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Back Roads Beat

2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise: Day 2-3

By Published: July 12, 2007
That thought became a tantalizing reality when, after about 10 minutes and I was ready to head out, an acoustic guitar joined in and a nicely crafted unplugged duet of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" leaked through the bulkhead. After hearing plenty of fusion/funk versions from bands, it was a refreshing change-of-pace first. The obvious urge to knock and meet the neighbor(s) was tempered by not wanting to interrupt people who might not want to be disturbed by yet another fan or might be reluctant to play again if they felt awkward about being monitored by a journalist next door. Ultimately, common sense dictated waiting, since it's a long cruise and I'd likely find out quickly enough by chance.

Riel's always hit the mark with what I think of as bar talk among Apple Computer engineers, very smart guys with a hint of mischief, and his trio didn't let down during their 90 minutes. Riel earned his stripes on the "almost forgotten" composition "Idaho" with a cymbal-roll heavy exchange of fours and extended solo complimenting them with bits of his kit one at a time, ending in a full workout across it.

Koppel shone over and over, much like a Woods hitting his prime in the new millennium, reaching into a deep bag of subtle growls, shakes, alternate tones and other nuances to bring character to those lengthy and scholarly quick runs that mark the classic master player (an exception was his rather dull and straight "Over The Rainbow"). Lundgaard got his center-stage glory on a tune whose name I missed and whose technique falls in that broad range of dense brilliance that's so easy for me to enjoy and so difficult to describe proficiently (no point trying to fake it).

At 4 p.m. came what was guaranteed to be the most commanding and well-attended horn performance of the cruise.

That's a nice jazz way of describing the mandatory lifeboat drill, something of a nuisance where everybody dons their lifejackets and goes to their assigned boat, where they learn this is most definitely not the Titanic. The Rotterdam has lifeboats for more than 1,800 people—well in excess of those on board—and they can lower even if all kinds of things. They float even when completely flooded and have satellite locator beacons ensuring they'll be found by rescuers. It actually ends up being somewhat reassuring and useful, since there's been actual cruise ship accidents lately and we won't be in the most sedate of waters. There was only one real snafu - passengers touring Copenhagen for the day were told they needed to be back on board at 5:30 p.m. to ensure departure on time.

Nonetheless, there was personal motivation to be at the drill: I wanted to see my neighbor when they called his or her name on the call sheet.

It was a woman who answer the cabin call, but in one of those of those clumsy misfortunes of life, people were shuffling around in front of me (rule is women and children at the front, men at the rear) and I couldn't see through them.

Easily remedied. I hustled a bit quicker than everyone else back to my cabin and lingered with my card out at the door. About 30 seconds later a man and woman perhaps in their 40s appeared and vanished into the room. They didn't look like anyone I'd seen with any of the bands.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

The tenor belonged to the guy, Zachary Silveria, 45, a diving expert from Tracy, a city between San Francisco and Sacramento. Hearty and husky, with a camouflage cap, tank top and music tattoos wrapping around both biceps, he described himself as a self-taught amateur working with rhythm backing tapes. But he's chasing musicians around the world in pursuit of dream whose time is growing dangerously short.

Becoming a professional smooth jazz musician before losing his sight to a degenerative eye disease.

"My grandfather played for Lawrence Welk, thus he left a saxophone for me when he died," he said. "I kept staring at it, staring at it, staring at it, and one day I picked it up and said 'I'm going to find music before I lose my sight.'"

Why smooth jazz?

"I think because of the instruments," Silveria said, noting he listened to the likes of Stevie Wonder and other Motown artists growing up. "I actually started listening to smooth jazz radio because as you get older you change a little bit. Boney James was the first concert about eight years ago. I had no clue who Coltrane or Miles was. Most guys (that do) start in high school."

He sold his dive shop and so far has invested $150,000 and three years' effort into a studio, recording virtually all parts of a four-song demo CD and traveling to meet as many well-known smooth jazz artists as possible. He asks players to sign his horn and, after some initial nervousness, about joining jam sessions.

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