For the world of jazz, we eagerly await the “spring of hope” becoming a reality.
More than 150 years ago, Charles Dickens famously wrote the following:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
As the coronavirus vaccine becomes a reality amidst daily reports of record deaths, Dickens’ brilliant first sentence of “A Tale of Two Cities” may be more apt now than ever. Having the Holiday Season juxtaposed against the loss of lives, livelihoods and leisure we have experienced supports that comparison.
For the world of jazz, we eagerly await the “spring of hope” becoming a reality. To get there, however, we must endure the current reality — a harsh “winter of despair.” Live music will remain the exception rather than the rule. Our musicians will continue to struggle to find work, continue their craft and to enjoy the immediate and palpable response of an audience. Those of us for whom attending live music events is a passion and a part of our lives will continue to live without that special feeling that can only be felt emitting from a jazz bandstand and performance. But, apart from serious setbacks, the icy grip on our lives should begin to thaw as the warmth and promise of Spring arrives.
Two realities. One sad. One hopeful. The “sad” reality is “hopefully” trending down, while the “hopeful” reality continues to spike. We are in the middle of that continuum right now.
This week, we experienced this overlap in a dramatic fashion as our favorite jazz musicians gathered in various places in the country and the world to create Holiday messages for you to enjoy. Some of the messages are personal reflections for the season and some are musical gifts. I have seen portions of both The Jazz Cruise and The Smooth Jazz CruiseHoliday Shows and they are wonderful.
Yes, it is sad that an online event is all that we can share with you this Holiday Season, but seeing and hearing the spirit, camaraderie and excitement of the participants was inspirational and uplifting. Our musicians love their craft, their fellow players and, most of all, you, the most amazing jazz fans in the world. They long to be performing for you. When you watch these shows, you will feel the “spring of hope.”
The Smooth Jazz Cruise Holiday Show is available now through January 3, for free on our website and our YouTube channel. The show is more than 5 hours long, so we advise you to settle in, grab the libation of your choice and enjoy. Marcus Miller and Alonzo Bodden are your hosts for the event.
Cruise Co-Host Boney James contributes a special “live” performance, as does David Sanborn, Brian Culbertson, Jonathan Butler, Candy Dulfer, Keiko Matsui, DW3, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Eric Darius, Eric Marienthal (Music Director), Grace Kelly, Kirk Whalum, Peter White, Jeff Lorber and Nick Colionne. Candy’s performance with her band and her interview were originated in Amsterdam. Keiko’s contributions were produced in Tokyo. You will also enjoy some face-to-face time between Miller/Bodden and Vanessa Williams, Jeffrey Osborne and many others.
Music Director Shelly Berg mobilized the straight-ahead jazz version of The Amazing Race by traveling from Miami to New York to Los Angeles to perform and arrange many of the presentations. Even though Shelly may have coronavirus antibodies due to his positive test for COVID-19 earlier this summer, he undertook the most careful protocol while traveling. And, of course, when our musicians did congregate, they, too, undertook all necessary steps to ensure their safety.
To that point, I want to thank Gianni Valenti, owner of Birdland in New York City, for allowing our folks to use his legendary jazz club for their performance. Gianni, as always, was “hands-on” for the show and he made sure that everyone was safe. The Los Angeles sequence for the show was filmed and recorded at Catalina Jazz Club. Thanks to Manny Santiago of that club for his wonderful assistance and cooperation as well. As we have shared forever, the jazz world has some cool members. Sharing, collaboration and community — all watchwords of jazz. Finally, thanks also go out to Pinecrest Gardens in Miami for the use of their venue. They produce a wonderful jazz series which we will be supporting in future years.
Without giving away some of the surprises in the show, prepare yourself to see and hear Kurt Elling, Randy Brecker, John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, Niki Haris, Wycliffe Gordon, James Morrison (from Australia), Houston Person, Ken Peplowski, David Finck, Matt Wilson and Tierney Sutton. Each recorded an amazing tune. Here, too, you can feel the warmth, fellowship and excitement of the players. Being able to share a jazz experience at this time means as much to the players as it does to the audience.
Preparing the Holiday Shows was a monumental effort by the Entertainment Cruise Productions team. Production Manager Brian Rachko led the charge along with our Impulse tech team of Nate Selvidio and Justin Geiger. And of course, we leaned heavily on our Marketing Team led by Bill Wilson and including Charles Berman, Kayleigh Hottel and Eric Baumann. Without them, not much happens here at ECP.
Though a “winter of despair” will be difficult to overcome, we hope that The Smooth Jazz Cruise and The Jazz Cruise Holiday Shows will give you some enjoyment and pleasure and will serve as a reminder of how much fun we have had on our cruises and will be rekindling in ’22. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to each and everyone of you. It’s still too early to usher in ’21 … we will do that in a couple of weeks.
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at email@example.com.
Remembering Jeff Clayton
Famed saxophonist Jeff Clayton died this week. He had been ailing for a long time with kidney cancer. He fought that terrible disease, alongside his wife Chelia and brother John, with energy, dignity and class.
His approach to his malady was consistent with his approach to life, relationships and his music. Always upbeat, ready to perform whenever he could and meticulous about his performances, Jeff was an old-school professional, meaning he respected the bandstand, shared it with his cohorts and was always true to the music. Jeff cared about and tutored young musicians, recognizing that he had a duty to “play it forward.”
Jeff’s performance bio is amazing. When your first tour gig is with Stevie Wonder, your future is well secured. The proof thereof is the list of his ensuing gigs and associations: Gladys Knight, Kenny Rogers (yes, that Kenny Rogers), Michael Jackson, Patti Labelle, Earth, Wind & Fire, Madonna as well as jazz greats Dee Dee Bridgewater, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne and Count Basie. If, as the saying goes, you are known by the company you keep, Jeff was well known and highly respected.
Fans of The Jazz Cruise know Jeff best as his brother John’s partner in the Clayton Brothers Quintet and, along with John and Jeff Hamilton, leading the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra to fame. As a musician on The Jazz Cruise, Jeff was ready and willing to step into any role we needed, including volunteering for our Gospel Show, Opening Show and Hall of Fame Show each and every sailing season. We sailed on The Jazz Cruise ’20 without Jeff. Quite frankly, it was not the same. Sailing without Jeff will now be our new normal. We have known this day was coming, but it came too soon for Jeff, his family and for the fans of jazz all over the world.
Hiromi’s New Year’s Countdown
Blue Note Jazz Club is proud to present the world-renowned Japanese pianist Hiromi for a New Year’s Eve Countdown show. The livestream begins at 11 p.m. Eastern Time on December 31, broadcasting from Blue Note Tokyo, Hiromi’s home jazz club. Hiromi’s solo performance will feature a countdown to the New Year!
While she is in Japan, Hiromi said her heart is with the Blue Note New York and jazz fans around the world. All proceeds from this concert benefit Blue Note New York, while it is currently closed.
The offices of Entertainment Cruise Productions will be open our normal business hours (9 am – 5pm CT) through Wednesday, December 23. The office will close for the holidays starting on Thursday, December 24, and reopen on Monday, January 4.