PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Contemporary Jazz Cruise (with Pat Metheny, Marcus Miller...4th-11th Feb. 2017)

Composite photo showing the 2017 Contemporary Jazz Cruise Line-Up
L-R: Lalah Hathaway, Robert Glasper, Chucho Valdes, Terence Blanchard,
Marcus Miller, Pat Metheny,Dianne Reeves, Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus
Gregory Porter, David Sanborn
The astonishing line-up above is booked for the Contemporary Jazz Cruise, setting sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on February 4th 2017. 

Michael Lazaroff, who in his role as Executive Director of Entertainment Cruise Productions, produces the cruise, explained the history of the company, inclusing sixteen years promoting jazz cruises, and the background of this inaugural Contemporary Jazz Cruise to Sebastian:     

LondonJazz News: Please run us through this line-up for the Contemporary Jazz Cruise. Who were the first people you got on board (literally) and how did you build it from there?

Michael Lazaroff: For the past few years, all of our jazz programs begin with Marcus Miller. Not only is he a world class musician, but he helps us identify, attract and secure top talent as well as provide leadership with our programming and events. On the ship, he serves as the Music Director and Host. Marcus’ extensive successful career as a producer is the perfect skill set for what he does for us. The fact that he is one of the most genuine, sincere, kind and intelligent men on the planet also helps. Marcus is able to present our music with dignity, style and excitement.

Our next step was to secure the top talents in the genre. It is hard to dispute that this meant going after Pat Metheny, Gregory Porter, Terence Blanchard, Dianne Reeves, Robert Glasper and the rest of this amazing line-up. We are still tinkering with the line-up having just added Grace Kelly to host our “New Kids on the Block” segment, where we will present some new and upcoming stars of jazz.

LJN: You've been running jazz cruises for a few years now how did you start?

ML: For years Norwegian Cruise Line produced a jazz cruise. It was “straight ahead” jazz on the SS Norway. It was never a full ship charter, but it attracted 1200 people or so every year for 15 years or so. In 1999, NCL dropped the program along with all of their “theme” cruises.

A woman in St. Louis, who was the most successful travel agent selling cabins for this program, wanted to go it alone and produce the first full ship charter in the world dedicated to jazz. I knew that she was 70 years old at the time and I was concerned about her ability to pull it off. So, I met with her over lunch one day. My first words to her were “Mom, do you know what you are doing?” Yes, it was my mother and “yes” she knew what she was doing!

We chartered a 1,245-passenger ship from Holland America and started from there. That cruise sold out in weeks and we have been in business for the past 16 years and have completed nearly 65 full ship charters in that period of time.

Marcus Miller on the 2016 Jazz Cruise
Photo credit:Amanda Turner – TuKe Photography

LJN: Are you a fan yourself?

ML: I love jazz. I may have learned the cruise business from my mother, but I learned about music from my dad. Dad was an amateur saxophonist and vocalist who simply loved to play and perform. It was not only his hobby. It was who he was. Dad taught to love music and to adopt a philosophy that includes only two types of music in the world – good and bad!

LJN: Are there several stages where the musicians play? 

ML:  Yes, in fact, the cruise is on our new ship which provides us with 6 different venues for our jazz shows. We will craft shows to fit our large venues and our more intimate ones.

LJN: Do they just do their sets or is there a jamming / after hours hanging going on?

ML: There is a lot of after hours music and we are fortunate to have David Sanborn as our host of our Night Music segment, which will kick off the night-time activities each night.

LJN:  Jazz musicians will have fun with the names of tunes - any cruise-related songs that get played / or jokes that get made? 

ML: Our comic in residence is the very funny Alonzo Bodden, winner of the 1st Season of Last Comic Standing. He is famous for taking all of the musicians to task, exploiting their peccadilloes for the sake of good natured humor. It is hilarious.

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon on the 2016 cruise
Photo credit:Amanda Turner – TuKe Photography

LJN:  Are the stop-offs long enough to visit the places or is it just a few hours ? 

ML:  All of our stops are at least 8 hours, which is ample time to truly enjoy the sites, take in a great excursion or simply explore on your own.

LJN:  We Brits can be a bit shy and reserved.(aw) ..How are newcomers to the cruises made welcome?

ML: In the course of our many, many years of cruises, we have had a large number of “Brits” sailing with us and I do not recall any that are shy and reserved :) I do know that they are discerning, smart and great, great guests. As to being welcomed on the ship, with the cruise being a full ship charter, there is a natural affinity among the guests from the start.

We also have some “ice breaker” parties, one of which is exclusively for our International Guests, by the way, so meeting your fellow passengers is very easy. In fact, more than 10,000 people have sailed on our jazz cruises at least 4 times, so that alone shows you that it must be a very friendly atmosphere.

LJN:  What does it cost/ are their any early bird discounts or deals for booking both cruises?

- The cruises start as low as $2,300 USD/person, which is less than $330 USD/day. When you look at that cost covering your room, your meals and all that entertainment, the cruise is a great value.

- To make payment of the fee easier for our friends in the UK, we offer a Pay When You Are Ready Program (allowing you to decide when your payments will be made) as well as an Exchange Rate Guaranty (guaranteeing that your exchange rate will never be less than 1 GBP = 1.6 USD.).

- We also give you a 250 USD credit/cabin for your hotel room the night before the cruise.

- Finally, if you book both sailings, there is a 3% discount on each cruise (total of 6% off the total “stateroom” price for each cruise).

LJN: When do you sail? 

 ML: The Jazz Cruise sails from January 28 – February 4, 2017 and The Contemporary Jazz Cruise sails from February 4 – 11, 2017. As indicated earlier, both cruises are on Celebrity Summit, so you can sail these cruises back to back.

LINKS: Contemporary Jazz Cruise website
Entertainment Cruise Productions website

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