Shout out: Smooth Jazz for Scholars

If you are a jazz fan and don’t know about Jay Rowe’s Smooth Jazz for Scholars, you probably should.

jay rowe
Jay Rowe, at last years Smooth Jazz for Scholars. Photo by yours truly.

Here’s the back story, kids.

Jay Rowe is the keyboardist for Special EFX, as well as a lot of other people. If I had to list his entire curriculum vitae, I’d probably be typing all night, so I’ll just spare you that and keep it at he’s really damn good at what he does and I’m sure you’ve seen him before. And for the past 13 years, he’s been holding an annual concert to benefit the music program in the public schools of Milford, CT.

 

Some not very many years ago, this event got so popular that it expanded to two nights. And the lineup just keeps getting better. Best part – you never know who will be invited until Jay Rowe announces it.

Well, here’s the deal this year, for the 14th anniversary event:

4/29/16
Peter White, Marion Meadows, Brian Simpson and Matt Marshak

4/30/16
Nick Colionne, Chieli Minucci, Eric Darius and Nelson Rangell.

Yes, you look at this and you think, “Well, it’s the same people as usual”. Yes, seems that way, but for this event – no. No it’s not.

Meadows, Minucci, and Rangell are the only people who can be counted on to return year in and year out, for multiple reasons. Marion Meadows is currently involved with Project Music in his hometown of Stamford, CT, which, among many things, provides kids with music lessons after school. Nelson Rangell – those of you who know, love, and remember his Turning Night Into Day album know just what he can do, and his current work is a continued credit to his style and ability, and he’s someone whom I only ever see at this event. I don’t see many Nelson Rangell performances advertised anymore, which is a crying shame, because truly…a sound like his is rare as all get-out. Chieli Minucci – if you don’t know who this guy is, I can’t help you. If you want to know, find out for yourself.

But everyone else rotates year to year. I don’t think I’ve yet seen Brian Simpson at that event just yet – to note, I started attending in 2011 – and Eric Darius is another new face, though I have a pretty clear memory of him at Berks in 2010 and he has only improved in his stage presence and sound since. You guys know I’m a major supporter of Matt Marshak, and this is Matt’s first go at Scholars that I can recall. Nick’s last go at this gig was 2014. And Nick and Eric together… party o’clock, people. Party the hell o’clock! in the best ways.

You probably remember my jaw being on the ground when Jackiem Joyner took the stage last year and completely blew everyone away. Well, that’s what this event is. You don’t know who’ll spontaneously combust. You don’t know who might walk out onstage as a surprise.

Here’s an even better perspective for you. A standard California two-day event, if you’re out of town, will cost you, inclusive of flight, hotel, meals, tix, and transit, close to $1,750.

Now consider this:
– You can fly into Bradley Airport in New Haven, or into NYC and take MetroNorth to Milford. Late April is still not tourist season, and you’re likely to get pretty decent flights.
– The local Hampton Inn in Milford offers a special rate for the event, and the special rate is more than reasonable.
– The venue, the Parsons Complex, sits within about three blocks’ walk from the Milford train station and on the opposite side of the train overpass, there’s a pretty hopping downtown area with plenty of restaurants for pre-game and after-party.
– And again… the tickets are $70 for both nights.

If you’re out of town or not on the East Coast altogether, you can, very very reasonably, attend the entire event for under a grand, depending on your flight costs.

Yes, I’m serious.

Think about it.

More info at: www.jayrowemusic.com/

General admission tix at: smoothjazzforscholars2016.eventbrite.com

Who knows? I just might see you there.

K.G.

 

I guess I have to say this again.

I’ve said it early last year with my post about needing new artists. 

I’m afraid I have to do the one thing I loathe: repeat myself.

We. Need. New. Artists. At. Jazz. Festivals. 

It’s really beginning to look like what happened with contemporary jazz stations is about to start happening with festivals, and I am really, really not okay with this.

If you’ve forgotten, in 2009-2010, we had a rash of closures that CD101.9 here in NYC has kicked off. It was a dark day for contemporary jazz, because this was only the beginning of a chain reaction that took too many of our stations off the air. As it is, I remember the old CD101.9 of pre-2005 and just before it went off the air, and the difference between the playlists was palpable. The station went from playing a mess of new music from great artists to circulating the same five people each time. It was enough to make me turn it off, even though it was a mainstay of my teen years and the reason why I love jazz in the first place.

But the same thing is happening, though in its own format, with the festivals. It’s been the same headliners time and again.

Look: I. Love. The headliners. I do. They’re great people and amazing musicians. I always enjoy their shows, I love their music, I love and adore capturing their shows on camera. And they’re awesome company to hang out with, and have beautiful families that are a privilege to spend time with.

However.

It’s becoming real repetitive to see the same people on the headliner spot. And it’s a major disservice to both the festivals, the fans, and the genre.

Festivals cannot sustain themselves on the same artists and the same audiences. If there’s no urgency to see an artist because he’s playing the same five fests in the same state within months of each other, why would people bother to buy tickets for it? They wouldn’t. Same thing if the lineups repeat themselves time after time. You will have your loyalists, but you will probably not be attracting new people to the event, because…it’s been the same lineup time and again. Why would people buy tickets for the same time over and over? They. Would. Not. Eventually even the loyalists will ask themselves, “Should I buy this? Same thing over and over.”

And you cannot expect a genre to sustain itself by lathering and rinsing and repeating the same thing and expecting different results. Per Einstein, that’s the definition of insanity.

In the absence of radio stations, barring the troopers who have continued to maintain stations and syndicated shows online, who have talk shows and listening parties – Terri and Michael of Talking Smooth Jazz, you get my hat-tip here for your longevity and your pioneering of new music – the onus of sustaining the genre goes to the promoters of the festivals and the shows nationwide. The way that we know now that someone is up-and-coming and is worth listening to is if they show up in a club in this city or another. The popular launchpads for talent are Spaghettini’s Seal Beach and the Houndstooth Pub. Or DC’s Blues Alley, the iconic locale. SOUTH in Philly is soon to make its way onto that list, I’m sure. But those should not be the only places willing to open their doors to new talent. The promoters now are the gatekeepers of the genre, and while I know their main job is to make a profit, in light of the fact that they’re pretty much the ones who determine the outlook of the genre right now, they should focus less on the short-term profit and a lot more on cultivating and expanding their audience for the long term.

Yes, this means losing money in the short run. But guess what: Better that than penny wise and pound foolish.

We’ve seen this with genre dilution already. West Coast events did their thing with R&B dilution, but they failed to sequester the genres and give them equal weight. This worked for the short-term and put bodies into chairs. OK – but what did it mean for long-term loyalists of the genre? It did not go over well. More than a few comments were left to the effect of, “R&B doesn’t belong at a jazz festival”. And you know what – they’re right! If it’s a tactic to put bodies into seats, it comes with a price: alienating longtime attendees. Not what you want.

I know, seeing as I’m a longtime attendee of Capital Jazz, I may not be one to talk. BUT – go to the fest. Seriously, go to the fest. And you will see two stages. One per genre. One jazz, one soul. And yeah, I am all at the jazz stage, and it’s awesome. And friends of mine are at the soul stage. And because it’s 25,000 people in the Pavilion, we don’t run into one another – which. is. fine. This is a dual-genre fest with no commingling. The cruises, of course, there is always some commingling, but done in such a way that you can have your pick and you do not come out of it disappointed.

