The Marcus Miller Band
jams on the High Seas.

It was chart topper talent on the first annual Playboy Jazz Cruise in January, 2009, and the 24th full charter theme cruise from Jazz Cruises LLC

Holland America Line also had a reason to celebrate because it had just won the Best Cruise Value award for the 17th consecutive year.  It all came together with beautiful weather, hot jazz, and smooth cruising.

What a roster of fantastic jazz stars that was pulled out of the music DNA pool on the Playboy cruise, hosted by Marcus Miller:  It was a veritable heritage of jazz, from James Moody and James Carter blowing the barnacles off with sax styles seldom seen; Roy Hargrove’s trumpet touted tantalizing tenderness; and Herbie Hancock’s keyboard was a kaleidoscope of well kept secrets hidden in his fingers but revealed on Formal Night at sea.

But first it was a party, a Sailaway Party, with the New Birth Brass Band from New Orleans who blasted the foam off the Lido Pool as we set sail for southern climes.  New Birth is what we all hope for New Orleans, which is the cradle of this amazing music genre, and the party band produced heated excitement with many Dixie standards.  The band was a stalwart at the Lido Pool on other occasions throughout the 7-day Westerdam cruise, including the Playboy Pajama Party night.

The New
Brass Band

After the Sailaway Party the Marcus Miller band presented the Welcome Aboard show in the Vista Lounge, backing up the James Moody Quartet; then it was the techno talents of the Eldar Trio. Later in the evening fans caught up with the romantic vocals of Roberta Gambarini in the Queen’s Lounge and the James Carter Organ Trio in the Ocean Lounge. 

And this is only the first day!

Cruise host Marcus Miller was high hatting it on the voyage with his distinctive fedora, which never left his head. For me and many other fans, the Marcus Miller Band was an exemplary staple on the starry nights of the voyage. Fantastic horns and well rehearsed jams kicked the sea spray loose with the traditional style of James Moody. (Click images for artist albums.) 

James Moody For over 60 years Moody has been grooving his way through life, and he certainly set the Mood this evening on a song that was an original solo for him way back in 1942, called “I’m In the Mood For Love”, which you may know it as “Moody’s Mood”. At times Moody’s tenor sax sounded more like a clarinet. “Only two more payments and it (the sax) is mine” joked Moody, who certainly set the mood for what was yet to come.  Moody and Marcus wowed the crowd with a rearranged Hoagie Carmichael “Stardust” that sounded nothing like the original but more like a symphony.

Introduced this evening was Eldar Djangirov.  I first encountered the Russian keyboard genius on Joost and he has since built up a worldwide loyal following, with many more fans added on this cruise. 

Eldar Djangirov: Eldar Eldar is hailed far and wide as a modern day Mozart, an electronic version of course.  Many of his techno notations were funereal and operatic.  In stead of Mozart I believe he was more influenced by the rock band Yes, but in truth, “I was influenced by Oscar Pederson,” stated Eldar.  It was a staggering array of keyboardmanship on “Blues in Sketch Padre”, which was written with Armando, his bassist after a few bass lines were played over the phone.  They expanded the thoughts into a full passionate epic like a long historical Russian novel, bordering on melancholia that continued into an Overture, and it can be found later in 2009 on their newest album release.

The History of Jazz, Session 1.

What is wonderful about a full charter themed jazz cruise is the knowledge of the cruise fans themselves.  I was awed by the depth of knowledge by my dinner mates on numerous occasions in the Vista dining room.  Lively discussions popped out like old wine in new bottles.  With the countless jazz events during the day, I had to pick and choose my choices so I could further my education, such as the “Jazz History” session in hosted by Marcus Miller.  Then it was an informal discussion about the day’s events at dinner that night.

“Now you know I can’t do no history of jazz in an hour,” quipped Miller.  So he concentrated on the history of one of the all time best selling jazz albums – Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue”.  Miller toured with Davis from 1981 to 1991, the year Davis died.  Kind of Blue has been one of the top five best selling albums for over 50 years, since its release in 1959, and Columbia/Legacy has again reissued the historical classic.

