In this time of turmoil, we must continue to stay positive and listen to great music.
Our Take: Blue Note Memories
On March 6, McCoy Tyner died. He was 81 years old and lived in New Jersey. The stories I have read do not say whether his death was related to the coronavirus or not.
McCoy was a giant in jazz. An NEA Jazz Master and 5-time Grammy winner, he was part of John Coltrane’s band among other configurations and associations throughout his long and distinguished career. Yet, whenever I hear his name, all I can think of was him boarding the North Sea Jazz Cruise in 2007 in Oslo, Norway and going straight to the main theater to check out the piano we had brought on board. Upon seeing the instrument, he turned to me, grimaced and said, “So Herbie (Hancock) got his piano!” I do not believe that he said another word to me for the next three days.
You see, Herbie Hancock prefers, and most often insists upon, performing on a Fazioli piano. Each Fazioli takes around two years to produce and is made only in a small town outside of Venice. They are very hard to find, cost a fortune to rent and insure, and usually require a crane to load and unload. In short, it is a real pain in the butt to include one as part of a cruise. On top of that, many top-notch players do not like playing the instrument. It is very different and they seldom have the opportunity to practice on it. Our tuners tell us that they are also very difficult to tune consistently, again largely due to the infrequency of its use and the resulting unfamiliarity with its nuances. McCoy was great, to be sure, but he was not a happy crew member or even close.
It has been a while since we talked here in The Weekender about the North Sea Jazz Cruise. As many of you know, that cruise was the precursor to the Playboy Jazz Cruise (2009), which has now reformed as the Blue Note at Sea cruise (2017 – Present). The sadness of McCoy’s death coincided within a few days of our announcement that Blue Note at Sea would not sail in 2021 as we needed that slot of time for the rescheduled sailing of The Smooth Jazz Cruise ‘20.2. We tried to secure another sailing slot, but Celebrity Cruises was unable to confirm an itinerary soon enough to enable us to move forward.
Why have we pursued this type of cruise (North Sea Jazz Cruise–Playboy Jazz Cruise–Blue Note at Sea) despite the challenges of doing so successfully? Why has it been difficult to present?
The Jazz Cruise with its emphasis on “straight-ahead” jazz and The Smooth Jazz Cruise with its obvious direction each have immediately recognizable messages and impressions, which grab their respective audiences. Each is an umbrella under which any fan can reasonably guess which performer and musician might be sailing on that particular cruise. Blue Note at Sea, which is basically contemporary jazz, works the opposite way. The cruise is only defined by the musicians And, as the lineup of musicians changes, so, too, does the vibe of the cruise. Our goal has been to prove each and every season that we will fill the ship with truly great musicians and do so in our customary first-class way.
Does the word “amorphous” come to mind? It should, for Blue Note at Sea is now hyped as the cruise where “Great Music is the Only Rule.” When you look at the stars of that cruise over the years (Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Kamasi Washington, Gregory Porter and others), there is no label that connects them to each other, except that they are wonderful musicians. Even our co-hosts, Marcus Miller and Robert Glasper, giants in their fields of endeavor, are only tangentially related in terms of music style. They are, however, twins from birth in terms of talent, appeal and worthiness of admiration.
McCoy Tyner’s music brought so much joy and his passing brings great sadness. He will be missed. Though a human death is a catastrophic loss and cannot be compared to a cruise being cancelled, my thoughts about McCoy’s life and music do have some similarities to my thoughts about the Blue Note at Sea cruise. Each is difficult to label, harder still to describe in a sound bite, but both are unique, exciting and memorable.
McCoy’s music will live forever. No doubt. In this time of turmoil, Blue Note at Sea is standing down to allow its more seasoned co-cruises to sail. Just like securing a Fazioli, Blue Note at Sea takes more time to construct, may be more difficult to properly tune and care for, but, in the end, is worth the effort.
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.
Tune In: Season 2 Is Heating Up
Back for its second season, the Jazz Cruise Conversations podcast is releasing outstanding new episodes every Tuesday on iTunes and Spotify.
We recently posted a lively Jazz Funk Soul conversation with Jeff Lorber, Paul Jackson, Jr. and Everette Harp, hosted by Eric Marienthal in a session from The Smooth Jazz Cruise earlier this year.
That episode was followed by a fascinating interview with vocalist-beyond-category Gregory Porter in a conversation moderated by Don Was of Blue Note Records. This Tuesday morning, you can listen to a talk (and play) with trumpeter, and sometime vocalist, Arturo Sandoval who sat down with pianist and SiriusXM radio host Shelly Berg during The Jazz Cruise earlier this year.
On Thursday, Royal Caribbean, the parent company of Celebrity Cruises, announced that they would be operating cruise programs beginning on June 12. Clearly, not all itineraries, particularly Canada, will be open and there will be some new rules and guidelines at the outset. Since our 2021 sailings do not sail for 7+ months, there is reason to continue to be optimistic.
Based upon the emails, calls and reservations completed, our jazz folks are eager to return to the cruises. Again, the current signs are all positive.
Join Us Tonight in Rick’s Cafe!
Trumpeter Rick Braun is a true force of nature. Based on his talent, charisma and warmth, he’s a musician around whom other great artists gather.
No surprise then that he’s hosting a live series on Facebook called Rick’s Café (sorry, no Ingrid Bergman). We’re happy to spotlight his next show, tonight at 9:30 p.m. EDT. The show will feature special guests Michael Lington and Ron Reinhardt.