Still. Few things infuriate me more than a jazz fest having a lot more of other genres than jazz and then bringing aboard one jazz artist to justify the name. I mean, come on. You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re not blind and we’re not fools. Do not put on an event with jazz in its name with very minimal jazz on the actual menu. Just. Do. Not. Do it.

But I digress.

The fact remains is that no genre of music can or will sustain itself with the same audience and the same offerings time after time after time. It just doesn’t work like that. You cannot expect people to continue coming to see the same show over and over again – eventually, they too will get tired of it. If you want to have a continued survival of any event series, you need variety: in the audience and on stage.

It’s common sense, you’d think, but sadly it isn’t common.

Here’s a hint: check out the sidemen of the headliners for an idea of whom to give a chance! Gail Jhonson has been Norman Brown’s keyboardist for years, but did you hear her band, Jazz in Pink? Probably not. I did, as part of the Getdown Club on the 2014 CapJazz Cruise, and it was great. And her bassist, Robin Bramlett, has a pretty spiffy album of her own. Her harpist – yes, a harpist – Mariea Antoinette. Because why not a jazz harp? And why not Smitty, from Boney James’s band, the bassist? He has a great collection of work. Jay Williams, drummer to everyone who comes through the East Coast. The Grainger brothers, Gary and Greg, who have the Maryland scene on point? Ethan Farmer has been on bass with Lionel Richie forever, but he’s got his own material, and it’s pretty amazing.

And what about the people who had a successful showing in their hometowns and in the launchpads? David P. Stevens. Lin Rountree. Phil Denny. Neamen Lyles needs to play outside of Arizona. Chase Huna is working with Steve Oliver on his debut album at 16 years old. Why not them?

Putting any one or three or four of these guys as openers for the major headliners will not only inject the event lineup with new blood, but it will attract those openers’ families, friends, and existing fanbases, which in turn injects new money and attendees into the events. And as a bonus, there are new careers launched. Who’s to say Generation Next won’t headline a festival in 2-3 years as opposed to them being on the ‘rising star’ showcase?

Right now, I’m waiting to see what will happen with Jazz Fest West. It got shut down, now it’s coming back up. Considering Newport Beach has been going back to an all-jazz or majority-jazz lineup the past few years, I can hope that Omega Events will have the same thing with the revival of JFW.

The point remains the same.

We need new artists. NOW. This isn’t just me railing against it. This is a matter of the entire genre surviving, and it’s a LOT bigger than just my voice and the voices of those who agree and/or do their part to keep it alive.

K.G.

Jazz Fest West is Coming Back

You may or may not have read about it when it went under in this post.

Well, kids, it’s back. 

Here’s the thing. I’m actually pretty happy that Omega has decided to give the fest another shot. Why? Because in light of the unbridled fiasco that was BTW Concerts, we definitely need more events. I don’t know very much about the way Omega Events operates, but I have received pretty good reports. My quibbles with their lineups aside – the whole jazz/R&B commingling – I’ve yet to hear anything about Omega that was overall disconcerting. No one got sold tickets for seats that didn’t exist, and so on. Artists are treated decently. The only quibble I hear about most commonly is that it’s outside on the hottest days in Cali – but then again, I’ve gotten roasted to a fine crisp in late May in Newport Beach before, so I’ll take it as par for the course.

After the fiasco that was the Arizona Jazz Fest collapse, we need to have more music in the West/Southwest area. There is a void in the market that was left by the collapse of AZ and the hiatus – I guess we can call it – of JFW.

My one concern is this: who will be on the lineup of Jazz Fest West?

The reason it didn’t happen that time was because of lousy ticket sales. Considering Robin Thicke was the headliner – gimme a damn break, seriously? He is not jazz! – I’m not surprised at all. I have seen the Omega festivals take a decidedly jazzier slant as of 2015, though, and have hopes that there will be a good representation of jazz artists in their comeback lineup.

But I really cannot say this enough: JFW and all of the West Coast events need to give new artists adequate representation. We all know Boney James puts butts into seats. We know. And we love him, here on the East Coast too. But there needs to be a little room for the new artists as well. You can’t expect a genre to survive if you’re recycling the same lineup over and over again. This is what made radio stations lose listeners after Broadcast Architecture had its way; there’s absolutely no need to have the same thing happen with festival lineups.

Berks is a great example. Yes, there’s a ton of established artists, but the locals definitely get their bite at the apple as well. The new kids get their bite too. There’s no losing lineup at Berks. Yes, sometimes they have a soul artist or two, but it is a 90% jazz festival and upholds the genre title. But above all – it. allows. new. artists. in.

And the West Coast events need to take a page out of the Berks book in that respect. Spaghettini’s cannot be the only stage where artists like David P. Stevens and Phil Denny get in front of the West Coast audience.

You can’t expect a genre to get new audiences without new artists. Nor can you expect it to retain its current audience without variety. Stagnation doesn’t work for any genre, and a genre as dynamic as jazz cannot be allowed to stagnate.

Speaking of BTW/Arizona Jazz Fest, there are some news on that respect too, but that’s for a separate blog post.

K.G.

And this, ladies and gents, pisses me off.

Jazz is tied with classical as the least popular genre in the US.

The sound you hear is my rising blood pressure, but I truly wish I could say anything but that this is not news to me.

Classical music has been enduring for over 400 years, and you know what, it still has an audience. Hell, it has an audience that I’m willing to bet is at least partially younger than jazz – and why? Because parents who understand the value of classical music teach it to their kids, and the kids carry that on.

Jazz is growing to have a similar situation in its New Audience acquisition. Parents, especially parents who themselves have grown up appreciating and knowing the value of jazz, pass it onto their kids, who grow up to be jazz lovers in turn.

Yes, that’s great, but it’s also a hugely dismaying thing to have. While jazz has always been a niche, this basically insulates it from outside fans coming in on their own. Lack of radio doesn’t help, but I’ve waxed analytical about that before. This is crippling.

Why? Because look at what doesn’t require enjoyment by inheritance. Look at the styles of music that are currently popular, and tell me that it doesn’t demonstrate something to you about the general population. What does it say about the audience when they’d rather listen to manufactured Autotune than they would listen to music that, let’s face it, doesn’t require Autotune? Right now, people get into music by having it pushed onto them ad nauseum, and if it takes five writers and three sound engineers to record Nicki Minaj singing “You’re a stupid hoe” or something similar and have that be a hit, but a jazz – oh, no, I’m sorry, instrumental pop as certain committees dubbed it – song can’t even get the time of day in the mainstream, what does that tell you about the state of music?

Let’s not wave it off with “This is the way it is”. It got this way. It didn’t have to get this way. Classical has endured, and jazz – the American classical – needs to endure too.

Perhaps this is my opinion, but I find that people’s ears have grown lazy with this manufactured sound-machine known as “pop music” of the day. They’re getting lazy and they’re getting complacent as a result. If they don’t have to think, they never will. Just like kids in school would ask the teacher, “What do you want me to say?” on an opinion essay, right now people are not even bothering to ask themselves, “What am I listening to?” Their ears are lazy. The music is manufactured and produced in such a way that they don’t have to listen to the message it sends as long as it’s catchy and has a rhythm (hence why music with absolutely despicable lyrics is popular), and they don’t listen into it to hear anything of the person singing it. Chances are the person singing it wouldn’t even come close to sounding like they do on the recording if they were to sing it in person, but that’s beside the point. The point is, people got used to not thinking about their music, and they hear it without actually listening to it.

