As one of smooth jazz’s biggest stars, Dave Koz has been many things to many people—from top-selling recording artist to morning show co-host on 94.7 The Wave in Los Angeles — but this November 5-12, he’ll be adding a whole new chapter to his resume. Dave Koz & Friends at Sea sets sail from San Diego for a weeklong cruise to Mazatlan, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta aboard Holland America’s m.s. Oosterdam. His friends are among the biggest names in the genre — Chris Botti, David Benoit, George Duke, Wayman Tisdale and Kirk Whalum.
Koz has a bit of island experience to draw from. He flew into St. Thomas last January for a special concert that was part of the 2nd Annual Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise, a popular event that will run again out of Fort Lauderdale aboard the m.s. Zuiderdam January 21-28, 2006, headed for San Juan, Nevis and St. Barths.
According to the saxman, some 60% of the cabins for the 2006 run of the Hill cruise were sold by the time the 2005 cruise returned to port. But wait, there’s more. Fans who prefer to hop islands in the Gulf of Mexico can hop aboard The All-Star Cruise (November 11-20), which is being billed by its promoters, Mark Vrabel and Tony LaBarbera, as “the ultimate Smooth Jazz Experience.”
This one, on the Carnival Elation, leaves from Galveston, hits Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel and Belize, and features a mix of established artists (Peter White, Mindi Abair, Craig Chaquico, Brian Culbertson) with newer faces (Nick Colionne, Alan Hewitt). Vrabel and LaBarbera tapped the gregarious Rick Braun as host, and the trumpeter is also something of an adviser, suggesting the recent addition of Gerald Albright to the established lineup. Al Jarreau (Friday) and Boney James (Saturday) are slated to perform at pre-cruise land shows the nights before the Sunday launch.
Clearly, the open sea is becoming the hippest place for fans and artists alike to experience what gushing smooth cruisers often call the event of a musical lifetime. All you need is a few grand, a week off and a rabid desire to interact with your favorite stars. Late night jam sessions, autograph sessions, even mini-seminars where participating artists talk about their craft add to the intimacy.
“Artists and promoters are constantly trying to figure out new and exciting ways to bring music to the people who support us,” says Koz. “I think the success of Warren’s cruises and the high anticipation and aggressive sales for the new ones are due to the feeling of exclusivity, where only 900 couples or so can experience what is truly a ‘floating backstage.’ Fans can marinate in all this music for a week and interact with artists, both formally at autograph sessions and informally at the pool or bar. That makes this a very personal experience they can’t get anywhere else.”
“Regular festivals have the vibe of set up, play, tear down for the next act, with minimal opportunity for spontaneity or hang time,” he says. “On a ship, we’re a captive audience. Artists can not only come up and jam impromptu with the headliners, but also act as fans themselves. It’s the ultimate working vacation for us, keeps us employed between summer festival season and any Christmas touring. We have a chance to slow down, relax and enjoy a deeper companionship with our fans. My mom’s gonna love it, too.”
Jazz cruising is not limited to the smooth genre. Michael Lazaroff, executive producer and financier of the Hill and Koz cruises, along with promoter Scottland Concerts, also helms The Jazz Cruise, currently in its 5th year (October 29-November 5) and billed as “straight ahead jazz’s only full-ship charter.” Vrabel and LaBarbera, however, believe that the relatively small, tight knit community of smooth jazz artists and the genre’s fans — who, demographically speaking, lean upscale - lends itself perfectly to a fun-filled, action packed week at sea.
Part of the pre-launch research for their All Star Cruise is an alliance with 22 top smooth jazz stations, which have helped them better understand the potential audience for their event — from six figure professionals who travel often to their secretaries who’ve been saving for a while, age 35-55, multi-racial, and perhaps most importantly, 50% prone to coming again if they have a good time.
“The average smooth cruiser is a huge fan of one or two of the artists who leaves loving others they had never heard of,” says LaBarbera. Vrabel adds, “We’re bringing together a sophisticated audience with similar tastes and values, finding folks who are passionate about the music and have the need to share this with some 1,900 other people who feel the same way. They’re excited about spending that week getting so close with the stars.”
While Koz, LaBarbera and Vrabel are all optimistic that the genre can support three annual cruises, they know it’s not the quality of the ship, the rooms, the buffets or the ports that will sell the experience. “It’s purely artist driven,” says LaBarbera. “They will come because they are getting something they can’t get anywhere else.”
Koz adds, “Looking at the flier with the names that will be on my cruise, I am blown away by the variety. That’s what people are responding to. When we first announced a Dave Koz & Friends at Sea, people’s interests were piqued, but they weren’t sold. The minute they found out the lineup, sales started skyrocketing. They’re putting their money on the lineup that appeals most to them.”
For information on The All-Star Cruise, please call 1-877-529-9729 or visit www.allstarcruise.com. For Dave Koz & Friends At Sea, 1-877-DAVE-KOZ or www.davekozcruise.com. For Warren Hill’s Smooth Jazz Cruise 2006, call 877-330-JAZZ or visit www.warrenhillcruise.com.
MATT’S MOOD: Fans who remember the early days of the format (even before it was officially dubbed “Smooth Jazz”) will be excited about the return of Basia, truly a long lost prodigal daughter, as part of a reunion of the original Matt Bianco lineup on Matt’s Mood (Decca). Funny thing, though — the new disc, which captures the sensual lounge jazz vibe that is so popular in 2005, sounds like it could have been recorded just after the British based trio’s only previous full length project, 1984’s multi-million selling Whose Side Are You On?
The nine vocals on Matt’s Mood — some led by Basia, some featuring her harmony lines behind the ultra-cool leads by Mark Reilly - run the gamut from those flavors to deeper explorations of the trio’s lifelong passions for classic soul, Latin and Brazilian styles.
For Reilly, the playful samba-flavored “Ordinary Day,” perfectly captures the seamless connection between 1984 and 2004. “This for me, sums up Matt Bianco,” he says. “It has a really nice bossa groove, Basia’s vocal is so inviting.”
The third link in the chain is Basia’s longtime partner, keyboardist Danny White, who has always been the singer’s sonic architect. He also invites his well-known brother, Peter White to add his trademark acoustic guitar and accordian lines to four tunes.
The trio toured the U.S. throughout April and May. “This has really been such a therapeutic process for me,” says Basia. “I have so much more life experience to draw from now. The chemistry works between us. I love working with Mark, and enjoy the interplay of our voices. Making music is the only thing that gets me going like this, and everything about this project was so natural. It’s great to be back.”
1) Steve Barta, Another Life Brazil (Steve Barta Music) –The late Herbie Mann, who makes a final appearance here, called the versatile, Brazilian styled pianist, “a curious blend of Aaron Copland and Antonio Carlos Jobim.” This easygoing collection features brilliant guest spots by Dori Caymmi and Hubert Laws.
2) Stanley Jordan, Flying Home (EMI Manhattan)
3) Michael Buble, It’s Time (143 Records/Reprise)
4) Secret Garden, Earthsongs (Decca)
5) Real Piano: A Collection (Real Music)
New and Noteworthy
1) Devoted Spirits: Tribute to Earth Wind & Fire (Thump Records)
2) Urban Knights VI (Narada)
3) Tobaj (Tobaj Music)
4) Chuck Loeb, When I’m With You (Shanachie)
5) Chieli Minucci, Got It Goin’ On (Shanachie)