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Back Roads Beat

2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Days 9-12: Land-ho! Causing Waves At The Festival

By Published: July 30, 2007
Usually it's the anonymous behind-the-scenes types who earn this distinction, and plenty of them were lights-out in near-equal fashion on this voyage, but Miller did it all before a demanding public. Not once did I see him being anything less than gracious whether it was before a large audience, a crowd seeking autographs or just some individual in a hall who stopped him for a private word. I've always been a skeptic of the public/private personas of big-name entertainers, but in Miller's case you eventually simply accept this is who he is (it's far more credible than thinking he can maintain a public facade 20 hours a day for 11 days in the tight quarters of a ship).

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. The last time I saw him at any length was a couple of years ago when he offered a brutally frank and refreshing overview of the artistic compromises he and other make during a smooth jazz discussion panel at the International Associate Of Jazz Education conference in New York. I may never be the fan of his music I was when he was amplifying the likes of David Sanborn in the 1980s, but it's impossible not to put him in the very short list of musicians I respect most.

Comments from fellow passengers and others involved with the cruise were, without exception, similarly laudatory.

"I don't remember anybody being a host who has done more," said Lazaroff, the Jazz Cruises executive director, in his Day 8 remarks to the audience.

"Let me tell you how I met him," he said, detailing his approach to Miller about hosting the cruise. "Nervously, I went to his studio in L.A. and it almost looks like a factory; there's always something going on back there. I started talking, he's just nodding at me. I said (to myself) 'OK, this is a person who believes in the finite theory of life. Everybody has so many words before they die and he must want to live 300 years because he isn't saying anything.'"

Finally, Lazaroff said, Miller asked only a couple of questions. "Who gets to pick the lineup?"

"I said 'You do,'" Lazaroff responded. He said Miller then asked about the budget and, hearing resources to bring top-tier festival and port-city musicians aboard would be available, said 'OK, I'll do it.'"

Miller, in an interview on the last day of the trip, said he's been on smooth jazz cruises, had an idea of a host's duties and what approach he wanted to take.

"The hardest part of doing the cruise is getting the musicians lined up and I didn't do that," he said. "But then it's just like being at a big party and making sure everybody's cool and you've got your rest ahead of time."

But staying cool about the unplanned things was where Miller and others frequently were at their best—at least from what the public saw. When Winehouse canceled, the scramble to find a replacement fell on Bibi Green, Miller's manager and program coordinator for the cruise. On the last day of the cruise, she was finally free to lounge on a couch in a lounge where Miller was signing autographs and tell the story to friends in a now-it's-funny kind of way.

"(A festival official) said 'Amy Winehouse canceled, can Marcus do a show?'" she said. "I said 'Is this a joke?'"

She called around in a rush, trying to reach Miller's band and finally contacting D.J. Logic. He went to the eighth-level Lido Deck where the buffet and pool are to spread the word, but everybody thought he was joking.

"We're going to Amsterdam—we'll see you tomorrow," BeBe recalled the musicians saying. "I said, "No — this isn't a joke.'"

They not only made the show, but were able to feature the additional musicians mentioned earlier. MIller, responding to a question about whether playing with so many different bands during the cruise presented any unusual challenges, responded in a way suggesting how the extra gig came together as well as it did.

"I was a studio musician for 20 years," he said. "Switching gears is no big difference for me."

Miller's late-morning autograph session in the Crow's Next, the last chance for U.S. residents to buy copies of his new Free CD well before it goes on sale there, was both a collective chance for passengers to thank Miller for the experience and him to show for a final time why there were so many compliments.

"I'm just giving him everything I have left over," said one elderly woman with a CD, plus a poster and cap that look like they had a slightly rough time during the weekend.

"You have been the most gracious host," said a middle-age woman from Colorado in the autograph line who told Miller this was her third jazz cruise.

One of the most common questions was how he was holding up after all the hard work ("I slept well last night," he told a few people). Mostly, though, he took a minute or so with each person, usually in an even exchange of inquiries about the trip and immediate future plans. Although the session was supposed to last from 11 a.m. to noon, Miller remained an extra half hour until everyone who showed up for an autograph got one.

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