I have always wanted to experience a jazz cruise ever since I learned about their existence about ten years ago. Recently, I took my maiden voyage on a cruise devoted specifically to jazz, The Jazz Cruise, to be exact. This “straight ahead” or traditional jazz cruise was sponsored by Entertainment Cruise Productions, LLC. It all started years ago when Ms. Anita Berry, a travel agent out of St. Louis, MO, had an idea. At age 70, she took her concept which had been reserving a portion of a cruise ship for jazz fan entertainment and developed it into reserving an entire ship for the purpose. Now in her early 80‘s, Ms. Berry has turned the day to day operations/booking over to her two sons, Michael and Richard Lazaroff. Michael functions in more of a leadership role and Richard works to assist him in various areas. The port stops were not as important to me as the entertainment value on board. To say that these were world class musicians would be quite appropriate. We had the opportunity to experience and hang out with(!!!) the Clayton brothers, Benny Golson, Johnny O’Neal, Freddy Cole, Ann Hampton-Calloway, The Heath Brothers, Kurt Elling, Houston Person, Wycliff Gordon, Carmen Bradford, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Hamilton, Ernie Adams, Tommy Igoe and John Pizzarelli. The list goes on and on. Their performances were out of this world! What great showmanship we all witnessed!
One of the puzzling things for me was, why would anyone spend an average of $3000.00 for a seven day jazz cruise? The three stops Aruba, Curacao and Half Moon Cay were OK. As a jazz singer, jamming at the piano bar at night with the likes of Johnny O’Neal, Ann Hampton-Calloway, Clayton Cameron, Freddy Cole, Rodney Whitaker, Terell Stafford and many others was a treat. Between the concerts, the big band show, the interview sessions, and the gospel concert there was plenty of entertainment.
The cruise line was Holland America. The ship was clean and well kept. The food was the best I had experienced on any cruise ship. At a time when the world had just witnessed a large cruise ship undergo a tragic accident with fatalities, I knew it would be more than safe. Once everyone had embarked, prior to setting sail, we had to meet at our muster station. A head count was taken. On the entire ship, there was one person missing. A warning was announced over the loud speaker. If this person did not show up at his mustering station, his luggage will be placed on the pier waiting for him prior to sailing. This ship’s captain was serious. It was not until that evening at one of the venues that I discovered who had been missing. While having a conversation with the venue’s sound person, he shared that it was a member of his staff. Yes, they escorted the staff member and his bags off the ship prior to departing. This gentleman was so busy setting up the sound in one of the venues, he did not hear or just ignored the muster request.
It was the passengers who amazed me the most, many of whom were repeat customers. Being a first timer, I came to realize it was an annual reunion for many. Some had been coming on this cruise since it first started about twenty-five years ago. The maid service was an added value. I began to ask myself, “Where would I go, how long would it take and how much would it cost to be entertained by this many world class jazz musicians and singers and not have to make up my bed each day? Perhaps this is why by the time the ship returned to Fort Lauderdale, FL, the 2013 cruise was already 50% booked. Jazz Cruise, anyone?