February is the shortest month of the year, but it packs a wallop.
Our Take: The Magic of February
February is an interesting month. Yes, it is the shortest month of the year, but it packs a wallop. The month starts with the Punxsutawney Phil watch, followed by the Super Bowl, and customarily includes multiple entertainment award ceremonies. February also initiates the transition from Winter to Spring, at least symbolically when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. If nothing else, those events would provide a full month of activities.
But February also holds two important events that emit emotions that cascade from somber to joy and from despair to hope — Valentine’s Day and Black History Month. How did these commemorative observations begin and why are they in February? The backstories are fascinating.
To many, Valentine’s Day is all about Whitman’s Samplers, the boxed chocolate gift that was first produced in 1842, bouquets of flowers, special cards and taking your loved one out to dinner. You could argue that the day is a retailer’s contrivance engineered to force a wave of consumer spending between Christmas and Mother’s Day. This observation has more truth than falsehood, albeit in a very cynical way.
The prevailing view of the origin of Valentine’s Day harks back to the 4th Century and the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was traditionally held in mid-February. I believe that once you start talking about centuries in the single digits, words like “harks” are required. I will refrain from ending every verb with “th”, but you get the point. Evidently, the festival heralded (another good single-digit century word) the coming of Spring. As such, there were fertility rites and the introduction of women to men by lottery, the ancient predecessor to Match.com. Since they met face to face, the current practice of photo and bio fraud that dominates online dating was avoided. Pope Gelasius I is credited with renaming the holiday “St. Valentine’s Day” some time in the late 5th Century. At least that is what my research sayeth!
There is a hot debate over who is the true St. Valentine. But, lest us dwell too long on matters of heresy and folly, we must sally forth on to new worlds of inquiry. Anyone feel like jousting? Drinking grog? Didn’t think so.
For those seeking a jazzy way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we recommend the following playlist (click here to listen):
“Blue in Green” – Bill Evans Trio
“When I Fall in Love” – Brad Mehldau
“The Very Thought of You” – Nancy Wilson
“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” – Chet Baker
“As Time Goes By” – Steve Tyrell
“My Foolish Heart” – Kurt Elling
“For Sentimental Reasons” – Nat King Cole Trio
“Stardust” – Harry Connick Jr.
“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” – Diana Krall
After all, this is a jazz column! At least most of the time!
The path to Black History Month is more clear, more impactful and more pertinent. Scholars credit American historian Carter G. Woodson, in the early 20th Century, of solidifying a three-week national celebration of the 50th anniversary of Emancipation and creating a study group that would shortly announce the creation of Negro History Week in February 1926. Over time, the celebration was extended to a full month. President Gerald Ford is credited with being the first president to support Black History Month on a national level, though observances can be traced to the 1940s.
Since the genesis of the event is the Emancipation, embodied in the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, you would think that January would have been the month chosen for the movement. June would also be a meaningful month in recognition of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. on June 19, 1865, a day also known as Freedom Day.
Nonetheless, Woodson chose February. He did so in honor of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays were February 12 and 14, respectively. Certainly, these two men were the most eloquent spokespersons of the cause of civil rights, dignity, freedom and emancipation at that time and their words and thoughts are as apt today as they were then.
Yes, February is an interesting month. We believe that a groundhog can predict the length of the winter, that a football game is the most important event of the year and that who wins an Emmy, an Oscar or a Grammy is a matter of life and death. With all that is going on in the world today, this February may be remembered more for expressions of love, safety, respect and dignity. February 2021 is when Valentine’s Day and Black History Month are the highlights of this 28 day expanse of time.
Having said that, if your loved one eats all the cherry filled chocolates from the Whitman’s Sampler you purchased, you are justified in being upset. Go forth and pillage! Harken! Build a moat! Polish your armor! I am now bereft of single-digit century trademarks.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Memoriam: Icon and Legend Chick Corea
The world of jazz has lost one of its mightiest performers, one of its greatest innovators, and a true icon and legend. You will undoubtedly hear and see many tributes to Chick Corea now and for months to come. In truth, no amount of accolades will be enough or too much. He was that important.
But, in this space, we will share our own cruise experiences with Chick Corea. It took a lot of time and effort to entice him to join us in 2018 on our Blue Note at Sea cruise. Not because he did not want to sail with us or perform for us. On the contrary, he was excited and eager to do so, particularly to share time on the ship with the other amazing performers. He was concerned that the ship environment could not be properly set up to allow him to perform as he wanted to for our guests.
