Monday, February 12, 2018

The Jazz Cruise featured many musical treats - and a tricentenary visit

The 2018 edition of The Jazz Cruise was a seven-day floating music marathon. Most days, the music ping-ponged through as many as six large and more intimate venues, and stretched from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. It is not for the musically faint of heart.

This was my 10th jazz-related cruise, but my first aboard The Jazz Cruise, which has been an annual event since 2001. My previous jazz-related voyage was aboard the QE2, which included a Newport Jazz Festival stopover during its 1996 sailing.

Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli, Houston Person, Tom Kennedy
There were many treats this time out aboard the M/S Celebrity Summit for its roughly 2,000 passengers and about 100 performing musicians. Michael Lazaroff's St. Louis-based Entertainment Cruise Productions directs all shipboard music for these cruises, which means it was 100% jazz - with none of the ship-provided entertainment and shows associated with most cruises.


Every featured band performed at least four times during the week, and individual band members also were showcased in a dozen different all-star groupings. The featured all-star big band, most often directed by bassist-arranger John Clayton, consisted of musicians who each are bandleaders in their own right. Stylistically, mainstream swing and bebop were the norm, with the music stretching to include the Brazilian fare of Trio Da Paz and the edgy hard bop of The Cookers.
Herlin Riley quintet featuring Nicholas Payton

This cruise made its first visit to New Orleans, with a 27-hour stopover in the Crescent City. The birthplace of jazz is celebrating its 300th birthday this year. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and drummer Herlin Riley's quintet, featuring trumpeter Nicholas Payton, came aboard to perform for passengers.

Here are a few of the many highlights:
  • The Clayton Brothers Quintet's  tribute to Horace Silver featured five of the pianist-composer's classic tunes. Besides alto saxophonist Jeff and bassist John Clayton, the band for this set included trumpeter Sean Jones, pianist Benny Green and drummer David Alvarez III. "This isn't hip hop, this is hip swing," Jeff Clayton told the crowd.
    The Gospel Hour
  • Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon's late-morning Gospel Hour, as the cruise headed for New Orleans on Monday, was soulful and rocking, with pianist Bobby Floyd, trumpeter Byron Stripling, bassist Tom Kennedy, drummer Ernie Adams and singer Niki Harls.
  • Benny Green's trio with bassist David Wong and young drummer Alvarez was beautifully intense, with the pianist attacking the piano with vigor at times, then contrasting with crystalline balladry, as on his delicate and subtle exploration of Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments."
    Veronica Swift
  • Singer Veronica Swift, an unpublicized addition to the lineup, appeared frequently on the cruise - with pianist Emmet Cohen's trio, Benny Green and one of the big band sets. The 23-year-old rising vocal star, showed off her serious chops in every performance, the last of which had to be moved to a larger room.
  • The big band performed a powerful sail-away tribute to New Orleans after the ship left port on Tuesday night. The three-part event was anchored by Wycliffe Gordon, John Clayton and Stripling. Australian horn player James Morrison wowed the crowd with his solos - at one point rapidly trading four-bar phrases with himself - shifting back and forth between trumpet and trombone.
    James Morrison
  • Morrison and saxophonist Eric Marienthal performed in an all-star quintet with Renee Rosnes, Tom Kennedy and Lewis Nash, going head-to-head on a samba version of "Body and Soul."
    Brett Williams, Brandon Goldberg
  • A week before his12th birthday, Miami-area pianist Brandon Goldberg was invited to sit in for a song or two with bassist Marcus Miller's band, Trio Da Paz, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and pianist Monty Alexander, among others. In that first appearance with Miller, Goldberg played solo and four-handed piano with the band's regular keyboard player, Brett Williams. The crowds dug each such appearance by the talented young player.
  • Maucha Adnet
  • Brazilian singer Maucha Adnet, the wife of Trio Da Paz drummer Duduka da Fonseca, was a surprise guest perfemer in a Women in Jazz all-star combination that featured pianist Renee Rosnes, reed player Anat Cohen, bassist Nicki Parrott and singer Niki Haris, with drum backing from Ernie Adams. 
  • Trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Lewis Nash were inducted into The Jazz Cruise Hall of Fame during a tribute concert. In honor of Nash, drummers Joe LaBarbera, Jeff Hamilton and Ernie Adams performed a drums-only version of "A Night in Tunisia."
LaBarbera, Hamilton, Adams
The musicians aboard The Jazz Cruise love the fact that they get to perform in one venue for a full week, with no racing to airports between disparate concerts. "One of the great things about this boat is that we all get to hang together and play," trumpeter Randy Brecker said during a performance by his Brecker Brothers Reunion Band.

Kurt Elling
The current state of the world sneaked into some of the musician's performances. In a very late appearance at the ships main dining room venue, renamed Birdland for the sailing, jazz singer Kurt Elling noted that "none of the people making the problems in the world stay up this late." 

Monty Alexander trio
And in his trio's final calypso-and-reggae-tinged appearance of the week, Monty Alexander played fellow Jamaican Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry." "This is dedicated to the women in the world who are struggling - struggling even to get enough to eat," Alexander told the crowd. "These are not people from s-h-i-t-hole places."

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Singers Roberta Gambarini, Nnenna Freelon, Ann Hampton Callaway
and Kurt Elling with the John Clayton-led big band.




More photographs from The Jazz Cruise 2018 are posted here.

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