And you know something? Jazz requires active listening! It doesn’t need “understanding”, or “the right notes”, as one particularly imbecilic video put it (sorry but not sorry), but it requires active listening. It requires someone to not just hear it, but to take some time and listen to it, listen into it, let it talk to the ear. Right notes have never once been a requirement of it, but some participation on the listener part is. It’s a music style that, much like classical, and much like instrumental rock, speaks without words. But you have to actually listen to it.

And when your listeners forget how to listen, then you see a sharp decline in popularity.

Doesn’t help that the advertisers who have previously invested copious funds in jazz stations have taken their money elsewhere because “it’s not popular” without thinking that the radio stations aren’t helping in the matter by homogenizing the lineup into an unpalatable mess, doesn’t help that the radio station formats have flipped en masse because “listenership has dropped” – when they themselves have engineered this drop in listenership – and certainly doesn’t help that too many people in the US don’t even know what jazz is. The video of “just play the right notes!” sums up the average view of jazz succinctly, and it’s the sort of viewpoint that drives me to drink.

Interestingly, if and when I introduce someone to jazz, the reaction is nearly always, without fail, “I had no idea this is what it’s like!”

At risk of sounding crass, no shit!!! This is what happens when you hear something without actually listening to it; you forget what it’s like to actually listen, and you’re amazed at what you hear when you re-discover it again.

Outside the US, we don’t see such an attitude with jazz music at all. Japan is a hugely popular market for American jazz. Eastern Europe is also jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve seen the massive popularity of Mallorca Jazz Fest and Smooth Jazz Augsburg. Don’t tell me there’s no market for jazz; there is. But then again, outside the US, people are taught to actively listen into music, and understand it.

Huge, massive difference in education and, even apart from education, in thinking.

And of course, the R&B dilution at events, to where it’s not even possible to call it a jazz event anymore, is not helping matters either.

Don’t even have to go too far for an example, too. San Diego Jazz Fest is unrolling its lineup, and you know something? My opinion of the promoter completely aside here, the lineup is a perfect example of what I was talking about when I wrote about Jazz Fest West’s collapse, and the importance of having new artists and *gasp* actual jazz musicians on stage at a jazz festival. San Diego “Jazz” Fest is pretty much a classic example of why jazz isn’t taken seriously. Sorry but not sorry, and not mincing words on this for a moment. Where Capital Jazz will separate out the stages and not commingle R&B and jazz, San Diego just throws in all R&B headliners and calls it a jazz event? That does not fly, kids.

Jazz is not “least popular” – certainly, it’s a niche and always has been, but it has never been this cloistered before, and it certainly did not get to this point without outside influences. I assure you of this: had CD 101.9 survived in NY, as well as all the other stations whom we lost in the Grand Shutdown of 2009, then articles like these wouldn’t exist. Nor would the mentality of “just play the right notes” in the general public. There’s more than enough new artists in jazz, more than enough new music all around. Know what there isn’t? The same consideration and PR machine as there is for pop, hip-hop, rap, soul, and R&B.

But, we soldier on. Because where would we be without Our Music?

This is why it’s hugely important to buy tickets to jazz events, buy CDs, finance Kickstarters, etc, so on, so forth. Because right now, jazz is depending on its people. And that means us.

K.G.

New Orleans “Jazz” Fest proves my point.

By putting Lady Gaga and Elton John as headliners.

You know, after Lady Gaga worked with Tony Bennett, I could see it working. The girl can sing any-damn-thing, and if you hear her and Tony do Anything Goes, you’re likely to agree.

But that’s a minority of her repertoire.

Elton John’s booking elicited a mighty, “Are you fucking kidding me?!“, and I will confess myself an Elton John fan. I also think he has no business headlining a jazz festival, and while Lady Gaga can definitely pull off jazz, I’d like to see her to at least another full-jazz album before I’d see her at an event.

But wait! Keith Urban? No Doubt? Chicago? WTF is this?!  Okay, I’d buy Chicago, but No Doubt at a jazz festival?

OH. HELL NO.

I’ve said it before with the Jazz Fest West cancellation. I said it recently in my call for promoters to book new artists. I have no idea how much plainer my language has to be.

BOOK JAZZ ARTISTS AT A JAZZ EVENT, OR STOP CALLING IT A JAZZ FESTIVAL.

It’s really not fucking rocket science.

It’s really not that difficult to book jazz artists who are young and who appeal to a younger audience. Apparently, the promoters of NOJF have no idea who or what Postmodern Jukebox is, because likely, if they knew, they would see them as a great solution to the problem of seasoning up their aging demographic. Because PMJ has been turning young people on to old-school jazz and soul since they emerged, and if Dave Koz, Ariana Savalas, and Michael Lington see it fitting to collaborate with them – a dual benefit, where the partnership gives them PMJ’s younger fan base and in turn grants PMJ additional pedigree – then you know what? It wouldn’t kill a promoter or two to put them on a damn stage. Really.

Trombone Shorty is on the lineup – great – but what slot is he going to get? He’s a New Orleans native, FFS, and if you’ve seen him live, then you know what I mean when I say that he needs a headliner/evening slot. Not only is he a hell of a showman, but he’s under 40. Meaning he appeals to that age group.

Jazz has been very badly mislabeled and maligned as “easy listening” music. Don’t lie, you and I both know it. We’ve seen what Broadcast Architecture has done to contemporary (aka smooth) jazz radio stations, and it took me a good year or so to tolerate a soprano sax again after Kenny G. My 27-year-old poet/journalist best friend asked me about it this week and was hugely surprised when I showed her, a la Steve Cole, Nick Colionne, and some choice Youtube clips, that it’s absolutely, completely, the opposite of what she’s been led to believe. I told her, “you and the whole country have been misled like that”. And you know something? Elton John being booked at the New Orleans Jazz Fest is a direct confirmation that the promoters, namely those in charge of the festival, really did buy into that maligned image of jazz as “easy listening”, and are tossing in Elton John for everyone whom they really think will buy tix for that festival: the 55+ crowd, baby boomers, retirees, etc.

And Lady Gaga is their attempt to “draw younger people into jazz”? Like Christina Aguilera last year? That’s what it looks like.

This is the same thing as diluting a jazz festival with R&B without sequestering the genres on separate stages, just a much bigger slap in the face. At least R&B and jazz musicians can blend and work around each other; I’ve been to many a jam sesh aboard Capital Jazz Supercruise to see it, and again, Cap sequesters their genres and makes it possible for both sets of fans to enjoy it. But this particular headline booking is little more than an insult to the thousands of jazz artists worldwide who would’ve ripped it apart on that stage. It marks jazz as “easy listening” (when it’s fucking not) with Elton John’s performance – and come on, which stations play EJ’s music anymore? – and it makes it blatantly clear that the promoters have no idea how to draw in a younger crowd apart from booking someone who’s been on every chart and headline but jazz in her own right.

They think that if the young people stay for Lady Gaga, they’d hear everything else and grow to like jazz that way. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Just like if someone is a fan of Boyz II Men and New Edition, putting them into a jazz festival lineup would encourage them to check out Euge Groove, Mindi Abair, or Boney James because they share an event.

