Solving the mystery of the paucity of male jazz vocalists.
Our Take: Finding Our Voices
My grandson, Rory, turned 1 a few weeks ago. He came over to our house to celebrate and he and I had a long talk. I impressed upon him that making it in the world these days was difficult and he needed to think strategically about his future. He agreed and, in between burps and giggles, he asked my advice as to possible vocations that I thought would work best for him. Without hesitation, I told him that being a left-handed relief pitcher or a jazz vocalist would be the fastest path to glory for any young man. He looked disappointed in my response, but I do not concur with his desire to be a cowboy or an astronaut.
The category of active male jazz vocalists features superb talents, some of the best of all time. Kurt Elling, Gregory Porter, Harry Connick Jr. and, of course, Tony Bennett come to mind. But the roster is not very deep. The same cannot be said about female jazz vocalists. Thankfully, we are blessed with icons, standard-bearers and newcomers from all over the world. In fact, when we consider them for the cruises, differentiating and selecting is very difficult. We have often thought of doing a Female Vocalist Only cruise, but, even then, it would be hard to limit the lineup.
The discussion thus far has been limited to the presentation of jazz standards and “straight ahead” tunes. When it comes to “smooth jazz,” the issue blurs even more. First, I am not sure what a “smooth jazz” vocalist is supposed to sound like. If asked, I imagine that most of our “smooth jazz” fans would call out Sade and Norah Jones. Paradoxically, neither of them have accepted offers to sail on The Smooth Jazz Cruise. Both have entertained offers for the Blue Note at Sea cruise. At the end of the day, their respective price points and performance requirements were incompatible with the cruise format and business model, but neither of them considered themselves to be “smooth jazz” vocalists.
The list of vocalists who have sailed on The Smooth Jazz Cruise is long, distinguished and eclectic: Patti Austin, Oleta Adams, Natalie Cole, Jeffrey Osborne, Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan, Ledisi, Lalah Hathaway, Jon Secada, Peabo Bryson, George Benson, Regina Belle, Al Jarreau, Brenda Russell, Jody Watley, Jonathan Butler, Maysa, Larry Braggs, Patrice Rushen and more. Dozens of Grammy Award winners. Singers who have sold millions of records. But I doubt that any of them could be called “smooth jazz” vocalists.
Does it matter? Not really. What does it mean? I believe that this issue, the lack of an identifiable “smooth jazz” vocalist, speaks to the true genius and excitement of the genre. This genre has no boundaries, rules or requirements. What we dub as “smooth jazz” is a wonderful blend of instrumental jazz, R&B, funk and soul. It is most recognizable and identifiable when presented as instrumental music. Adding vocals moves the music into more neatly defined categories. Again, does it really matter what we call it? Of course not.
As a producer of jazz cruise programs, sadly, we have to pay attention to the labels to some degree. After all, we are the ones naming the cruises. If we call a cruise “The Smooth Jazz Cruise,” then it would stand to reason that we should feature “smooth jazz.” Just as The Jazz Cruise is set up to feature “straight ahead” jazz. There isn’t sufficient time or space here to dive into the definitional malaise we faced with The Contemporary Jazz Cruise aka Blue Note at Sea. Probably the most cogent explanation of that cruise is that it is neither The Jazz Cruise nor The Smooth Jazz Cruise. Presumptuously, it is all the jazz not covered by those two programs.
In the end, when trying to understand our programs, there is only one sure way to do so. Check out the lineups. Find the one (or two) that appeals to you the most. Whenever someone says to me that they “love jazz,” I ask them “who do you like to listen to?” It is the only sure way to discern their tastes, as well as learning if they really like or know jazz at all.
Though we have shed some light on the elusive nature of “smooth jazz” vocals, we have not solved the mystery of the paucity of male jazz vocalists. I ask top jazz musicians that question all the time and no one’s response has been helpful or insightful. If you have thoughts as to why, send them to me. Until then, I will show my grandson baseball films of Sparky Lyle and Dave Righetti and play him records of Johnny Hartman, Joe Williams and Nat King Cole. One of those will take.
