What Can We Learn From the Great Masters of Music?
Johnny Mandel, Dave Grusin and Benny Golson never stopped trying to prove themselves.
Our Take: Learning From the Greats
Johnny Mandel (right) participated in The Jazz Cruise ’09. He was the guest director of our Big Band and they performed some of his better-known tunes. I had to look up the names of those songs, for other than “Suicide is Painless” I was not 100% certain what they played. But what happened that night is permanently inscribed in my memory.
I am sure that this has happened before, perhaps often, but it was the only time that I have seen a jazz orchestra stand up and applaud a conductor or leader just for taking the bandstand. This ovation was not simply a polite gesture, it was robust, heartfelt and filled with smiling faces. Yes, they were honoring one of the great masters of music, but they were also honoring themselves — that they were about to have the privilege of performing under Johnny’s direction. I cannot blame them. He wrote “The Shadow of Your Smile” and was the arranger for “Unforgettable,” the iconic duet of Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole. He was a multi-Grammy Award winner, an NEA Jazz Master and earned a whole host of other awards and honors.
Sadly, Johnny died last month. He was 94.
Dave Grusin (right), 86, has won both Academy and Grammy awards, composing and arranging music for over 100 films (The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Firm, On Golden Pond, Tootsie, for example). Besides being a composer and arranger, Dave is a producer, label owner and an amazing piano player.
Dave performed on The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’19 with Lee Ritenour and they will be reprising their show as part of The Smooth Jazz Cruise: Live In Las Vegas (February 28 – March 5, 2021 at the Five-Star Encore Resort).
Benny Golson (right), 91, was a huge hit on The Jazz Cruise ’19. He sounded great, looked great, was disarmingly charming and basically stole the show. Benny is an NEA Jazz Master and has won almost every jazz honor in the world. Many of Benny’s compositions have become jazz standards. Songs such as “Stablemates,” “Killer Joe,” “Whisper Not,” “Along Came Betty” and “Are You Real?” have been performed and recorded numerous times by many musicians. In every sense of the words, Benny is both a treasure and a legend.
Other than having similar careers over a similar period of years, why are we talking about Dave Grusin and Benny Golson along with our thoughts about Johnny Mandel? Well, Dave and Benny were the recipients of other amazing standing ovation moments on our cruises.
When Dave — who is more well known for his composing and arranging than for his live performances — walked on stage for his performance on The Smooth Jazz Cruise last year, he was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience before playing one note. Just a week before, on The Jazz Cruise, Benny was greeted in a similar manner, first by the audience and then by his fellow musicians.
None of this is surprising. It simply proves, once again, how well versed our audiences are and how appreciative they are of great music. Part of the admiration is also attributable to the recognition of each artist’s longevity. To have the ability, the drive and the courage to continue to perform while in your 80s is amazing. You would think that these men would have nothing more to prove, but something inside them says otherwise.
Recently, the subject of “proving yourself” was a topic of discussion in the office. Some felt that there comes a time when you have completed enough tasks successfully that you have proved yourself forever. Sounds like a cross between earning “tenure” and being “made” in the mob world. When you look at the careers of Mandel, Grusin and Golson, you realize that they never stopped trying to prove themselves.
Yes, their extended careers were fueled by the love of music, but each and every time they wrote or arranged a song, stood on the bandstand or presented music in any way, they were subjecting themselves to critics and the public. Clearly, they did not believe that they had already proved themselves, despite their lengthy list of accomplishments.
Perhaps Wolfgang Puck believes that he is only as good as his last meal. LeBron James is judged by every game he plays. Oprah Winfrey’s shows are seen one at a time. Political leaders stand for re-election every few years. Whether it is your marriage, a friendship, raising children or any endeavor worthwhile, every day matters. A long skein of achievements may afford you some slack now and then, but you still need to bring it.
Greatness over time should be recognized and honored. Striving for excellence at all times is honorable. As we age, the tests we face change and our goals are modified. No amount of will can help us achieve some of the goals we sought during our younger years. We can still learn more, absorb more and try new things. Few of us will achieve what Johnny Mandel and Dave Grusin have achieved. Yet, they never stopped trying. Nor should any of us.
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.
Check Out the Jazz Stars
Joining Us in Las Vegas
Past Cruise Guests Can Book Now!
Open Booking Starts July 16!
Current Reservations Are Exceeding Expectations!
You know how excited we are to present our music programs in Las Vegas in 2021. We’ve felt your excitement in return via emails and comments on social media. Do you know who else is excited? Our musicians!
If you haven’t yet seen the amazing lineups announced earlier this week, click on your desired event banner to see all of the stars set to join you at the Encore Resort when The Jazz Cruise and The Smooth Jazz Cruise “dock” in Las Vegas.
To match those world-class lineups, we needed to line up first-class accommodations for our guests. That’s why were taking the show to the Encore Resort, a Five-Star hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip with a gorgeous theater, exceptional restaurants, all of the first-class amenities that we enjoy at sea and, most importantly, a shared commitment to putting health and safety first.
For all of the details, including the special shows, event packages and our Health and Safety Plan, check out the newly launched website for your desired event:
Remember, Past Guests of our cruises can make a reservation right now. If you have not sailed with us, Open Booking for both events will follow on July 16!
The reservation process began just a few days ago and, already, the number of reservations is in the hundreds. Please know that our total capacity for each of the two events is 1,000 guests. When the reservations reach that mark, we must close the process.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Our decision to move forward with this program is predicated upon our ability to operate the program in a healthy and safe manner, while providing the type of jazz experience that our guests have come to expect. Since the program is about 8 months away, making that judgment now is very difficult. And, though we are optimistic as to the likelihood of making this work, it would be foolish not to recognize the risks. Please know that if, at any time, we believe that the program is not feasible, we will announce our decision not to go forward and guests will receive a full refund within three (3) days of the announcement.
Nelson Mandela Birthday Tribute Concert
by Jonathan Butler
Grammy nominated recording artist Jonathan Butler will perform a special birthday tribute concert from his home in Los Angeles next Saturday, July 18, to honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela. The Smooth Jazz Cruise is proud to be the presenting sponsor of the live online event, which will be streamed live at www.facebook.com/JonathanButlerMusic.
This musical journey will feature songs from his start as a child star in South Africa right up to the present. Jonathan will also reflect on his meetings with “Madiba” and how what he learned can help us improve the world today.
Jonathan has sailed on 16 editions of The Smooth Jazz Cruise, will be there with us next year in Las Vegas, and all 3 sailings of The Greatest Party at Sea in 2022. His vocal and guitar talents alone justify his near permanent participation in all of our smooth jazz programs, but Jonathan brings so much more to everything he does.
He is that rare performer who breeds both fun and inspiration. He loves life, loves music and loves sharing his talent. His joyful presence is infectious. His sense of purpose, faith and service to others always shines through, turning a fun and light moment into one that is important and noteworthy. The ability to encompass both the fun and the seriousness of life is rare, even rarer to be able to do it with conviction and authenticity.
The Smooth Jazz Cruise is honored and grateful to include Jonathan Butler as one of its special artists and great friends. We hope you join us at 5 p.m. PST / 8 p.m. EST next Saturday, July 18, for this outstanding tribute concert.