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Dave Koz and Friends Smooth Jazz Cruise Review – The 4th Annual Cruise Sailed on Holland America”s Westerdam

By Babbie De Derian, Travel, Food & Spa Editor

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Dave Koz and friends 4th annual Smooth Jazz Cruise sets sail on Holland America”s Westerdam . . .  And I am onboard to swing and sway

For the past seven years, Jazz Cruises, llc has hosted jazz lovers and top jazz musicians on the only full-ship cruise charters in the world dedicated to live jazz music. They  offer  four different jazz cruises for every jazz music taste including: The Jazz Cruise; The Smooth Jazz Cruise, hosted by Wayman Tisdale; Dave Koz & Friends at Sea, and their newest edition to the family, the Playboy Jazz Cruise.

They are masters at producing seven night cruise experiences that combine the red hot talents and personalities of  a wide range of award winning  jazz greats with the elegant experience of being on a Holland America ship, and the perks of shore excursions to sun- kissed Caribbean and foreign  ports of call. 

Passengers  enjoy  jazz concerts and  jam sessions every night from jazz legends like Dave Koz, Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power, Chaka Khan, Wayman Tisdale, George Duke, Ellis Hall, Deniece Williams, Richard Elliot, Jeff Golub, and Gerald Albright, as well as jazz newcomers like Eldar, John Stoddart, U-Nam, New Birth Brass Band and Arlington Jones, to mention just a few.

I must admit I am not a jazz aficionado; when I first board the Westerdam, the sea of strangers arriving  from all over the world, is a little daunting, as is the thought of being a captive audience for seven nights, until I met  Dave Koz and his saxophone.

Koz gets carried away and wades into the water


I quickly became part of his family of 1,910 fans who are here to spend a week of music packed performances, workshops, seminars and “hanging out” with their idol. From the time I embark to the time I disembark, I find myself clappin and hootin just as loud and as often as the rest of the crowd.

Dave Koz and friends center stage


We get off to a stompin start with a 4:45 sail away party by the Lido Pool. Dave Hooper, Rayford Griffin and Ramas Yslas jam to everyone’s delight. Later that evening, Rick Braun and Richard Elliot join Dave when he hosts the “Welcome Show”.

The scheduling and rotating of performances to accommodate the early and late dinner seating, makes it possible to miss a concert one night but see it two days later.

The secret to being on a seven night cruise is to book a cabin with a veranda. My accommodations, VA8018 gives me a place to do yoga stretches before breakfast, read, write or just get lost in the syncopation of the wake as it crashes against the ship’s hull.  

Richard Eliot performing on opening night in the Vista Lounge

The second night at sea, Richard Elliot almost blows me into the water with his sensuous and faithful love affair with his saxophone. I later tell him that when he sank to his knees writhing with passion over every note that came out of his sax I felt he was making love as we all listened and watched.

Then Rick Braun joined him, and together they sent mellow haunting notes into the night in a duet with Rick’s trumpet and Richard Elliot’s sax.

Dave Koz performing at the Lido Pool


Lynne Fiddmont, who has sung back-up for an astonishing roster of singers that includes: Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estafan, Whitney Houston and Seal, wows me with her sultry velvet voice and calming stage presence. Her voice, the music she writes and her story are waiting to be heard; it is time for her to spread her talents into a solo career.

One night on my way to one show, I pass the lounge where Deniece Williams and Eric Benet are rehearsing a duet for her 11 o’clock show. I feel compelled to sit and listen as they prepare a soulful rendition of “Too Little Too Late”.  Legendary Ellis Hall, singing and playing the piano, is another moment in time that will be slow in fading.  U- Nam, “the guitarist with the memorable name and an acrobatic, soulful and sweet melodic touch” who calls his music “classy, jazzy, funky and Frenchy” performs hits from his CD: “Back From the 80’s. Jeff Golub’s dexterity on his electric guitar sends chills up and down my spine.   

Ellis Hall performs in the Ocean Bar


One of the truly emotional highlights that touch me deeply was the Gospel Hour featuring Jonathan Butler & friends. When he sang “Falling in Love with Jesus” regardless of your religion, there wasn’t a dry eye on the ship. On a lighter funnier note, Comedian Alonso Bodden was absolutely hilarious; I couldn’t stop laughing as tears ran down my face.

