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The 11th Annual Jazz Cruise: January 29-February 5, 2012

The 11th Annual Jazz Cruise: January 29-February 5, 2012
Larry Taylor By

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Tributes to saxophonist Benny Golson and pianist Oscar Peterson highlighted the 11th annual Jazz Cruise, January 29 to February 5, 2012. As well, stellar performances were turned in by an assemblage of over 80 musicians, onboard for the Holland America cruise of the Caribbean. The spacious Westerdam ship was christened in 2004 and is one of HAL's largest, with a capacity of 1,848; this year the ship was sold out for the cruise.
The ship decor is exceptional—from the colorful glass floral bouquet that fills the ceiling of Vista Dining Room to the glass ship sculpture that dominates the Atrium, a revolving piece that catches the eye from each level of the vessel.
While dining in the Pinnacle (the upscale alternative dining room), just off the Atrium, diners can admire a collection of lighted art panels that also provide room separation. This restaurant offered great steaks and chops, as well as troll-caught salmon, among other delectable selections. Appetizers include a jumbo shrimp cocktail and many salads, such as baby arugula with smoked bacon and chopped egg, and a tower of vine ripened beefsteak tomato with purple onion. Desserts were plentiful and delicious. Passengers paid a slight extra charge to eat here but it was worth it.
The Vista Dining Room, the ship's main restaurant offers additional lighter selections , in addition to the steak, chicken and baked potato that are always on the menu, as well as outstanding seafood dishes and international cuisine.

During the week, there were jazz events in the morning and evening, with as many as two to three shows going at one time. By careful choosing, fans could catch their favorites—more than once, if desired. Concerts took place in the spacious Vista Lounge, the smaller Queen's Lounge and the intimate Ocean Lounge and Crow's Nest. Bill Charlap's Trio, Ann Hampton Callaway's Quartet and two crack bands put together for the sailing—the 17-piece Anita's All Stars and small ensembles of rotating jazz stars who played in 12 different configurations—were amongst the standouts during the seven-day cruise.

Mornings and afternoons, there were jazz films shown, Q & A sessions with musicians and roundtable discussions. Of course, cruising is for relaxing, and, there was plenty of that onboard and on beaches during three port stops.

Anita's All Star Band

Most evenings Anita's All Star Big Band (named for Jazz Cruise founder Anita Berry) was featured during shows in the Vista Lounge, under the direction of trombonist John Fedchock.

It was a sharp ensemble and didn't have the under-rehearsed sound of bands brought together for special events. There were precision arrangements, including a whirling dervish version of a "Limehouse Blues" that, featuring Pete Christlieb, set a high standard for the rest of the event.

Monday, January 30, the band was joined by guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli, who brought his rhythm section, relaxed swinging style and witty vocals to the party. He fronted particularly effective arrangements, borrowing from the Count Basie book, including an ingeniously combined "Lil' Darlin' " and "Our Love Is Here to Stay"—first played separately, and then merged. The popular Pizzarelli excelled in several venues during the cruise, with his regular quartet of pianist Larry Fuller, bassist/brother Martin Pizzarelli, and drummer Anthony Tedesco.

John Pizzarelli

That same night Carmen Bradford also sang with the band. Though, bothered with laryngitis, she delivered a lusty version of "No Easy Way to Say Goodbye," a song given heft by powerful tenor solos from Christlieb and Don Braden—two stalwart contributors to the whole week.

The Benny Golson and Oscar Peterson Tributes

Golson's much-deserved tribute was hosted Tuesday by saxophonist Jeff Clayton in the Vista Lounge. A procession of musicians played the celebrated tenor saxophonist's familiar compositions, including "Along Came Betty," "Whisper Not" and "Stablemates." If the entire audience didn't know the tunes by name, after a few bars, it soon became clear the majority knew the melodies; Golson is certainly one of the predominate jazz composers of his time.

Highlights in the set were trumpeter Terell Stafford's solo on "I Remember Clifford," and, once more, passionate contributions from Braden and Christlieb on "Whisper Not," accompanied by the peerless pianist Gerald Clayton (son of bassist John; nephew of Jeff).

In the finale, all the assembled sax players picked up their horns and had a cutting session on "Blues March," with the 83-year-old Golson and his wife beaming from the front row. At the finish they accepted a commemoration gift from Jeff Clayton.

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