Anybody who didn’t hear enough music aboard the 2019 edition of The Jazz Cruise only has themselves to blame. The offerings were plentiful and varied, with music running from 11:30 a.m. to after 1 a.m., with staggered programming in five different performance spaces. There were more than 100 jazz musicians in the lineup, and about 2,000 passengers aboard the m/s Celebrity Infinity
The cruise departed Fort Lauderdale FL on Saturday, January 19 and returned a week later after brief stops in St. Croix, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Labadee, Haiti. Clearly, most folks aboard were there for the music. It was the 19th annual cruise, and more than a few passengers have been on most of them.
This year’s personal treats:
- Pianist Chucho Valdés was aboard with his Cuban quartet. In addition to multiple performances with that band’s exotic polyrhythms, Valdés teamed up for the first time with organist Joey DeFrancesco (and Joey D’s drummer, Khary Shaheed). They dug deep into a half-dozen jazz standards, adding their own imprints and responding to each other’s solos.
- Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon’s annual Gospel Hour featured a blend of players plus singer Niki Harris. After Gordon’s solo horn version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton told the audience to “Think of God like an insurance policy. Whatever he is, whatever she is, whatever it is, God will protect you.” This one is always a stirring program.
- Australian trumpeter James Morrison, fondly dubbed “The Thunder from “Down Under,” pulled together an all-star group of musicians to explore the music from Dizzy Gillespie’s 1957 recording The Greatest Trumpet of them All. It was the first jazz recording Morris heard, at age 8, and he called it a life-changing moment. The album was arranged by Benny Golson. After digging into the Dizzy fare, the band also performed three Golson originals: “I Remember Clifford,” “Out of the Past” and “Killer Joe.” Golson was aboard the cruise with his own quartet, and turned 90 on Friday the 25th.
- Trumpeter Randy Brecker and alto saxophonist Eric Marienthal spent one lively hour paying tribute to the music of the Adderley Brothers.
- Pianist Joey Alexander, now 15, made his first visit to The Jazz Cruise, boarding the ship for a few hours during its St. Croix stopover for a Sirius XM radio taping with pianist/host Shelly Berg. He also performed two shows of original material with his trio with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland.
- Bassist John Clayton, who led the ship’s all-star big band during its three performaences, also was featured with the Clayton Brothers band. At the first show by the quintet, John Clayton called the 2019 edition “our most important cruise.” Even a few weeks before the cruise, he was unsure his brother Jeff would be aboard, because he has been battling kidney cancer. Jeff had been woodshedding after hospitalizations and rehab and felt well enough to make the trip—and perform. He got a bit winded now and then, but the music was passionate and heart-felt.
- Singer Veronica Swift performed in a variety of contexts all week: a concert with pianist Shelly Berg, who was one of her mentors at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, several sets with pianist Emmet Cohen, and a cameo with the big band, dubbed the Anita Berry Big Band in honor of the cruise’s founder. With the Jeff Hamilton-powered big band backing her, Swift performed “September in the Rain” and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” (the latter was a John Clayton arrangement that he’d penned for the late Nancy Wilson). On the closer, Swift went head-to-head trading vocal-trumpet solos with Brecker. It was a powerful moment on a cruise filled with many great moments.
- The SFJAZZ Collective performed its members arrangements of material from Antonio Carlos Jobim’s extensive bossa nova repertoire, as well as originals commissioned by the SFJAZZ organization for this season. The band included tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, trumpeter Etienne Charles, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibes player Warren Wolf, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Obed Calvaire. Sanchez and Charles often doubled on congas.
The many other musicians aboard included clarinetist Ken Peplowski, pianists Bill Charlap, Eliane Elias and Renee Rosnes, trumpeter Sean Jones, drummer Tommy Igoe, saxophonists Ada Rovatti, Jimmy Greene and Houston Person, singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli, and singers Cyrille Aimée, Mary Stallings and Steve Tyrell.
Even on the final night, when passengers needed to get their luggage ready to disembark early the next morning, some were getting in one last musical treat for their ears. The mid-ship Rendezvous Lounge was packed for evening sets by the Jeff Hamilton trio and Veronica Swift with Emmet Cohen's trio. It was standing room only, with more than a few sitting on the floor in the aisles.
This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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