Even though the stabilizers of Holland America’s Westerdam kept the cruise liner smooth while sailing the eastern Caribbean, the ship was still swaying during the 2008 Dave Koz and Friends at Sea Jazz Cruise.

Dav Koz was Red Hot.

Friends and fans from 17 countries enjoyed a week of fantastic fun, fantastic food, and fantastic funk during the fourth annual Koz Cruise from Ft. Lauderdale.  But, for over 15 years Jazz Cruises LLC has produced a Smooth Jazz Cruise, according to Michael Lazaroff, CEO of Jazz Cruises www.jazzcruisesllc.com  

“My mother was the first travel agent to charter a complete ship for a themed music cruise,” stated Lazaroff.  The 5th Koz Cruise in January 2010 has been combined with the Smooth Jazz Cruise and will run back-to-back with the Playboy Jazz Cruise, which Jazz Cruises also produces. Many of the jazz fans onboard the Westerdam were repeat guests, and over half the 2010 cruise was sold out before we docked back at Port Everglades.

Koz and Lazaroff brought together a splendid mix of world class and famous talent during the cruise, including Jonathan Butler from South Africa, Grammy award winner Najee on sax, George Duke on keyboards, the amazing Ellis Hall, singer Deniece Williams, Jeff Golub on guitar, Candy Dulfur on sax, and everyone’s favorite, a special St. Thomas port appearance by Tower of Power.

Richard Elliott.

Everyone was onboard for a little RnR — who kicked off the first night’s Welcome Aboard entertainment while at sea in the 1800 seat Vista Lounge. RnR is the dynamic duo Richard Elliott on sax and Rick Braun on trumpet who have been circulating the jazz route together for many years.  Their tune, “Off the Hook,” set the stage for the weeklong respite.

What’s great about a Koz Jazz Cruise is the element of exceptional talent you don’t find on other cruises.  And with over 100 events onboard throughout the week fans get a chance to get up close and personal with their favorite stars.  I was sipping a cocktail at one of the lounges and suddenly I am in a conversation with Deniece Williams!

Song Bird, Deniece Williams.

Special Q&A and educational daytime sessions in the Queen’s Lounge included a Voice Session with Deniece, piano man and singer/songwriter Ellis Hall, and Eric Benet; 88 Keys was a one on one with George Duke, Arlington Jones, and Matt Rohde; Guitars in the Round was expressed with Jeff Golub and Jonathan Butler;  and the Sax Academy featured Candy Dulfur, Richard Elliott, Najee, and host Dave Koz, who is also an accomplished sax man.

Each star had a special session during two concerts nightly in the Vista Lounge, the largest Westerdam venue towering two decks, with all seats rated superb.  By splitting the sessions, the 2000+ fans had a chance for fine dining before or after their nightly main concert and everyone was able to enjoy every artist.

Poolside BBQ with jazz medium rare.

There were so many fun events onboard I could not attend them all, such as the daytime Gospel Hour brunch, Bingo Bonanza,  T-shirt party poolside jam (you get a Koz Jazz T-shirt),  a cooking class with the Koz family (they have their own cookbook and a Koz apron magically appeared in my stateroom), and even special sessions by the ship’s band.

There were special wine and champagne sessions.  In fact, Koz has teamed with Wilson Creek winery on his own unique wine label with profits going to Starlight Children’s Foundation.  Only 1000 cases of Kozwine are bottled so get yours at www.davekoz.com/wine

Unplugged session above.

Fans get everything autographed.

The poolside Unplugged, Uncensored and Unrehearsed session,  hosted by Koz, included the theme from the movie “Shaft”. Koz was joined by his older brother Jeff on guitar.  Even the guests got in the day-at-sea act: talented guitarist Louie Lou performed George Benson’s “Masquerade”.

Between or after the nightly concerts in the Vista Lounge guests were invited to DJ parties, comedy acts, a revealing PA-JAM-A party (note the pun), Disco Parties, poolside BBQ dinners, Caribbean Calypso sessions, a Costume Night, and a Celebrity Blackjack Tournament hosted by Michael Lazaroff.  Whew, I need a vacation form my vacation!

There were even autograph signing sessions in the Crow’s Nest in the mornings that saw fans line up to get posters, CDs, DVDs, and even their souvenir Koz notebook signed by their favorite artists.

What was Koz Kool was that we could watch in our staterooms a repeat of the past performances on the ship’s closed circuit TV — dubbed the Koz Channel, but here are some highlights of the wonderful live performances in the Vista Lounge.