Not only did I get to appreciate these  performers in concert, but I also had the  opportunity to interact with them and their families, personally and informally  . . . from chatting with Eric Benet on the beach in the Dominican Republic, and hanging out with Ellis Hall and George Duke . . .  to a wine tasting and  brisket cooking demonstration with Dave, his sister Roberta, his brother-in-law Pat Wilson and his older brother Jeff , a jazz musician in his own right who inspired Dave to pursue a musical career. Even 80 year young Aunt Lois and her boyfriend were on hand to cheer Dave on.   

The KOZ Idol contest is a big hit; quite a few devoted fans brought their own saxophone, hoping to get some pointers and jam informally with Dave and his friends; others render a vocal they have practiced for months.  

Everyday brings new surprises; when we dock in St. Thomas special guests Tower of Power come on board to perform two shows at 7:15 and 9:30; the group is celebrating 42 years of playing together.

Brian Simpson, an extraordinary musical director and talented recording artist, captures my heart when he performs songs from his latest album, “Above the Clouds” and some of his biggest hits like “It’s all Good”.  Candy Dulfer, another special guest, has flown in from Holland where she lives.  When this blond, beautiful performer puts her sax to her lips, the power of her mastery is electrifying.

Jeff Golub in concert in the Vista Lounge


The amazing Candy Dulfer performing in the Vista Lounge


I skip the musical workshops: guitars in the round, featuring four unique artists each with a different sound and style; Jonathan Butler, Jeff Golub, Dwight Sills and U- Nam  share how they master their craft; and  the sax academy with Candy Dulfer, Richard Elliot, Najee and Dave. I regret missing the digital photo editing workshop and would have liked to meet the Jazz Historian on board; he was there to answer questions and share a little jazz history, but I did check out the Greenhouse Spa and have a nutritional evaluation with health expert Chinta Demasson.

The best part is having your jazz favorites participate in all the ship board activities: from the PJ midnight party to the Koz Costume Contest where passengers are encouraged to come as their favorite celebrity.
 

The costume contest is a big hit


There is no other cruise, jazz festival or music venue that offers such personal interaction with so many jazz stars; aside from one formal night and the main show, the venues are intimate and the dress code is casual, which made it easy  to meet, mix and share the incredible wealth of unbridled and uncensored  talent  with other jazz lovers. And, nowhere else can you treat yourself to such a unique vacation; one that offers a  bountiful array of delicious food, pampering in the ship’s beautiful Greenhouse Spa and  a wide selection of port tours and beach activities. Swimming is my passion and the Caribbean beckons on every island.

Michael Lazaroff, the Executive Director of Jazz Cruises, LLC, was an attorney in St. Louis until his mother Anita E. Berry, who had been booking jazz cruises for years, decided in 2001 that they should charter a ship to organize their own jazz cruise. Jazz Cruises LLC was formed, and since then they have worked together with a staff of qualified cruise experts to orchestrate and schedule what I would happily endorse as “the world’s most energizing and fun at sea experience”. It was a million dollar gamble that seems to have paid off in more ways than one.  Michael spends his time socializing with passengers and proudly states “Some of my closest friends I met on the cruises I have chartered. They came on board as clients but lasting friendships have developed. My approach to the industry is to invite people to come on one of my cruises to have fun, not simply as a customer”. 

Eric Benet performing in the Vista Lounge


Deniece Williams and Eric Benet performing a powerful duet at the All Stars in Concert in the Vista Lounge


Anita is on board and I am thrilled to have a chance to spend a little time with her.  With not much jazz savvy behind me, she expands my knowledge of the differences between smooth cool jazz and traditional straight ahead jazz.

I chat with other passengers who share their feelings; after all, we’re in this together.  “What works about this is that people not only go on a physical, but also an emotional journey. Its an experience you won’t find anywhere else” . . . ” I’m from Philadelphia, Dave Koz left no stone unturned”…  or the couple from Virginia “its our first jazz cruise, but it won’t be our last, we’ve already signed on for the Dave Koz/Wayman Tisdale 2010 Cruise”.

Westerdam's pool deck


Todd, a divorced geologist from Midland, Texas is traveling solo; it is his first cruise. ”Jazz is not real popular in Texas, but I listened to Dave Koz on the radio when I lived in Arkansas. I thought I would give it a shot. It has been extremely enjoyable and educational. I would definitely consider doing it again. Everyone was very friendly and open”. Liz from Greenbay, Wisconsin is with two girlfriends: “this is my 4th Dave Koz Cruise; the music and Dave keeps me coming back year after year. I love the night he does solo and when they all jam. I just appreciate all the musicians here to provide the entertainment, but I like the fact I can get to know them informally as well”. Nathan is seated at my table for dinner. For him, “being on the cruise is like going to heaven and not having to die”.  One of the musicians tells me”The difference between this and a show or a festival, where we do our gig and leave, here we get to play and hang out with our peers in front of our fans”.