THIS DOES NOT WORK.

Just like with the R&B dilution, this move only serves to infuriate long-standing jazz fans who were counting on seeing an all-jazz event. This will piss off the non-jazz fans of the non-jazz headliners, who don’t want to wade through a day of music they are very likely to not like in order to see their chosen artist, because they’re coming for that artist, not the genre their artist shares a stage with. And moreover, the jazz fans who feel disenfranchised by a diluted lineup will not come to the festival in the first place, nor would they come back. And the reviews of the fest from those longtime jazz fans will be scathing

This is exactly why I, and many other fellow ‘smoothies’ stopped going to Newport Beach Jazz Fest. If I want to see the current Newport Beach lineup artists, I’d stay closer to home, because most of them play NYC and surrounding areas with a much cheaper cost of travel. This is exactly why those of us who love the music enough to fly for it are now staying put. And no young person got into jazz or has gone to a jazz fest because hey, while Lady Gaga is on stage, I’ll check out these people I never heard of! –no. It never, ever works that way.

If you want to get a new audience, you go to the new audience. Go to colleges, schools, put on a festival or series on a campus. Ask them how they get into music. Ask them how they discovered their next favorite artists. It’s basic market research 101. Know what happened when I got into Postmodern Jukebox? I got a college survey asking me how and where and why I like retro/jazz music.

I have no idea when common sense stopped being common, but really…come on now.

Capital Jazz has always been up front about their dual-genre lineup, and guess what: both genres get equal billing on the cruise, each has a separate stage, and neither is put over the other. The jazz stage was just as packed for Generation Next at the fest as the soul stage was packed for Algebra Blessett. Not difficult, and why? The genres. were. presented. separately. Every cruise, I get a survey that asks me whom I want to see, and more than once, I’ve seen direct results of my input presented live on a stage. They run an event the way I would run an event: sensibly.

And that is precisely why Capital Jazz will remain as my go-to event to attend: they give their separate genres equal billing, they never disappoint me with their jazz segment, their special performances have consistently been stellar, and both the cruise and the fest have been a bargain for my money.

If you’re going to insist on having a non-jazz headliner, then please counter them with someone who is solidly of the jazz world. Surely, the Brubeck Brothers would not have been a difficult choice? Randy Brecker? Stanley Clarke? A Return to Forever reunion? There are a million possibilities to counter Elton John.  Not one of them were considered. And No Doubt?! What year is this, anyway? There’s a time and a place for Gwen Stefani, but New Orleans Jazz Fest is not it.

It’s a slap in the face to all the artists I know, and to all the jazz fans who expect – gee, shock! – a jazz lineup at a jazz festival, and what’s worse, it’s a city that has overwhelming jazz history that’s delivering that slap.

New Orleans has been on my list of events to attend, but not anymore. I think I’d rather go to Mallorca or Jakarta for the jazz events there. Their lineups are 1. all jazz and 2. amazing.

Really. It’s not that fucking difficult. Good gods, if only to have a wealthy sponsor…I’d put on a fucking jazz event myself, no matter how much lost sleep and/or BS I’d have to put up with.

K.G.

For Jeff. For Us.

Now I’m home. It’s a new year, and I’m waking up and thinking that if this is the way the year started, then it’s twice as important to make it count.

It’s still difficult to believe. Still tough to absorb that Jeff is gone, that the sound of his guitar is now limited to Youtube videos, CDs, radio stations – whichever ones are left – and our own memories. I will miss that smile. I’ll miss the conversation after a gig.

But it’s a strong reminder to us that tomorrow is not a promise. That our friends aren’t always going to be there with us. It’s a reminder to take care of our own, to always tell them you love them, to always see that show, make that trip work, to just be there – because there may not be a next time.

There is a show at BB King’s. It was originally planned as a fundraiser, and it still remains as such, but now it’s a tribute show as well. And I ask you, especially my readers from the opposite coast, to please board a flight for this show. I know how expensive travel is, but if you are a jazz fan, if you were a friend of Jeff’s, I think it’s hugely important that you are there for this show. It is for the family, and for Jeff himself. This is to make sure that his family will not be bankrupted by Jeff’s medical expenses, and to pay homage to one of the finest musicians jazz had to offer.

Tickets are here: http://www.bbkingblues.com/bio.php?id=4955

It’s an all-star lineup.

But most importantly, it’s for Jeff. And for us. This is for us to remember a great person and musician, and to remember that tomorrow is not always promised, and that we owe it to ourselves – and to Jeff too – to keep going, keep listening, and thrive. It’s important to live – really live – and to drink in the small moments.

We love you, Jeff. We miss you.

I’ll see you guys at the gig.

K.G.

The Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Post-Cruise Tips for Jazz Cruising

also known as…the reflections of a tired person. LOL, but true.

I utilized a lot of my tips from before, and also have to amend a couple. This trip has been good, and had its ups and downs, in more than a few ways. So, I will now tell you how it did or didn’t work.

1. The Two Suitcases.

I’ll be honest; I goofed here. I did save money on not paying the weight limit fees, but when it came to the basic reason of why I did the two-bag thing to start with, I goofed. Because instead of repacking and having the smaller wheelie as my carry-on aboard the boat, I did a stupid and checked both of them for delivery on board. I then proceeded to do another (albeit very beneficial) stupid and get a spa treatment scheduled for right after the muster station drill, which screwed me for attending the early show, which meant I went for the late show…which then meant I missed dinner.

This is where I discovered that everything food-related on the ship but for the cafe and the pizza joint shuts down at 9:30pm. Crap.

So let this be a lesson to you, lovely folks, unrelated to the bags: make sure you’re fed!

And the plan I had for wheeling off my second ‘case after the cruise? Yep, I goofed again. Guess who had both suitcases carted off.

Next year – well, I’ll likely still do the double-suitcase deal if I’m in danger of going over the weight limit again. I am extremely grateful to the lady working the bag drop at FLL, who let me slide on the pound coming back, but I’d like to actually be within the limit.

Needless to say, of course, that Delta rocks my socks, far as airlines go. This isn’t the first time they had let me slide, and they had come through for me majorly when it came to getting my friend on an earlier flight home. <3

2. Pace Yourself

On this one, I did reasonably well. While my friend, who’s a noob to the entire thing, crashed out on Day 4, I was A-OK. Until Day 6 or so, because even though I love and adore Lalah Hathaway’s music, I just couldn’t peel myself off the bed until 10pm, and even that took a late-night coffee to accomplish.

Oh yeah, there was a lot of coffee…a LOT of coffee. Know how I said coffee is your best friend? Oh hell yeah.

3. Comfortable Shoes

You know those “comfort wear” shoes? Avoid those. They’re comfortable for the first three hours only. Learned the hard way. Walked back to cabin barefoot. Spent the rest of the trip in flip-flops and glad for my super-super-long Old Navy maxi dress, which covers my feet completely even with my height. Not at all ashamed. Speaking of that dress, I want to see if I can grab a couple more of them on clearance; $8 for something that looks like a million bucks with the right wrap? Hey, I may not care for my looks, but I do know how to make magic happen.

