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Notes from the Jazz Cruise

I have finally recovered from the Jazz Cruise, which actually docked a month ago.  It’s not the music overload, or the hang overload;  it is, of course, the buffet overload and ensuing comatose state.  I calculate that I was eating the equivalent of 4 Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity® breakfasts at IHOP every day.  But I am back to my old self, plus about 5 pounds.  ArtistWorks' brilliant saxophone instructor, Eric Marienthal was on the cruise as well;  we watched the Super Bowl together in the lounge.  A few OBSERVATIONS from the week!


  1. I haven’t heard as much music, and as much GREAT music, in the past couple years as I heard in that one week.  When you have a concentrated group of musicians on a boat like that, it’s possible to do things like the Singers’ Night, in which they took 12 of the great singers on the ship and had them each sing one tune, accompanied impeccably by the host of the cruise, a great piano player named Shelly Berg from Miami.  Watching him cover all these tunes on about one quick rehearsal was a real lesson in how to accompany a vocalist.  Much of that art involves really listening to where the singer’s going, kind of breathing with them, and playing a nice, full sound underneath.  For another great lesson, check out Nat King Cole or Carmen McCrae (also notice how much Diana Krall, another great pianist/vocalist, pinched from Carmen) playing for themselves;  what could be a better example of exactly what a singer wants to hear under them than a singer who’s a master pianist playing for themselves?  
  2. One of the events in the main showroom was something called “Keyboard Capers” (no, they didn’t spell “capers” with a K, which was a big disappointment).  12 of the PIANO players on the ship each played one tune.  I played “Liza”, since the night was a tribute to Oscar Peterson and that was one of the tunes he played when I saw him while I was in high school.  And everybody played great, including Arturo Sandoval (yes, THAT Arturo, who’s a damn fine piano player in addition to a trumpet virtuoso).  But the thing that amazed me was how pretty much everybody was NERVOUS before this.  Allen Farnham, the first pianist who played, a great musician who I’ve followed since my early days in New York, got off and said “That sure felt exactly like my senior recital”.  Benny Green, as seasoned a piano player as anybody out there, got off the stage and said “Well, alright, now I can relax for the rest of the day”.  It’s a different animal, getting out there with nothing but you and a piano and a few hundred pairs of eyeballs.  I’m playing a solo concert in 3 weeks in Oregon, but at those I have the option of fleshing out a tune as much as I like, since I build arrangements in Native Instruments’ Maschine software, like this .  But I think everybody felt the pressure of playing the WHOLE piano, not just comping or soloing, and with Oscar as the touchstone, it was more intense than it would be otherwise!  I played my usual combination of bass notes and comping for the first half of what I played, then broke out a walking bass line in the left hand and blew over that with my right.  Which is fun as hell, but HARD as hell;  I have always been amazed by the great organists (Joey DeFrancesco was on the cruise, too!) who make that look so easy!  


More reporting from the cruise in future posts;  it was truly a great week!