Babbie and daughter Chena with Koz Idol contestants


Dave Koz expresses his love for music, his peers and his fans with gratitude, and in the warmest friendliest way. I am impressed with the number of passengers who have already booked the Dave Koz / Wayman Tisdale January 2010 Smooth Jazz Cruise. Returning guests get discounts and accrued points that equate to additional perks.

Our last day in paradise is spent on Harbor Cay, Holland America’s private island, where we ride horses into the sea, swim and feast on a beach BBQ. When we return to the ship, the afternoon ends with a poolside jam session that brings fifteen artists together to tell their last melodious story; it is one that reverberates across the sea and into the hearts of old and new fans and friends. Dave, carried away by his own emotions, takes off his shoes and socks and walks into the swimming pool, playing his heart out as he wades through the water, bending down to play in the faces and ears of cheering seated fans.  Dave Koz: the unconventional, the original, and the eclectic belts out what everyone has come on this cruise to hear.  I look up to the sky and watch two pelicans flap their huge wings to the smooth sounds of Dave Koz and Friends.

It’s equal parts party and equal parts music. As jamming goes, its great quality music, not just noise or stumbling on genius. It is a willing suspension of disbelief and a suspension of reality for the moment. I stand in awe; it is totally unplugged, uncensored and unrehearsed. “Even if you don’t like smooth jazz, it’s a great party”.

Our last night at sea, Dave Koz & Friends go over the edge. I am humbled, honored and inspired.  It has indeed been a floating celebration, a series of musical adventures, the beginning of new friendships, a chance to feel and hear the passion of 40 artists playing with their peers, and the love that flows and connects us all.


I shall treasure this experience:  the many wonderful people I met,  Michael Lazaroff, who will hopefully add me to his rooster of friends he met on one of his cruises, Anita Berry’s confidence in her own convictions, the musicians that wowed me, those who educated me, and the beautiful food and cabin staff from Indonesia and the Philippines who couldn’t do enough to please me, especially Soni, Agoos and Budi. I feel blessed to have been part of so much love, talent and faith. I must admit I have far to go to become a jazz aficionado; but my first jazz cruise far surpasses my expectations; I navigate the gangplank with a deeper understanding and a higher respect, for the world of jazz.

Once we dock, every artist is off to another challenge. George Duke is going back into the studio. He’s working on an album with a female singer from Cameroon; He tells me: “ you have to  love people, you have to love to give, my fans are very important to me; if there were none of them, there would be no me. Art has to communicate; music is the ultimate wireless communicator. This is the “music boat”. What I do is continue to make the music I am spiritually led to do; if it happens to be a hit, that’s fine, but I do not make music to make a hit, my music is a little funkier. Richard Elliot is going to play a nightclub gig for a week; Dave Koz will be preparing for a December concert at the Nokia Theatre in New York City.   

Dave Koz: “you and your friends are living legends in the
world of jazz . . . a title you have all worked hard, and traveled far, to earn”.

I am hoping to trade the January blahs and blizzards for another sensational week of world class jazz when the 8TH Annual COOL JAZZ CRUISE, hosted by Wayman Tisdale, SAILS OUT OF FT LAUDERDALE ON JANUARY 17, 2009 with a line up of musicians that includes: Jonathan Butler, Jeff Golub, Marcus Miller and Everett Harp, with special guests RUFUS, featuring Chaka Khan . . .  or on the January 25th to February 1st Inaugural Playboy Jazz Cruise, featuring Dianne Reeves, with special guest Herbie Hancock, Grammy winner of the best album of the year 2008.

Mark Your Not to be Missed 2010 Calendar:  
THE DAVE KOZ & FRIENDS SMOOTH JAZZ CRUISE, FEATURING
WAYMAN TISDALE WILL SET SAIL FROM FT. LAUDERDALE,
JANUARY 17TH, to the 24th, 2010 WITH A PHENOMENAL LINE-UP. . .
AND AN AMAZING SCHEDULE OF EVENTS AND PORT EXCURSIONS.

Don't think I can swim that far


It’s the best vacation bargain I know of!
Hope to see you onboard! 

Lynne Fidmont, the lady can sing


        
For more info and to book a cruise:
www.jazzcruisesllc.com or USA & Canada 888-852-9987. International: 1-800-852-9987


Published on Apr 02, 2011

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