artist at work (as well as pictures of him during his NBA career) brought audible gasps and whispered chatter of memories and appreciation, followed by a wonderful tribute from one who is more than capable of leading such a tribute, the smooth and vibrant Jonathan Butler. Tisdale’s lovely wife and daughter (the daughter to whom he’d dedicated the touching song “Gabrielle,” a tune so well rendered by Butler, by the way) came to the stage amid thunderous applause and shows of love and support. At the request of the pair, the show closed with Tisdale’s rousing cover of McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” The audience danced, sang, and just reveled in the glorious moment, clearly indicating that the big guy with the radiant personality will never be forgottenBoney James -- SJC.

This Sirius production is a well-conceived idea and has been received very well. This writer certainly hopes that the next honoree will be another giant of R&B/jazz, the iconic master funkster/keyboardist/composer, the fallen George Duke. A tribute to one of the heroes of acid jazz, the late Ronny Jordan, would be well-received, as well, I’m sure.

Finally, let me not forget the beautiful ports of call: Turks & Caicos, San Juan, and St. Maarten, all boasting their own exotic attractions, and Holland America’s gorgeous Half Moon Cay with its alluring beach, crystal clear water, water sports, basketball and volleyball courts, and horseback riding.

So, how does one sum up this party of parties? With so much activity, so many great artists, so many sights, and such an incomparable experience, words seem so inadequate. One would have had to have been there to feel and absorb all of the splendor. Still, I hope this take on it all will inspire you to look into adding a future smooth jazz cruise to your book of life experiences at some point. There is something – actually, everything – here for everyone. Who says smooth jazz is dead?? Look again, naysayers. Look again – Ronald Jackson

Photos by Rhonda Lane