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.
SATURDAY NIGHT WITH MARCUS MILLER & FRIENDS: Featuring Stars of The Smooth Jazz Cruise
Don’t Miss a 2+ Hour Smooth Jazz Spectacular
Stars of The Smooth Jazz Cruise will be out all weekend in the new episode of Saturday Night with Marcus Miller & Friends! The Special Guests joining Marcus and the Saturday Night Band in studio are Jonathan Butler, Keiko Matsui, Kirk Whalum and Peter White.
If you have ever sailed on The Smooth Jazz Cruise, you will feel as if you are in the Celebrity Theater, sitting in a Reserved Seat and enjoying one of our very best nightly main shows. If you are new to The Smooth Jazz Cruise, you will experience a wonderful taste of what happens every night on the cruise. You are a winner either way.
EARLIER START TIME: The show is available On-Demand beginning at 8 p.m. ET tonight, streaming online into your living room for 2+ hours of great music, conversation and comedy. Comic Alonzo Bodden is also in the house bringing the “funny” and keeping everyone on task. This Studio Concert Event can be watched on your laptop, desktop, tablet, smartphone or Smart TV in HD picture and sound. You have 48 hours in which to view the show as often as you wish. Click here to buy your ticket.
Part of our mission is to alert our fans to the availability of great music, particularly during this time of limited travel and gatherings. Sometimes the music is part of messaging that is political, religious or intended to be persuasive. We believe that our fans are sophisticated and intelligent and can parse the music from the messaging if they desire.
So, we have elected to continue to alert our fans to great music opportunities, such as Jazz for America and Lift Every Voice, without regard to the other aspects of the presentation with the following caveat.
Entertainment Cruise Productions’ promotion of the following broadcasts reflects its respect for the amazing musicians performing and does not necessarily reflect any political view or endorsement of the message presented. Great music deserves to be heard.
Jazz For America
Jazz for America is an outdoor jazz concert filmed earlier this month in New York and the show will be available online this Sunday. The Jazz Cruise will be among many jazz presenters across the country re-broadcasting the Jazz For America show on Facebook at 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT on Sunday, October 25.
The free show is hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater and features Christian McBride, both of whom are sailing on The Jazz Cruise ’22, among several more exceptional artists.
The first presentation of this show on October 15 raised money for the Biden Victory Fund.
Lift Every Voice
Hosted by our very own Marcus Miller, Lift Every Voice is a virtual concert fundraiser airing at 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT on Sunday, October 25.
The show also features fellow stars of The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’22Jeffrey Osborne and Jonathan Butler as well as several more music legends.
Click here for more information about the Lift Every Voice concert event.
Blue Note Presents a Joyous Encounter
Blue Note New York’s online concert series streaming live from the club’s storied Greenwich Village stage continues tonight with Joe Lovano’s Joyous Encounter.
The Grammy Award winning saxophone titan will be joined by Kenny Werner, Ben Street and Andrew Cyrille.
Click here for tickets and scheduling, including restream availability and additional information.
A Virtual Jazz Explosion
from the Los Angeles Jazz Society
The Los Angeles Jazz Society’s annual Jazz Tribute Awards Concert is streaming this year via Zoom at 7 p.m. PT on Wednesday, October 28.
The show, “A Celebration – For the Love of Jazz,” will be hosted by LeRoy Downs and feature Hubert Laws; Michael Feinstein; Barbara Morrison; Billy Childs, John Clayton, & Christian Euman; Tierney Sutton; Eric Reed; Gerald Clayton & Steve Lehman; Sara Gazarek; Katie Thiroux, Matt Witek & Justin Kauflin; Graham Dechter, Ryan Shaw & Alex Frank; with a few more surprises on the way.
The concert raises funds for important jazz education programs, benefiting many thousands of young people in the LAUSD public schools and beyond each year.