The Eastern Caribbean
January 15-22, 2005
Imagine seven days cruising the Eastern Caribbean… Imagine exotic ports of call like St. Thomas, Tortola, Nassau and Half Moon Cay… Imagine all the great food, fun and sun that abound on a huge luxury liner... Okay, still with me? Imagine twelve of the top names in Smooth Jazz captive on the cruise ship with you – there just to play for your entertainment. Well, that dream was a reality this past January 15th through 22nd aboard Warren Hill's Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005 on Holland America’s M/S Zuiderdam. Co-hosting the event were Lynn Briggs, of Dallas' KOAI-FM, Smooth Jazz 107.5, and Smooth Jazz TV’s Cameron Smith.
Eighteen-hundred Smooth Jazz fans had the opportunity to savor the sounds of the "dream team" of the genre on what had to be the best musical experience of a lifetime. Hosted again this year by the incomparable Warren Hill, the line-up was first rate: Oleta Adams, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Paul Brown, Jonathan Butler, Jeff Golub, Euge Groove, Wayman Tisdale, Kim Waters, Kirk Whalum and Peter White, with a special guest appearance by Dave Koz. Can it get any better than this? Every night the guests were enthralled to hear two of their favorite artists perform their wonderful trademark vibes. Due to scheduling, some nights guests even had a third bonus concert! Add in the nightly "jam sessions" after the main performances, and it was a total feast for the Smooth Jazz enthusiast. Besides the knockout headliners, the sidemen were top rate, bringing together the current bands of Warren Hill and Kirk Whalum, with the likes of André Berry, Ronnie Gutierrez, the Harris Brothers (Don and Bill), Dave Hooper, Randy Jacobs, Michael Logan, Michael Manson, Sean McCurley, Ron Reinhardt, Michael Ripoll, Juan Carlos Santos and Kevin Whalum. To top off the entertainment, Ronnie Gutierrez’s Salsa Caliente played at various venues aboard the cruise. All one can say is WOW!
The cruise was full of fun from sun-up, to way into the wee hours of the morning. Fans had the opportunity to tour the ports-of-call when docked, or find various fun activities when at sea. Regardless of where the ship was, there was ALWAYS Smooth Jazz playing somewhere, even on the closed circuit TV's in the cabins. Each night after the late performance (the fans were divided up into two groups, depending on your dinner seating, either first or second seating), there was a themed party. The highlight of those parties had to be the "Pajama Night," when Warren came out on stage in his silk PJ’s and told everyone that he had to admit that he looked like "Rod Stewart doing Hugh Hefner."
Since all of those who love Smooth Jazz know how personable and accommodating the performers are, the lucky eighteen-hundred fans sailing in January had the opportunity to get to know each of the stars a little better. Warren's staff had set up two opportunities for fans to personally interact with their favorite artists. There were several autograph sessions held throughout the cruise, along with very enlightening "Beyond the Instruments" question and answer sessions. No topics were off limits, and there were many lively discussions between the artists and fans. Everything from radio station song rotation, to "ripping" MP3's was discussed. It was a great opportunity to get the artist's perspective on a number of topics, along with learning what they might have in store for us down the road.
The highlight of the cruise had to be the All-Star concert in St. Thomas. Originally planned as an outdoor performance in Emile Griffith Park, the concert was moved back to the ship when concerns about the quality of the sound system arose. As not to disappoint the fans, Warren's staff decided to ensure the integrity of the music, and no one was disappointed! The fans reaction to the non-stop energy of the cool cats on stage was unbelievable! When the artists came out to perform, you never knew who would appear next to accompany them! The man of the evening was saxman Dave Koz, who made that huge sailing ship ROCK! Dave flew in to St. Thomas just for the All-Star performance (which ended up being two shows, since the fans could not all fit into the venue at once). The show's finale had all thirteen headliners and at least ten of the band members on stage – twenty-something of the best artists in Smooth Jazz, all jamming together…..it was heaven on earth!
There are so many highlights and memorable performances, from BWB – Braun, Whalum and Brown jamming together on stage, to the antics of Wayman Tisdale and Jonathan Bulter (affectionately known on the cruise as “Mini Me”) and the special Kirk Whalum (and friends) Gospel Hour concert on Sunday… So many awesome events, it's difficult to recount all of them and give them the props they so richly deserve.
The review would be remiss not to include the excellent service and food aboard the M/S Zuiderdam, along with the way-cool giveaways the Warren Hill staff dreamed up... everything from beach bags and ball caps, to CD cases with a special pre-release CD of Warren’s next album! Nothing like coming back to your cabin after the concert and finding a new gift on your bed every night!
The mix of Smooth Jazz, combined with cruising has proven to be a marriage made in heaven! Any fan would find the relaxation of the cruise, with the addition of great music a winner! According to Warren’s staff, the 2006 cruise is already 60% booked, with two other artists embarking on similar endeavors later this year! Our reservations are booked, are yours???
- Joanie and Ron Levine
photography by George D. Bates