Kind Of Blue [Remaster] With an iPod Marcus played the first three cuts on Kind of Blue with starts and stops to explain the nuances of each song.  Miller explained that the album changed the shift and style of jazz from the bebop era to a more contemporary beat.  There were only four artists on the album, Miles Davis, Bill Evans on Bass, Cannonball Adderly and John Coltrane on horns. The concept of the album was explained:

The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His MasterpieceDavis had just come from a ballet in New York City and he was intrigued by the musical open spaces between notes and the ascensions and dissensions.   The end product was ‘So What’, the first cut on the album;  Davis would send a note out, leave some open space and then bring the note back stepped up or down.” Miller’s insights about “Freddie Freeloader” on the same album were astonishing. “Kind of Blue is a cultural ambassador for all generations,” Miller continued.

Easy to love During the Gospel hour one morning Miller was joined by his father who was onboard.  For over 65 years “Pops” has played the organ in the community church, so we all enjoyed the traditional hymns, AND the lung power of Italian songstress, Roberta Gambarini, who reflected moments of thanks with songs sung to her by her grandmother, but twisted into contemporary bluesy shape that would even get God’s attention.

Another wonderful songbird onboard was the current reigning queen of jazz, Dianne Reeves.  Lost love was reawakened on, “I Thought I Would Make a Social Call”, with the  sentimentalist singer  underscored by the superb acoustic instrumentalism  It was poignant and personal for Reeves, who was on her first cruise with her polished quartet: George Martin on piano, Romero Lubambo on guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

Dianne Reeves: The Early Years - Reeves was accompanied by Martin on piano on the solo “Look At Me” which was the last song in the George Clooney directed movie, “Good Night and Good Luck”.  Reeves lamented that Clooney never mailed, texted, emailed, or called her after the movie. Then she dedicated the song, “When I Was Nine” to her ten year old daughter, Isabella, who could still remember when she turned the page of young age.  No matter how you cut it Reeves could make any song her own all night long.

The Palo Alto Sessions (1981-1985),Reeves’ mother once told her, “Stay ready so you don’t have to GET ready.” There was so much jazz going on the ship that you did have to stay ready to keep up.  Blues Night, was packed in the Vista Lounge, where Grammy winning Keb’Mo grinded a gritty guitar going toe to toe with Marcus Miller, also on guitar. Keb’mo’s real name is Kevin Moore but if you say it fast it comes out Keb’Mo.   Keb’Mo delighted us all with the song  “Milky Way”, which he also performed on Miller’s newest album, “Marcus”, which will be released in March, 2009.

Poncho Sanchez' Conga Cookbook: Develop Your Conga Playing by Learning Afro-Cuban Rhythms from the Master During a San Juan, Puerto Rico stop over the Conga-cheros piled on board, which is a loose translation for “Let’s Salsa”, and we did so with Poncho Sanchez’ Latin Band. Wasn’t this a rum port for the Spanish?   No rumba here, but there was dancing in the balconies as the Puertoriquenero bandmaster heated things up on the hot and fast with no kidding, “Salsa”. Poncho is certainly the soul of the congas and he immersed his night with sophisticated jazz tunes from around the Latin World, especially on the number “Night Walk”, followed by his original composition “Yesterday”, which certainly was NOT the Beatles version.  “If you feel it, turn it loose,” joked Poncho. George Ortiz turned the Timbales loose and I thought a conga line was going to cha cha cha out the room, but “El Corazon” kept the worked up crowd in abeyance.

Jazz Cruises’ philosophy, according to owner Michael Lazzaroff, “is all about meeting and associating with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world.”   One night Herbie Hancock and his wife dined one table away from me in the Vista dining room.

Herbie Hancock: River, The Joni LettersWith a newly won Grammy Album of the Year for “River” under his belt, Hancock certainly needs no introduction to jazz fans.  After a relaxing day at sea, the men were scrubbed and the women wore gorgeous gowns for “Formal Night” which saw Herbie displaying his keyboard magic.  Herbie usually dresses in all black but because we were in the Caribbean he wore an “exotic island” dazzling shirt.  Backed by the Marcus Miller Band it was an evening of standing ovations.

Herbie Hancock: Future2Future Live - DVD Fullscreen Starting with a blazing techno piece, Herbie then explained how the next masterpiece would unfold.  This is something I recorded a long time ago, a long, long time ago.  I thought it was Seven Teens, but it is actually “17”, because there are 17 beats, which is 13 beats more than four.  I feel most comfortable with four beats or even just three beats at my age.”  The tune started as a “Watermelon Man” groove that segued into 17 beats after the groove, then back to the groove and then 17 beats, again.,

Afterwards, Herbie stated, “Did you hear the 17 beats?  Yeah, right,” and laughed.