4. Med bay = pharmacy = saving grace

Because my Eastern-European skin generally goes between Ghost and Extra Crispy as far as shades of tan go…I was firmly in the Extra Crispy department by about Day 3. Went to wipe the sweat off my face, and removed a skin layer – and usually, I don’t burn like that! My shoulder could’ve stopped traffic. This is with sunscreen. So I nipped down to the med bay and got lidocaine-infused aloe gel. Worth the $10 I spent on it, and again, a reminder: if in doubt, or in trouble, go to the med bay.

5. Have enough cash-on-hand!

This is a tip I learned the hard way. I generally withdraw $300 on top of my existing budget for all the souvenir shopping/local food, but I also pay down my onboard spending with what’s left. This was actually an underestimation. I came in way within my pre-determined budget for onboard spending, and very happy with the fact that I got that together, and this included all the folks whom I bought drinks for!, but I would’ve ended up strapped for cash when we docked at our last port. So this experience amends my usual withdrawal amount to about $500. Yes, I’m serious. Whatever I don’t spend goes against my onboard, so that this way, the grand-total that hits the credit card after the end of each trip is drastically less.

6. Mind Your Cabin!!!

Oh, did I learn that the hard way.

This was my first experience with a porthole-window cabin. It did not go as planned.

The good news: I had the sunlight in the morning, so I didn’t have my body clock thrown off the way it normally gets thrown off in an interior cabin. In an interior, you don’t have a window, so your body cannot tell the difference between day and night when you’re in there. On one hand, it’s great if you want to crash midday, because you will go right to sleep. On another hand, you are exhausted at the end of the trip because your circadian rhythms got all confused as to what time was what.

But the bad news… starboard side cabin. Starboard side is generally not the docking side of the ship, but in Ft. Lauderdale, when we docked back, I had the port lights through the window. Bad. I woke up at 5:30am when I was planning on 8:30. HELL no. I don’t take kindly to sleep deprivation. Worse, I chose a cabin that, as I discovered, vibrated when the ship would pull away from the pier. And I mean vibrated. Not pleasant. The fact that it was below the theater didn’t really bother me; to my surprise, I barely heard anything. But that vibration was not fun, and considering that I booked, unawares, the cabin immediately below for next year…. yeah, no.

I switched back to an inside cabin for next year, and got the same one I had in 2013, which is all the way at the nose of the ship. Extra room, oh hell yeah.

All in all, the trip was lovely. Worth the sunburn. :)

K.G.

An Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising, Part 2

Yes, there’s more! so join me, ladies and gents of the jazzy-and-cruising persuasion, for some more inside info on jazz cruising. Or, at least, have a giggle at my trials and tribulations.

So I started packing for the Capital Jazz Supercruise already. 

“But wait!” you say. “It’s still September! You’re not leaving for another month!”

Yes, I know that, and I’m also an accountant who is running headfirst into deadlines, and my calendar contains other things as well. Whether or not I want to admit it, that cruise is literally around the corner, and it’s going to gobsmack me well before I’m ready for it. So hell yes, I’m getting ready now! I’d rather have only my camera left to pack after everything is said and done, as opposed to running around the day before I’m set to fly out, and end up forgetting stuff I actually need.

I’m set to shoot a Long Island fest, jaunt really quickly to Phoenix for a private event, shoot two back-to-back NYC shows the following week, and guess what! the cruise departs two weeks from the city shows. And another major work deadline is two days before my departure time! This is not counting the meetings I have scattered between those things. That cruise is a blink of an eye away, and I know it.

So what are the lessons du jour?

1. Don’t be afraid of the Second Checked Suitcase when you fly.

Believe me, I know how counterproductive it sounds. However, as I’m now discovering, I may not have a choice, and who’s to blame – none but my own self. 

How so?

Well, story goes like this. After three or so years of heavy duty travel, my Big Suitcase started coming apart. So I replaced it with a nice strong one of a similar size – key words – and brought it home. Until I actually dragged it out and began to pack, I didn’t realize that it’s actually smaller than the suitcase I had to dispose of. Expandable or not, it’s just of a smaller capacity.

Houston, we have a slight problem here. 

I’m efficient like nobody’s business when it comes to packing. If I had to push it, I could be ready for a trip like the Capital Jazz Cruise in 24 hours to departure. However, that is wildly counterproductive. Last-minute packing is a guaranteed way of forgetting something. This is why I pack in advance. This is also why I am glad like hell that I started packing a month ahead, because if I discovered this size disparity in my big suitcase any later, I’d be in a world of financial hurt.

In other words: airline overlimit baggage fees

I’ll wait for y’all to stop cringing. 

This is the thing for me this year: my flights are paid for by the airlines themselves. My return flight, with Delta, is paid for with my miles. My American Airlines’ disaster last year, where they tried to bump me off my flights, ended up in me being issued a $300 voucher, which has paid my flight to the pre-cruise hotel in full, with pre-boarding and extras, such as the coverage for the first checked bag. I still have a little left over from that certificate, and while I’m not too likely to use it, it’s still something that could come in very handy – such as, well, checking a second bag. However, I checked the terms of service, and nowhere did it indicate that the first-checked-bag fee makes the bag exempt from weight fees. That is a problem. Also, seeing as I tend to go over the weight limit when I pack, this creates A Problem, because those fees are from $75 to $125 each way. I speak from experience, that is to say, a very ouchy wallet. 

So I figured that I would do a lot better if I were to pack a smaller suitcase for a second bag. This way, neither of them will go over the weight limit, and instead of about $100 each way, the max I’d pay is….. $40. Each way. 

Better? Oh hell yes. 

Also, it’s more practical. Explanation as follows.

Think of the logistics of your trip. Just the basics of when, where, why, and how.

If you’re going on a music cruise, the common-sense thing to do is to arrive to the port city the day before your departure. I don’t say this idly: you have no idea what can happen to your flight on a good day, never mind in inclement weather. Most of the time, if you’re leaving out of Florida, the ship departs at 4pm. It may not be a problem for you, per se, but again: expect the unexpected. Suppose your flight gets delayed. Suppose you’re rerouted. Suppose you’re stuck on the tarmac waiting for someone to shovel snow (if your cruise leaves in January, this concern is valid). Whether or not you like it, the ship will leave at the suggested departure time, on the dot, regardless of whether or not you’re on it, and it’s in your best interest to be on that ship. And if you want to get aboard the ship early and you want to get there day of departure, guess what this means: 6am flight! Are you up for waking up at 3am for a cab call? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

So fly in the day before. One, you get to chill for a whole day before your big cruise, and believe me when I say, stock up on your sleep now, because if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on sleeping on the big trip. Too much music. 

Now, what does this mean in terms of your packing? 

Suppose you’re me for a second. You have your big suitcase, and it’s stuffed to the gills with all the Party Essentials for 8 days. Swimsuits, check. Cover-ups, check. Show attendance clothes, check. Comfy clothes for in-between, check. Toiletries to last, check. Sunscreen, check. Shoes, check. Hair dryer, check. Makeup and jewelry, check. All of that adds up to a LOT of stuff, and even if you take a tip out of How To Pack Like An Engineer, you would still have to dig into that case when you arrive to the hotel to make yourself comfortable, etc. And you know what that means? Repacking when you go to the pier.