It took the words of Marcus Miller, speaking directly to him, and our Production Manager Brian Rachko, speaking to his management, to make it work.
Sometimes when this happens, there is a “diva” tone to the inquiry. Not this time. Not this musician. His only concern was the integrity of the music and the quality of the performance he could provide. It was as if he knew, humbly, that many of our guests would be sailing on that cruise primarily to hear him and he was totally invested in ensuring that the performance would be special. And, trust me, it was. And, trust me, he was just as special to hang with.
Chick Corea was scheduled to depart the cruise midway in Jamaica. For those who know that geography, our ship docked at one end of the island and the airport was at the other end. To make his flight, he and his band had to endure a two-hour cross island journey by car. I have made that journey many times and it is not a pleasant one, but, when Chick Corea made the journey, it was particularly difficult. Jamaica was under siege and there were armed soldiers guarding the highways and checking all travel with an eye to protecting folks against various gangs embroiled in a turf war. To ensure his safety, or at the very least to share in his fate, I joined him for the trip.
It was a magical trip. He projected a goodness and spirit that transcended all that was happening. In fact, his spirit was almost oblivious to the danger. The juxtaposition of his smile and energy against the four times we were stopped by the soldiers was amazing. Here we were racing against time to make the flight, while navigating through an armed country, and Chick Corea was sitting next to me talking about his ideas for future cruise programs. He loved being at sea!
We arrived at the airport and through the work of our agents, Chick and the band were ushered directly to the plane. No inspection. No TSA. You have to love airports that negotiate! At no point did he recognize the special treatment or act concerned. The airport was a madhouse for sure, but not to him. He walked onto the tarmac and boarded the plane. I smiled, thought of Casablanca, and wondered if this would be “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The next day, Chick Corea emailed me. I ran into Marcus soon thereafter and told him, tongue in cheek, that I had found a new idol and friend. I was swapping emails with Chick Corea. We laughed, but, for me, that was as close to “cool” as I can get. I will miss those emails and the chance to have him sail with us again. Safe to say, there will never be another Chick Corea.
TONIGHT: Kurt Elling Presents a Special Valentine’s Concert
Kurt Elling, one of the very special vocalists sailing on The Jazz Cruise ’22, will perform a virtual concert at 9pm ET tonight to help you get in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.
Performing from The Epiphany Center for the Arts in Chicago, Kurt says that he’ll be playing songs of love from his past albums as well as some special selections. He’ll be joined by his working band of Stu Mindeman (piano), John McLean (guitar), Clark Sommers (bass) and Dana Hall (drums).
Berks Jazz Fest Announces Lineup & Dates for August Event
Our friends at the Berks Jazz Fest, which is normally held in early April each year, have moved this year’s 10-day festival to August 13-22 at various venues throughout Reading, Pa.
The lineup features many favorites of The Smooth Jazz Cruise, including Boney James, Brian Culbertson, Keiko Matsui and Kirk Whalum. We are proud to sponsor one of the concerts each year and ECP night at Berks ’21 will be extra special with stars of The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’22: Back to SeaMarcus Miller, David Sanborn and Jonathan Butler performing! That special ECP concert at Berks will be on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021.
The 30th anniversary Berks Jazz Fest will also feature Chris Botti, Brian Bromberg, as well as special events like Gerald Veasley’s Midnight Jams, Unscripted at Berks, and the annual Chuck Loeb Memorial All-Stars Jam.
We look forward to our annual trip to Pennsylvania and love having the large Berks Jazz Fest sailing group on our cruises every year.
Click here for a complete schedule and detailed information for the festival.
NEW DATE: Wednesday, Feb. 17
Ann Hampton Callaway & Niki Haris LIVE!
The two spectacular singers sailing on The Jazz Cruise ’22 will share our digital stage to talk about their common ability to sing not only jazz but other genres of music. Another favorite topic for both vocalists is inspiration – where it comes from and where to take it.
Tune in on Wednesday, February 17, at 8pm ET for a very entertaining conversation. Don’t forget, the Jazz Cruise Conversations LIVE series of online jazz chats continues on the following Wednesday nights:
Feb. 24: Bria Skonberg with Jennifer Wharton
March 10: Monty Alexander with John Clayton
You can catch all of the Jazz Cruise Conversations Live interviews on our YouTube and Facebook pages or you can listen to them as podcasts on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.