The next original Hancock presentation was a surreal piece titled, “Maiden Voyage”, which Herbie equated to his first Jazz Cruises voyage.  “It took me three months to find the title for “Maiden Voyage,” explained Herbie. “A friend of my sister said it sounded like falling water, like a Maiden Voyage.”  It was a hot mix of Marcus Miller cooking on the guitar along with Herbie. Hancock is now also a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Dept.

Marcus Miller cooks up a storm
with Pasta ala Funk, with chicken!

Later on the cruise Marcus really was cooking with his original recipe, “Pasta ala Funk” “This is a jazz dish because there are no ingredient amounts,” explained Miller as he mixed things together in the Crow’s Nest with fans drooling for his recipe.  We all laughed when he forgot to add the main ingredient, the chicken! But here it is, Marcus’ taste tempting recipe, but with the chicken.


2 cloves garlic
olive oil
2 pounds mushrooms
1 pound pasta
heavy cream
salt & pepper
1 chicken cut in pieces


Smash garlic and sauté in olive oil. Remove from the pan.  Clean mushrooms and process to find consistency in food processor. Sauté in olive oil until dark brown. Remove mushrooms and press through colander to remove oil. Put mushrooms pate to the side.  Boil pasta. Mix mushroom pate with heavy cream and butter and add to drained pasta.  Add salt and pepper. Cook the chicken in olive oil and add to the recipe

Other entertainment highlights during the Eastern Caribbean voyage to San Juan, St. Barth, Nevis, and Half Moon Cay included:

Roy Hargrove Roy Hargrove’s Quintet performed in the Queen’s Lounge, where we all had the sand blown off with the first tune in his set. “This is a song about the ocean and everything deep, called “Depth”.

Roberta Gambarini sung romantic ballads and Broadway hits to a packed house in the Queen’s Lounge. The amazing singer made her voice sound like a saxophone. Roberta also hosted a Wine Hour featuring her latest CD.

There was a brilliant harp performance by Corky Hale in the Ocean Lounge.

The $500 All That Jazz Blackjack Tournament entrance fee was only $20!

Four cruise guests won the Playboy Jazz Jam Session contest, including a 17-year-old trombonist, who performed at the Farewell concert with Marcus Miller on the final night.

Best of Marcus Miller Marcus was in Istanbul at a jazz festival and, “I was walking down the street and I heard all these sounds, these oriental sounds so …”  What came first on Farewell Night was a powerful blast of Oriental fusion jazz funk called “Blast.”  It was one of the most beautiful performances of the entire voyage.  The bass guitar sounded like a sitar, not unlike a scooped fretboard guitar that delved into the subconscious musical past. The ethereal chanted vocals for Blast were provided by the turntable skills of DJ Logic, and the song writhed with moods with the Med infused harmonica by Gregoire Maret.

Miller stated, “I was walking through my house and I heard my son playing Beethoven.  My son is a classical pianist and he was 17 at the time.  Now Austria didn’t have a lot of funk – not back then anyway.”   So Marcus rearranged Beethoven’s “Moonlight Serenade” into a funky classical chaotic bluesy composition that would assure that Austria would forevermore have funk. “Beethoven would have said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I meant’,” laughed Miller.

Exploring the Guitar With Keb' Mo' - In keeping with the theme of mixing things up and together, it was another song that Miller had written for Miles Davis, “It is simple, like a nursery rhyme, called ‘Jean Pierre’,” stated Miller. Again,  DJ Logic added in some moody chants. Then it was a rearranged “Amazing Grace” with Marcus on sax and Keb’Mo adding in his hangdog guitar riffs, which received a standing ovation.  The evening’s encore was a funk version of the Beatles’ “Come Together”.

Like I said, Jazz Cruises puts it all together for you.  Get on a jazz cruise.  Call Jazz Cruises in North America at 888/852-9987 or Internationaliy at 800/852-99872 or visit for more details. You could win a FREE cabin! Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature about the Dave Koz and Friends Jazz Cruise.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.

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