What you may or may not know about the cruises, it’s this: on board the ship, delivery of your suitcases takes quite a bit of time. Think about it: 6,000 people all surrender their bags when they’re at the port, and this does not include the musicians’ instrument and gear cases. The ship has 12 decks total, of which 7-8 are strictly the residential decks. That is a lot of work for the crew. Last year, my suitcase didn’t arrive until about 6-7pm, which meant that I had no way of changing into gig clothes for the first show of the night – and I was lucky as hell that I chose early dining that year and just caught a quick meal while I waited, because I don’t know about y’all, but if I’m on a cruise, I don’t much like showing up to a main-theatre concert in my traveling clothes. Cargo pants and a tee are cool for airport and portside, but not cool in the front row of a show – at least that’s my opinion.

How does an extra bag help matters?

When you go on board the ship, a small wheelie will be your second carry-on – and if you set up your packing right, it’ll tide you over A-OK until your big bag is delivered to your cabin. 

So how to do this efficiently?

Well, first tip is to see the link above for the best Youtube video on the subject. 

Second: think. Think very carefully. Think of your clothing, think of what you’re taking, and think of what you’re most likely to use when you’re in layover at the pre-cruise hotel. Do you plan to sleep? Pack a set of comfy clothes to serve as pajamas (or if you’re me, pack flannels). Dressing up for dinner? A nice oufit; pants and top, or dress, and shoes, makeup as you like it. Lounging at hotel pool? Swimsuit, beach towel, sunscreen. Going to pier tomorrow? Pack another set of comfies. And pack a spare set of all the toiletries you’re putting into your Big Suitcase. 

Altogether, you’ll have just enough clothes for 2 days, and it’ll be just enough to fill up a small wheelie case and still leave packing room for souvenirs, shopping, and so on. And best of all: when you’re packing your suitcase back up at the end of the trip, that little tote for Night Before stuff I talked about in my last jazz cruising post? Goes right into your wheelie, which contains that spare set of travel clothes. 

And, you’re covered for your overflow. Ever had that moment where you ask yourself, “How the hell did I pack all this when I was departing?” I have. And rather than asking a friend to sit on your suitcase to get it to close, have a little extra room for overflow.

All of this talk about flying out, though, reminds me:

2. Watch your itineraries carefully!

I run into this dilemma routinely, I hate to say, and I’m not at fault this time. Unfortunately, I run into this because I do a lot of flying.

I think you know this, but if you don’t, I’ll happily reiterate: airlines often change their flight times, and depending on whom you fly with, you don’t get notified before you’re bumped off onto another flight. 

I am a creature of habit. I stay with the same hotels if the price is right and they treat me well. If I like a particular airline, I stick to them like glue until they do something that makes it difficult for me to stay their client (hasn’t happened yet). If I like a particular flight for how I can time my day, I’ll take that same flight year in and year out. So when I got the American Airlines voucher last year, I went with the same flight I always book when I fly American Airlines to Florida – which was a 10am NYC-MIA. Why Miami, when the cruise leaves from Ft. Lauderdale? 1. It’s a direct flight, while NYC-FLL isn’t for that particular airline, and 2. dirt-cheap. It’s an early wakeup call, but not too early, and I land in Florida at around 1pm, which means I can write, relax, sun myself, read a book, and enjoy the hotel for the rest of the day before vamoosing to the port the next morning.

You can imagine, then, the look on my face when I got an email from American Airlines, wherein they notified me that my new flight time was…wait for it…

6.35am. 

They changed the time again to 6:55am since, but to say I’m less than pleased is an understatement.

I took the 6am flight all of once, when I was leaving to Montego Bay in 2009 for Jammin’ in Jamaica. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t repeat the experience, even if sunrise in NYC is absolutely gorgeous, and reminds me of why I like window seats. I absolutely detest early wakeup calls enough as it is, and if you consider a half-hour to get to the airport, plus about the same time for security and check-in, plus having to be there at least another hour beforehand, I generally look at a 3:30am cab call with a 6-odd am departure time. Not happy. I wasn’t a fan of all-nighters in college, and even less of a fan of waking up at a time that I not-so-lovingly refer to as ass o’clock.

But nonetheless, it’s a flight that I paid nothing out of pocket for, and my bitching about the asscrack-of-dawn wakeup call will be limited. Plus, if I’m landing in Miami, I get to have papas rellenas for lunch, and there’s nothing I love more than good Cuban food when in Florida – which, in MIA, is easy to find. 

There is one  good thing about that sort of an early-morning flight: I can catch a long nap on the plane, and when I get to the hotel, I have most of the day ahead of me. So I can get some more sleep and more writing done this way.

 

One kind of similar incident about flight changes took place not a couple of days ago, and I have to hand it to the DeltaAssist twitter crew. (If you’re a Delta customer and have a problem, tweet @DeltaAssist and they help you in 15m or less).

Yep, it was another schedule change. The problem? It was such a change that made it impossible for me to make the connecting flight. My route was NYC – Tucson, two hours’ layover in Salt Lake City. Except the SLC-Tucson flight was now scheduled to leave a solid hour before I was scheduled to land in SLC. 

Problem.

Cue some tweets to the DeltaAssist account, and fifteen minutes later, I was rerouted through Atlanta instead, and set to land in AZ a whole three hours earlier than I planned. Good? Yes, but even better on Delta for notifying my schedule change with an alert of “Call customer assistance, for you may not make your connecting flight”. 

 

What are our take-aways from the day?

Plan ahead! If it means you have to spend money, then find a way to spend less of it. 

Oh, and make sure you have very good alarm clocks for the early flights. 

K.G.

The Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising

I was sitting down with one of my best friends at dinner last night, and she told me that she’s heading to her first jazz cruise, and after our talk, it occurred to me that considering that I’m embarking on my sixth jazz cruise this year – fifth with the same production, Capital Jazz – that it may be a good idea to do a post on what to expect on a music charter.

Mind you, while I’m a jazz cruiser, there are other music charters, and this can apply to any such a charter cruise – at least, that’s what I’m hoping to write out in here.

Before I get into the tips and tricks, though, keep this in mind:

A Charter Cruise Is NOT a Regular Cruise. It’s anything but.

I should perhaps say that a jazz cruise is not like any regular cruise. But nor is any other music charter. For those of y’all who don’t know, a charter cruise is basically a boat that’s rented out to do a theme cruise. 7-8 days of nothing but X theme, with activities and various other things to do.

Charter cruises are priced much higher than ordinary cruises, and for a reason: apart from just your cabin, you’re also paying admission for all those events and shows. They’re all included in your price.

And it’s worth it.

Your cabin is going to be little more than a crash pad to sleep, shower, make quick plans with friends (and you’ll make them if you haven’t brought them), and jet right back out the door. You will be doing things aboard the ship and off the ship pretty much every waking minute. The highlight of a charter music cruise is, naturally, the music. On board the ship, you can also expect workshops, Q&As, classes, parties, theme parties, and jam sessions.

A typical day on a cruise looks like this:

9am: dock in port, people come off ship to explore/do excursions

12pm: party somewhere on the island, or on the boat, or a choice of both

3-4pm: back on board! And a Q&A on the ship.

5-8pm: prep for dinner if you have early dining,* or the concert** of that night.

8-11pm: concert**/dinner for late dining.*

* The dining is split into sets: if you have dinner at 6pm, then you see the 8pm show, give/take an hour for prep/drink. Likewise, if your dinner is at 8pm, you attend the 6pm show, then go to dinner.

** There are always two shows: one in the main theater, one in the aft lounge, and I hope you can powerwalk if you want to make both!