Jonathan Butler.

Monday night saw Jonathan Butler’s acoustic guitar talents shine on the James Taylor song “Fire and Rain”. “I perform this song in South Africa at BBQs and neighborhood Calabasas”, stated Butler.  Jonathan’s two daughters, the Butler Sisters, were the accompanying singers on “Lies”. Later it was a song Jonathan co-wrote for his first CD called “Take Good Care of Me”.   Butler was influenced by his Zulu roots, including a song named after the Capetown street he grew up on, “7th Avenue”.  The guitar solo started with just one string because a wandering Zulu minstral could only afford one string, then as he made money he added two strings, then three, and then Butler rocked the house with a robust six stringer acoustic extravaganza.

Grammy winner, Najee.

One of my favorite artists onboard was Grammy Award winner Najee, who was so cool he only needed one name. He has performed his famous song about his son, “Noah’s Ark”, for heads of state, such as Nelson Mandela; Tower of Power lead singer Larry Braggs accompanied Najee.

Tuesday night saw Candy Dulfer and George Duke in concert.  Candy was super hot on a Prince tune that she stated “was written especially for me; well not really, but it should have been,” she laughed  “It is about me, or Dave Koz, called ‘Life of the Party’.”  Najee funked it up with Candy with his flutemanship.

The Koz Jazz Cruise was ready to party!

Wednesday was Special Guest Night with Tower of Power performing dockside in St. Thomas.  What is POWER?  Power is funk and the legendary horn band proved it on the opener, “We Came To Play, We Came To Get Down”.

Tower of Power came on board in St. Thomas.

Ellis Hall.

2008 saw the 40th anniversary of Tower of Power.  “We are looking forward to our 50th,” quipped Steven “Doc” Kuptka, one of the four original band mates.  The group had a celebratory party at the Fillmore West in San Francisco during the summer where they invited everyone that had performed or worked with the band over the years, including roadies, road managers, crew members, players, and singers.

Sponsored by Monster Cable their new DVD is out in HD, Blue Ray and in Surround Sound.  What was really cool was when Ellis Hall came out to sing with the band.  Hall had been with the band several times, but it was over 20 years since they performed together.  “I really love these guys,” beamed Hall.

Many classic TofP songs had not been heard in years, but were performed this night, including “You Ought to be Having Fun” from the “Power”album and the catchy “I Am Gonna Get It With Your Good Credit”, which was accompanied by Richard Elliott on tenor sax.

St. Thomas with Spiderman Tours.

Tower of Power is really a soul band and they snapped the notes with “I Still Be Diggin’ on James Brown” and the melodious slower tune, “You’re Still a a Young Man”.

Kuptka recited a poem during a brief mid-session Q&A: “We may have a little more around the middle/A little less on top/ But we can still funk it up/We can still rock”. After the Q&A is when the tropics heated up with the additional horns of Richard Elliott, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Najee, and Candy Dulfer.  The stage primordially ripped with “What Is Hip”.  It was truly awesome.

Dave Koz’s first record purchase as a young lad was Tower of Power’s “Back to Oakland”. The driftless Koz then knew he wanted to be a musician. He literally glowed when he exclaimed, “I am playing with Tower of Power!”

George Duke.

Thursday’s Stars in Concert night was also Costume Night, which saw Koz dressed as one of Westerdam’s Indonesian waiters.  “I believe we received above and beyond service because the Indonesian staff loves jazz,” stated Koz, and I had to applaud my own Vista Restaurant Indonesian waiters, Mr. Dono and Mr. Oka.

Keyboardist Brian Simpson has been Koz’s musical director (and the cruise music director) for over a decade, and they grooved into “All I See is You” followed by George Duke on keyboard with his Brazilian influenced “I Always Loved Brazil”. Duke spent time in Brazil with  Cannonball Adderly and “it changed my life,” mused Duke. Deniece Williams was hot on her #1 hit duet “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”, originally recorded with Johnny Mathis, but with Eric Benet filling in seamlessly for Mathis. Benet then  soloed on “Goergie Porgie” with Najee, Candy, and Richard Elliott creeping in with some real hot sax.

Koz also liked to mix in new unfamiliar talent with the known names and French guitarist U-Nam proved to me a smash with his European radio hit.

Jeff Golub rocked.

