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Back Roads Beat

2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Day 8: School Daze With McCoy Tyner, Amateurs And A 'Ship Pianist'

By Published: July 26, 2007
"OK, horn player we need a melody—go (silver alto kicks out an OK effort with a few sour notes )...OK, we need first solo—go (elderly man with another alto sax vamps for 16 bars)... OK, one more—go (to the same player)... OK, tenor sax, tenor sax, tenor sax - where you going man? OK, alto (young alto sax steps in)... cut drums—keep playing (to young alto)."

The crowd was tuned in, giving appropriate applause to some of the more accomplished solos. Maybe 15 players were on stage by the end of the all-too-short session, which lasted maybe 45 minutes before Miller had to prepare for his show.

The raw notes review: "Like a school concert, it seems unfair to grade what's basically a pickup game at the Y. Just the huge tonal variety of the players is awesome and nobody seems incompetent or showboating in manner that would, back in Miles' days in Harlem, cause the skilled cats to take someone into the alley outside for a beating."

Silveria, seeking to fulfill his dream of becoming a smooth jazz musician before an eye disease takes his sight, didn't get his biggest wish of jamming with Kirk Whalum during the cruise, but the session satisfied him. Wearing a black cap and shirt instead of his usual camouflage and looking more clean-shaven, he said he tried to more than just hold his own during the latest of similar sessions he's played while traveling trying to make contacts.

"I was trying to get the horn players together, but..." he trailed off.

The Nutty Professor

There's usually a little extra goofiness the last night at sea.

The expected desert buffet was the Rotterdam's late-night pool-deck offering and, as is sadly often the case, was a better visual than gastronomic indulgence. Mostly a collective of the mini-pastries, mousses and cakes served to date, with a few eye-catchers seemingly for show. A disc-like coffee cake looked tempting but was so hard it could have been a decoration they'd been using all week. They also committed the cardinal sin of not offering anything that wasn't sweet, causing sugar fatigue to set in quickly. It served mostly as a reminder food quality seems to be declining, with creative presentations of things like pheasant and duck getting replaced with unremarkable chicken and salmon preparations. I expect things to be particularly bad the final four days, since most people will be at all three days of the festival and the final day will almost certainly be a pantry-clearing exercise.

I opted for a different sort of filler, concocted by the musician doing perhaps the most work for the least credit.

J.P. Nadeau, performing multiple times a day as the unnamed "ship pianist," was maybe halfway through a session lasting until nearly 2 a.m. in a small mid-ship Tropic Bar, next to the much more heavily occupied casino and sports bar (futbol on ESPN, of course). About a dozen people, nearly all elderly couples in twos and fours, were in the lounge or tables just outside of it next to the windows overlooking the sea.

If any noise was leaking in from the slot machines and soccer fans, it wasn't noticeable.

Nadeau took care of that as a hearty, roguish showman whose vocals trade volume for exact pitch at peak moments as he pounds out straightforward chords and melodies to well-known standards.

"This might hurt ya', but I'll do it anyway," he said as his introduction for one song. "I just want to see the pain on your face."

He punctuates most of his sentences with a raucous laugh, puts so much body English into his piano playing he wipes his brow with a handkerchief after every song and liberally—I'll say sips, not drinks — from the glass on the panel other players normally use to collect tips. He freely admits "I'm not a musician, I'm an entertainer," but says his role allows a much more interactive relationship with passengers than the more famous names on this cruise.

"Those people upstairs, they don't get to meet people and if they do it's 'Blah, blah blah,'" Nadeau said. "I got to meet women. I got hugs. I got kisses. I got drinks for me. I know they're making more money, but I love this."

Beneath the self-mockery is some legit talent.

A fleeting glimpse at something beyond piano bar schtick came on a respectably well-played arrangement of "Take Five," with Nadeau whistling the lead lines and a surprisingly lengthy straight-ahead solo. He started in a classic mid-range series of relatively even notes, stretching them gradually about an octave higher and sustaining the top-end ones as long tension builds that descended in intervals. There were also a handful of jumps and clipped-note chirps to lend unpredictability, but all with at least adequate pitch control and technique. His tone lacks the clear sharpness of a top-end pro (Nelson Rangell's "If I Could" remaining one of the definitive examples IMHO), but the breathy undertones are within acceptable limits. Above all, it was an impressive display of coordination, concentration and stamina.


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