11pm: drinks/get seats for jam session

12am – last man standing: jam session. Last man standing usually translates to anywhere between 2-4am.

And the next day, you get to do it all over again! On sea days, you can sub in the land excursions for more Q&As, parties, concerts, events, etc. but you get the gist. You do not stay idle.

FOR SEVEN OR EIGHT DAYS.

You do not take a jazz cruise, or a music cruise, period, if you want to get some rest. This is a party cruise. You take it to listen to awesome music, meet and mingle with the artists, and have a great time. You will sleep when you’re on your flight home.

And I’ve been doing this annually, so I offer to thee, my dear readers and future cruisers alike, my guide to Jazz Cruising 101.

1. Pack a sweater and/or flannel pajamas.

If you’re going to the Caribbean, as most jazz cruises often go, you may be asking, why a sweater? And I answer you: the air conditioning on the ships will turn your cabin into an igloo. This I speak from hard-won experience: last year, I got sick due to my hotel a/c being too strong, and the cruise-ship a/c was no weaker. I turned the knob to heat, and it was still a cool 60-odd degrees in my room. Trust me: the flannel pajamas I packed were a godsend. Know what else was? My running jacket, which I often wore to shows. The theaters get c-o-l-d. That air conditioner is no joke. Trust me: pack it now and you will have no cause to regret it later.

Speaking of unexpected illness…

2. Every ship has a med bay comparable to a small hospital. 

And it’s a lot cheaper than you’d expect, and the service is impeccable. That said? Pack a sampler of basic medicines just in case. My personal favorites: Advil, Benadryl, Dramamine, and cough drops. Bring any and all of your prescription meds as well.

If you are unwell on the ship, don’t be afraid to drop down to Deck 0 and ask for help. There’s a fully stocked pharmacy and a small but functional ER. Be healthy, that is first.

3. You need not worry about motion sickness too much…and don’t worry about the storms either.

These ships are bleeding enormous. Most of the time, you don’t feel the motion. The one time it got bad was in 2012, when my ship was behind that little storm known as Hurricane Sandy. That wasn’t pretty. That was the only time I ever hugged the walls to try and walk down the stairs. That is also a massive exception. Most of the time, the ships are very steady, and should a hurricane crop up on your route, the ship is often rerouted to avoid it. Bring the Dramamine anyway, because if you won’t need it, someone you will meet just might.

4. PACE YOURSELF.

This is the Rule #1 of the Capital Jazz Supercruise, and it’s with good reason. There has been more than one instance where I’ve seen people fall dead-to-hell-asleep in the casino lounge, in the aft lounge, in the atrium lounge, anywhere there’s a soft and cushiony seat, and why? Because they tried to do too much in one day. And I’ve been one of these people; I’ve had folks shake me awake in a lounge after a late-night jam sesh before. I’ve had someone scoop me out of a chair because I was too dang tired to move. You need to allocate some nap time between your activities, or forgo this or that show, because you can, and will, exhaust yourself.

Which brings me to…

5. Coffee is your friend.

Needs no explanation. There’s a reason I get a cappuccino at 11pm between aft lounge show and jam session, without fail. It’s a tip that people told me they picked up from me. Glad to be an influence :) but if you love jam sessions, you will, without fail, need a doppio espresso.

6. Yes, the ship has laundromats.

And I suggest you use them. There is, guaranteed, at least one self-serve laundromat on board every major cruise ship. And few things suck like going home after eight days with a suitcaseful of laundry. Valet service is available with your stateroom steward, but it will be about $20-40 bucks per bag, depending on your item list. Self is cheaper. Either way, it’s necessary. If something like Hurricane Sandy happens again, and you’re in a city other than your hometown, clean unmentionables will be essential.

7. Budget 1K for your onboard spending – and believe me, the amount is with good reason.

This is actually pretty important. As I told my friend, you will be very surprised at how quickly it all adds up.

This is what’s NOT included on a charter cruise:

– Any and all alcohol (and no, don’t bring your own, it can and will be confiscated)

– Steakhouse reservations (which are worth their $30 a pop, but…) – reservations only, not the food itself

– Gift shop stuff

– Shore excursions

– Artist CDs and merchandise

– Exercise classes (sometimes, this varies ship to ship)

– Spa treatments (and their cancellations!)

– Internet access

– In-cabin telephone usage for calls home

– Valet laundry service

Spa treatments are my personal Achilles’s Heel. I love massages on cruise ships; they are exorbitantly expensive, but the way they are set up, it is worth every. last. little. penny. However, I have to obey Rule #4 and indulge myself in a very limited fashion. I learned the hard way as to what happens when I don’t. My budget for the year ahead generally does NOT thank me if I go overboard, pun intended.

The reason why I say plan for a thousand bucks is because that is, realistically, an average amount that I had of onboard spending at all my cruises. If it’s not the spa, it will be other things. Drinks onboard a cruise are an average of $10 a pop. If you have two with every dinner, it’s $20 a day, or $80-100 for your entire cruise. Double that if you also have two drinks at each show. Triple that if you also partake at the bar. Quadruple that if you’re buying other people’s drinks, and add some more for that delicious bottle of wine. Before you know it, that’s $500 on just alcohol.

You may or may not use the Internet plans on the ship, but if you have a laptop on board (I generally take mine, because writing + photo work = need!!!), then it may actually be a good idea to invest in a bargain plan. The cheapest per-minute option is usually about $130, which is like 20c per minute. And again, before you know it, you just might use it all up. So there you go, now you’re up to $630.

Add your merch/CDs/gift shop stuff, and maybe toss in a shore excursion if you don’t buy one in advance…and you’re at $800!

So plan for 1K of onboard spending. Whether or not you end up actually spending it is another question.

And of course: if there’s anything that you can book and reserve in advance, when you’re doing the online check-in for your cruise, do so. It will drastically improve your onboard budget. Some cruise ships actually will offer you a discount for advanced booking. DO THAT.

8. Know your cabins.

This is something that I am passing along to you as an experienced cruiser, moreover as an experienced solo cruiser.

I travel alone for many reasons, and as I learned, I’m at a disadvantage in doing so. Why? Price. Most cruises price their cabins at double occupancy, anticipating two people per cabin. Myself, I travel alone, and this is why I love Capital Jazz: Capital Jazz actually offers singles pricing, and marketwise, theirs is easily the most reasonable price tag for a single. The trouble with that is, you may be limited in your cabin choices, and that is okay. It’s not as though you will be in your cabin all that much anyway – with all that’s on the ship to do, you will only use your cabin to shower and sleep, most likely.

However: there are some cabins to take and to avoid, as I learned.

To Take: If you’re OK with an inside cabin, and you like a little extra room, take something at the very nose of the ship.

2202 was my cabin last year, and I’ve stayed in 1202 on a previous sister ship. Both times, the cabins were nearly twice the size of any other cabin (had 1251 on yet another cruise; also an inside, and it was a good comparison point). They both fall under singles pricing – and if you like your cabins roomy, they are an absolute steal for the cost. The thing is, if you’re traveling as a single, pretty much any cabin will suit you fine, but the nose cabins will be much roomier.  

Drawback? …where do you think the anchor chain is? Expect rattly wakeup calls on port days. Still, holy hell, the room. The room! It’s like one and a half of any other cabin.

To Avoid: Unless you are good at sleeping through noise, avoid cabins by the stairs, or above and below the casino, theater, and lounge.

