Euge Groove shakin’ margaritas for fans on the Warren Hill cruise
Photo: Lori Stoll
Making a stop at St. Barth’s during the 2006 cruise hosted by Warren Hill
Photo: Craig Collier
Scott Pedersen & Richard Elliot bump into Roger Daltrey at the Four Seasons Resort on St. Barth’s

When done well, smooth jazz cruises are my favorite form of vacation. The main reason jazz fans take a week off work for these floating festivals is the seemingly nonstop smooth jazz and a type of access to the artists you can’t find anywhere on land. Since fans and artists are sharing life together on a ship, it’s common to play basketball with Wayman Tisdale, jog with Warren Hill, take a spinning class from Marion Meadows, share a glass of wine with Jonathan Butler during a jam session, chat with Bobby Caldwell over a martini, dine with or next to many of the musicians, sunbathe next to Jeff Golub on the pool deck, or get cookie-baking lessons from Dave Koz.

Aside from all of the exciting interactions with the stars of smooth jazz and the incredible musical performances, cruising is a convenient and comfortable way to travel. You only have to unpack once. All the cooking and cleaning is done for you. Food and drinks are available 24/7, and for those more disciplined than I am, there is a gym, running track and various fitness programs. The full-service spa offers a variety of massages, facials and other treatments. There’s also a lot of exploring, shopping and water activities available in exotic ports of call. 
    
While there are now several annual cruises that offer live smooth jazz, each one is different.

With the untimely passing of Dave Koz’s mom, Audrey, the maiden voyage of the Dave Koz & Friends at Sea was as emotional as it was enjoyable for the 1,850 passengers aboard Holland America’s ms Oosterdam. The Sunday afternoon gospel hour with Kirk Whalum and Butler was a much-needed spiritual uplift for fans and artists alike. It helped turn a devastating event into a joyous celebration of Audrey’s life. And Patti Austin’s Women Over 40 program that week is still quite the buzz in smooth jazz. This full-ship charter sold out several months before departing the port of San Diego last November.

First-time smooth jazz cruise promoters Mark Vrabel and Tony LaBarbera brought more than 1,000 jazz fans together for the 2005 All-Star Smooth Jazz Cruise hosted by Rick Braun. Their group of mostly first-time cruisers shared Carnival Cruise’s Conquest with non-jazz passengers on this seven-day excursion that departed Galveston, Texas, last November. They kicked off the cruise with a two-day festival that was a joint celebration for the third anniversary of Houston radio station Smooth Jazz 95.7. This event, billed as the Wave’s 3rd Annual Wave Days 3, featured Al Jarreau, Boney James, and the cruise all-stars, and was held at the Moody Gardens Resort and Convention Center on Galveston Island. On board, the stellar lineup of main stage performances included Rick Braun (host), Peter White, Brian Culbertson, Mindi Abair, Euge Groove, Eric Darius and Craig Chaquico, among others, along with autograph sessions and artist panel discussions. But it was the phenomenal late-night jam sessions hosted by Nick Colionne that created the most buzz on this voyage. They were probably the best I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Lillian and Phil Perry have jumped on the cruise ship bandwagon as a means to raise money for their non-profit PhilLill Foundation. With 40 people in attendance, the first annual Phil Perry New Year’s Weekend Cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas departed San Pedro, California, on Dec. 30 for a three-day excursion to Ensenada, Mexico. Plans for a Valentine’s Weekend Cruise for next year’s fund-raising event are underway and is scheduled for Feb. 16-19, 2007.

Then there was the fabulous cruise hosted by Warren Hill in January. Having completed three successful sailings so far, the last two of which were full-ship charters, this cruise is probably as perfect an event as can possibly be. From the music to the meals and activities, everything was flawlessly orchestrated. With more than 20 years of jazz cruise experience, Michael Lazaroff of Jazz Cruises, LLC, has tweaked every detail of all of his cruises by hiring some of the best people from all areas of the business. First, he operates an established family-owned travel agency to handle all of the bookings and travel arrangements. He hired Southern California promoter Scott Pedersen (Scottland Concerts) to act as artistic director to book all of the bands and artists and gather an experienced production crew. And to manage all cruise operations, he added Dane Butcher, with eight years of cruise line experience, as Jazz Cruises, LLC’s director of cruise operations and marketing, and onboard host.

As different as all of these cruises are, one commonality that they share is the friendships that are formed throughout the week at sea. Whether it’s with other jazz fans or the stars they admire, these precious new relationships and fond memories, combined with the incredible music, are the strong forces that seduce people back to sea each year. No smooth jazz fan’s life will be complete without experiencing the succulence of a smooth jazz-themed cruise.

This month's Smooth Jazz News is a special cruise edition and features reviews of the smooth jazz-themed cruises that sailed this past year. Subscribe today and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News, including this special jazz cruise edition.

Wayman Tisdale, cruiser and Mike Jones dancing on the Lido pool deck during the Warren Hill cruise
Marion Meadows spinning with fans on the Warren Hill cruise
Photo: Lori Stoll
Fine dining at the Pinnacle Grill
Photo: Lori Stoll
Wayman Tisdale shoots hoops with fans on the Dave Koz cruise
Photo: George Bates

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