Friday’s formal night became informal when Jeff Golub threw off his dinner jacket and rolled up his sleeves to bring rock to jazz, performing the 1964 King Curtis record, “Soul Serenade”, remixed of course for his hot guitar talents.

Then it was “Dangerous Curves” that Golub rocked the house, with Brian Simpson on keyboards.  “Jazz is blues that never went to college,’’ quipped Golub, who has a new album out called “Grand Central”, featuring his #1 hit ´“There Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” recorded with Richard Elliott, who just happened to be onboard and who just happened to add in his hot sax licks. 

Then Rick Braun stepped out to join in on the instrumental “Step Aside”. Golub’s “Naked City” was about moving from a small Ohio town to the Big Apple to seek musical fame.  “Latitude 19” was  about the invisible meridian running through the Caribbean making it wet with rhythm with the Randy Jacobs band.  I particularly liked Golub’s “Mojito” about the rum and lime drink, which was accompanied by the drop dead and gorgeous dangerous curves of Candy Dulfur on sax, Randy Jacobs and Golub on guitars, and Ramone Yslas on something like a washboard. Consequently it was Mojitos as the drink of choice after that. Then sax man Najee joined in for the rollicking and rocking “Sax a Go-Go,” that ended the evening.

Friday also saw singer Eric Benet’s “India”, named after his young son India. Benet’s “Spanish Fly” was about something he didn’t recommend or condone because it was an illegal drug.   I particularly liked the lovely wrap around romantic lyrics about Benet’s relationship with his wife, called “Chocolate Legs”.

Candy cranks with the Randy Jacobs band.

On Saturday’s Host Night the Randy Jacobs band chilled and thrilled as backup for Koz and all the stars during what was basically a wonderful jam session.

Koz pulled out all the stops with songs from his “Greatest Hits Album”.  I later found the CD in my comfy state room, a gift from my Kool friend Koz.  He certainly knows how to make friends!

Koz is a big fan of the TV series Sopranos so he co-wrote with Richard Elliott  “Badabing”, which was accompanied by Eliott on sax and Golub and Dave’s brother Jeff on guitars.  I particularly appreciated  “Sax Man” which brought out Candy Dulfur on baritone sax, Najee on soprano sax, and the Koz Idol ship board contest winner Frank Zona from El Paso, Texas, also on sax. It was another great horn night when Rick Braun joined in. Who says there is no sax at sea? This was truly the love boat when “Love Changes Everything” blew off the hatches. You know when the musicians are having fun, everyone is having fun.

The sexiest sax Candy Dulfur.

From Koz’ “Dance” album came “Surrender”, which we would all have to do on the last night of the cruise.  But Rubber Hand Man Bill Sharp kept things lively with his bass on “Silverlining”.

From Koz’s Capitol Records days sprouted the #1 hit “Castle of Dreams”. From his “Lucky Man” album came the theme song for the daytime soap opera General Hospital.  “I am a big fan of soaps,” laughed Koz, “because that song bought me my first house.”  Koz then dedicated his 1999 “Dance” album hit “Know You By Heart” to all his cruising friends and fans. No wonder he has so many friends.

Dave Koz with Randy Jacobs.

Koz’s dream album was  “At the Movies”, a compilation of the best movie and TV theme hits.  The Sha-la-la song had the audience harmonizing with their inner Anita Baker and Luthar Vandross.

Later, it was apparent that no one wanted to surrender the night during the last Moonlight Buffet at midnight.

The cruising weather was perfect throughout the cruise, even as hurricane Paloma pounded the Caymans and Cuba; we were out of the wind belt with port calls to Samana, Dominican Republic, St. Barths, St. Thomas, and Holland America Line’s private island, Half Moon Cav in the Bahamas where we were served up a wonderful beach barbecue and with complimentary Mojitos.

Visit Dave Koz at www.davekoz.com.

Jazz Cruises LLC is also producing the first annual Playboy Jazz Cruise (www.playboyjazzcruise.com) in January 2009, which will feature Herbie Hancock, Poncho Sanchez, Dianne Reeves, Keb’ Mo’, and others. You can also signup for the 2010 Koz and Friends at Sea Jazz Cruise. To book a jazz cruise call toll free in theUSA and Canada, 888/852-9987 or toll free internationally at 800/852-9987.

— Feature by Kriss Hammond, Jetsetters Magazine Editor; photos by the author. Additional concert peformer photos by Jeffrey Kubu; web: www.sportsplusphotography.com or email: kubupix@comcast.net

Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature about the First Annual Playboy Jazz Cruise.

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