Been there and done that. My very first cruise, not with CapJazz, I was under the theater. Even if I didn’t attend the jam sessions, I attended the jam sessions. This year, I took a porthole cabin and ended up near a staircase…and it’s right under the theater. But, you know what? I picked it, and I’ll stay in it.

One thing I strongly recommend avoiding: anything near a utility room. Oh lord, the 6:40am rattling of service carts. Gah.

Which brings me to…

9. ALWAYS! pack an eye mask and earplugs.

Eye mask will have you sleeping soundly if your cabin has a porthole and you’re crawling in just as the sun is coming up. Earplugs will protect your hearing if you’re sitting near the speakers and/or when the late-night party folks walk and roister past your cabin door on the way to theirs. Trust me, both are your best friend.

And while I’m talking about packing, let’s revisit the essentials.

10. Toiletries – don’t skimp.

Shove them in your checked luggage and take all that you may need, plus extra. Reason: it gets pricey if you buy your essentials in the ship’s gift shop. I will say that their sunscreen is pretty excellent, and that’s the one thing worth splurging on aboard, (and my skin gets persnickety quite a fair bit…as my Cali friends can attest, having seen me lobster-red a few times!) but really: prep ahead. That and you’re on a ship for a week; not every port will have a CVS. St. Thomas had a RadioShack and a CVS, and both came in handy one year. But that also taught me to never, ever hesitate before packing something extra.

Oh, and ladies, take your own hair dryer. The one in the cabin is crap. I have a hot brush (dryer with a round brush attachment) and I rarely go on a long-haul trip without it.

A tip from my friend too: take a straightening iron in lieu of a clothing iron. They don’t allow clothing irons on board, but hey: if you gotta press something… :)

Another tip: portable humidifier. I gotta invest in one of those that can work from a simple water bottle. That plus a little peppermint oil will mean your respiratory system will be healthy.

11. Comfy clothes

You will need to dress up only for theme parties, dinnertime, and shows. All other times, comfort is king. Sweats, bathing suits, yoga pants, tees, etc. Trust me, comfort is a lovely thing.

12. Travel surge protector/outlet splitter. No, not a big power strip, those are not allowed.

Think this one from Belkin. It’s the best $20 you’ll spend, and let me explain why: nearly all staterooms have only one electric outlet.

It’s something no one tells you and something I learned the hard way. If you’re sharing a room, this little surge protector I linked will actually go a long way. Plus, it comes with two USB ports, which is handy for charging your mobile devices. Trust me: worthwhile investment.

13. The artists are people too. Socialize and mingle, but please respect them and their space too.

This I write as a friend to many artists, and as someone who had to step in and do the job of a handler to a couple of them as well: they are people too.

Yes, this is their job: play music, sell their music, socialize with the fans. But if they’re on board with their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, children – please respect that. I’ve seen some questionable behavior in my six years of cruising, and believe me, they need to have some rest as well.

14. DO NOT MISS THE BOAT.

They tell you, at each port you dock into: set your watch to the ship’s time. EVERY year, without fail, there were people who were left stranded on the pier because they couldn’t make it back to the ship in time, even though they tell you, at every port, what time the ship is set to leave.

DO NOT MISS THE BOAT. You do not want to be That Person, who will later end up as comedian fodder. Trust me.

But just in case…

15. Spend the extra hundred bucks getting trip insurance.

I never travel anywhere without it, and definitely don’t go on any cruises without it. A recommended website is InsureMyTrip.com, which will give you quotes across several insurers. You can pick the coverage you need and want (trip cancellation, trip interruption, etc.) and it will give you a price.

And if you are the person who ends up stranded on an island because you missed the boat, this insurance can, and will, without fail, save your skin.

16. The final night of the cruise – be ready.

Cruise debarkation is every bit as tedious as the embarkation, but seeing as the party doesn’t end on the last night, here’s a couple of tips:

– Have your Travel Outfit laid out.

– Have the barest toiletry essentials still unpacked, and no more

– Have a small tote/beach bag at the ready.

This is how debarkation works: usually, you have two options to get yourself and your bags off the ship. Assisted debarkation, wherein your bags are collected the night before and you claim them on a carousel a la airport style, or self-debarkation, wherein you wheel off your own. Sometimes, the ship will forward your bags along to your hometown as well, so by the time you land, you claim your bags at the airport.

My favorite is the assisted debarkation, because that’s when I don’t have to worry about the big suitcase, and I am prepped in advance well enough that by the time I’m off the ship, all I do is zip to the airport and go home.

Which is why I say: make sure you have the Very Barest Essentials and your Travel Outfit ready, and a small tote bag.

Suppose I’m in a dress for the final show of the night. I put out my suitcase at around 10pm-midnight. That’s when they’re collected. I’m not going to the airport in my dress, so I keep my sweats, contact lens solution, and sneakers out of my suitcase. By the time the porters haul away my suitcase, what do I have to carry off the ship? My camera bag, my little tote that contains my dress and shoes from the night before…and I’m dressed in my comfy sweats. When I reunite with my suitcase, I stuff the tote into the suitcase and to the airport!

The best thing about all these cruises is that you will make a million new friends. I mean it. I met a lot of my current clients and friends on board the cruises. Even if you come alone, you’re never alone. You become A Family on the ship, and it’s a family that, if CapJazz is any example, is several thousand people strong.

At least once in your lifetime, do a music cruise. It’s so well worth it.

K.G.

ETA, w/THANKS TO MONICA: 

COMFORTABLE SHOES.

Ladies, this one is for you. If you’re like me, then chances are, you have some Nice Shoes. I have a stellar pair of stilettos that make me look awesome…but they’re staying home.

Why?

Because, and I came very close to learning this the hard way…you don’t want a sprained ankle. The ships lurch. Your balance shifts. And heels that may look good may not always turn out so good when it comes to walking around a ship that’s about a mile from nose to stern. Moreover, a lot of the thresholds on the boat are just slightly raised. Yeah, problem.

Fold-a-flats are a saving grace. So are flip-flops.

ETA #2, with thanks to LaVonna, whom I chatted with about those…

This may be a little ridiculous, but trust me, when you’re going on a cruise, a little handheld scale for your luggage will be an excellent accessory.

I touch on packing in my follow-up post. The thing about that is this: if you’re taking a second bag to avoid overage charges, it would really pay off well to make sure that the bags fit the weight restriction.

Check this little scale out, by ConAir, available at your local Walgreen’s.

Also…check out this video, maybe or maybe not linked above: how to pack like an engineer.

State of the Jazz Union

You may have read this in multiple parts in rant form, but a much more cohesive version of why I gnashed teeth over Yoshi’s and Jazz Fest West, and any festival apart from my beloved Capital Jazz that went more than 25% R&B, is live up at Detroit Jazz Magazine, where I’m an occasional journalist.

Link: http://detroitjazzmagazine.com/Articles/stateofjazz.html

You may be wondering why I’m rehashing this. And I will tell you in no uncertain terms: because someone has to say it. Someone has to say it and someone has to keep saying it. Until and unless we all come together – promoters, bookers, artists, photographers, fans, and journalists – then we will really not have very much in the realm of what the jazz scene has to offer.

And a genre that has been alive, evolving, and robust in every iteration for a hundred years deserves better than to be pushed by the wayside.

K.G.