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Back Roads Beat

2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Day 6: History, Hucksters And Hancock On The High Seas

By Published: July 16, 2007
"The reason for him putting his back to the audience is the same reason a symphony conductor has his back to the audience," Hancock said. "He's conducting. Miles is having a conversation with the drummer and he facing the drummer. He's having a conversation with the bassist and he facing the bassist."

Of course, this being Miles, things weren't always on the straight and narrow.

"At one point he said 'How do you like my shoes,'" Miller said, slipping into a reasonable fascimile of Davis' famous hoarse whisper. "That's one story where he wasn't conducting anybody. He's like 'What size do you wear? Where can I get some?' I'm like 'I'm trying to concentrate on your music here.'"

Hancock, when asked about the things that pleased him most during his career, cited another offbeat encounter early in his dealings with Davis.

"I had just joined Miles' band—actually, I still had one gig to go before I joined—and he came down to the village gig to listen to me, and he said 'I want a ride back to your place," Hancock said, dropping into a reasonably impersonation of the trumpeter's hoarse whisper. "I said 'Miles, I got a car of my own.' He said 'It ain't a Maseratti.'"

"We got to the corner, and I looked at him and he looked at me-"

"No! You didn't drag race Miles?!' Miller interrupted incredulously.

"I was at the next corner before he even moved," Hancock finished. He lit a cigar in the car and waited for Miles to pulled alongside.

"'What is that?" the trumpet master whispered.

"I said 'It's an A.C. Cobra.'"

"He said 'Get rid of it.'"

"I said 'Why?'"

"He said 'It's too dangerous.'"

Not much chance of that, Hancock concluded, since it was the first car he bought with his own money — $6,000 from the check he got for Watermelon Man.

Just as the interview ended and people were gathering their things a bit of breaking news reached Miller that made people pause on their way to the exit.

"Hey y'all, listen," he said. "Herbie's wife, Gigi, just won $1,000 on the slot machines. So don't be messin' with the slot machines, because you know that's not going to happen again."

Cruisin' To A Different Beat

Gambling is far from the only way to lose money during sea days on a cruise.

The seemingly mandatory "inch of gold rush," "champaign art auction," "t-shirts from ports of call," "amber seminar," portrait and camera studio, and shopping promenade all go full-tilt on pretty much any vessel after being forced to sit dark while in port.

The difference between a cheap and a classy cruise is presentation.

A bargain-basement Carnival Cruise Lines voyage is a non-stop carnival barker marketing pitch, with PA speakers constantly blaring about new opportunities to buy, buy, buy. On the Rotterdam passengers are mostly left to find them on their own, with salesmanship limited to the daily printed bulletins and maybe a quiet mention included as part of the day's other activities. Bargain journeys also tend to charge more and for more things like the drinks they try to push in your hands and the "special" dining rooms, and issue dire warnings about the potential risks of taking shore excursions not booked through the ship's official (overpriced) offerings.

That doesn't mean the quality of the goods on classier ships is necessarily better.

I actually need a watch and wandered over to the "blowout" sale where supposedly $80 wrist shackles were selling for $29.95 (two for $49.95!). I have all the respect in the world for European clockmakers, but when the macho-looking dials of days, lunar cycles and other nonsense are painted on it's hard to think of anywhere but the sucker shops of Nassau. Last time I stopped by an "inch of gold" sale on another ship and asked to buy an inch for my wife back home I got a mocking look and forms to fill out in duplicate.

That's because, much as I'd like to just hand the jewelry girl a dollar, ships don't operate on a cash system. Instead passengers get a room key with a mandatory requirement of providing a credit card number for all extra onboard charges. A tipping fee of $10 a day is added immediately without consent (and they still suggest tipping your steward separately, plus service charges are added to everything from lattes to laundry). Other things add up shockingly fast even for those vowing to keep things bare bones. A $299 four- day Caribbean "bargain" is basically impossible to complete without spending at least twice that — and that's based on double occupancy; there's a 50 to 100 percent supplemental charge for traveling alone unless you're paired with a random cabinmate.

(This is going someplace jazz-related — stick with me)

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