Jazz Notes: Musical Prowess

Past Presidents | Jazz Notes 02.22.23
Jazz Cruises Notes
Jazz Cruises Notes

Past Presidents’ Musical Prowess

With President’s Day barely in our rearview mirror, we thought it would be fun to share with you the musical prowess of some of our past Presidents. Not sure to what level they rose in their musical careers, but many of them appear to have been quite skilled.

Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson were violinists. Jefferson, ever the multi-tasker, was also a singer. Tyler returned to music after his presidency. Perhaps the election slogan of his campaign with William Henry Harrison, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” could have been his moniker as a musical duet. Lincoln loved music and would play his violin in the residence of the White House. Wilson, also an accomplished singer, began playing violin as a child.

Piano players included Harry S. Truman and Richard Nixon. Their styles reflected their stern and determined personalities. Big sound. Bold notes.

Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal”, was a bit more vocal than most believed. He was known to play a harmonica as a method of relaxing and thinking. Not sure he rose to the Bob Dylan level of performance, but we would love to see film of his attempts.

In more recent years, we have Bill Clinton on tenor saxophone and Barack Obama on vocals. Not sure that they ever collaborated… in music, that is. Roughly, 1 of 4 Presidents played an instrument. Not bad actually.

Melody Gardot: Turning Adversity into Creativity

Even if the velvet-voiced Melody Gardot hadn’t become one of the most popular jazz-pop singers of her generation, her story of recovery and renewal would be an inspiration to just about anyone who’s suffered a major injury or illness. When she was 19 years old, Melody was riding her bike in her native Philadelphia when she was hit by an SUV and suffered severe injuries, which laid her up for more than a year. Completely bedridden during that time, she had to deal with neurological issues and memory loss.

“After the accident, I had to reconstruct myself completely. I was taught to see again and to hear with hearing aids,” Melody explained in a recent interview. “My body had to be completely reprogrammed. And music therapy was at the core of the healing process.” She relearned to play the guitar on her back and wrote songs which later were recorded and self-released as Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions EP, after which she was signed by Verve Records. Her debut album, Worrisome Heart, was well-received by critics and fans alike. Melody still has issues with sensitivity to light, but she’s become a health fanatic and a lifelong supporter of music therapy, and she records and performs all over the world. Her most recent album, Entre eux deux, featured her in a duet with noted Brazilian pianist Philippe Powell, son of legendary guitarist Baden Powell.

During the last 15 years, Melody Gardot has become a singular voice in the world of jazz and popular music, with her haunting and beautiful singing style and her intimate and emotionally attuned compositions. Melody’s sound is one part French chanteuse, one part jazz vocalist, one part singer-songwriter, and it all adds up to a very distinctive and engaging presentation.

Now a resident of Paris and fluent in French, Melody sailed with us on Blue Note at Sea in 2020 and truly captivated our guests and her fellow musicians on the ship. We’re excited to have this unique and inspiring singer-songwriter sailing on Botti at Sea, where she joins a dazzling lineup of stars.

Kenny Barron: The Consummate Player and Listener

When it comes to the keys to being an accomplished player, just about any jazz musician will point to the importance of listening, not only to themselves but to their bandmates. Storming ahead without listening is a common mistake that many young jazz musicians make in the eagerness to show off their chops and knowledge. It’s not one that the legendary pianist Kenny Barron makes. A quintessential accompanist as well as an esteemed leader, Kenny relies on his ears as well as his hands when making music with his fellow players.

Raised in the jazz-rich city of Philadelphia, Kenny started performing with jazz greats when he was still a teenager, eventually moving to NYC when he was 19. Soon after he was sharing the bandstand and recording studio with a veritable who’s who of jazz history, including Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, James Moody, Freddie Hubbard, and dozens more. His collaboration with Stan Getz, though short-lived, produced an iconic recording, People Time, often listed as one of the best jazz albums of all time.

In addition to co-leading the acclaimed group Sphere dedicated to the music of Thelonious Monk, Kenny has worked in duos with people like Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, and Lionel Loueke, as well as the classic piano trio format, most recently with bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake. He’s recorded more than 50 albums as a leader, several of which have been nominated for Grammy® Awards. In 2010 he was named NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor for a jazz musician. For many years, Kenny was an educator at various collegiate jazz programs and he has mentored a few generations of pianists and composers.

We can attest to Kenny’s ears because more than once he’s come aboard The Jazz Cruise as a guest, just so he could listen to the music of his peers and acolytes. You can be sure that the performances by pianists on those sailings received an extra boost, just knowing that a great like Kenny Barron was in the audience, listening.

Truly a musician’s musician, Kenny Barron exemplifies what is unique about jazz – the dynamic interplay and sense of improvisation. We are thrilled to have him return to The Jazz Cruise in 2024, when it will be our turn to listen.

The Smooth Jazz Cruise Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary
To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of The Smooth Jazz Cruise, Jazz Cruises turned the lineup selection process over to the fans and past guests. Not surprisingly, the artists selected were among those who most frequently have appeared over the years. A true case of familiarity NOT breeding contempt, but, actually working in the opposite direction. When it comes to reminiscing about The Smooth Jazz Cruise, guests want to celebrate that achievement with the artists who helped create the program in the first place.

Almost from the beginning Jonathan Butler, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Mindi Abair, Richard Elliot, and Peter White were staples on the cruise. Rick, Norman, Richard and Peter have performed in just about every configuration possible. Sometimes doing their own shows and sometimes combining with others for expanded shows. Jonathan has led the Gospel Show for as long as we can remember as well as doing his own show and popping up in the shows of others. It is great to have Mindi back in the “smooth jazz” galaxy, one in which she continues to be a shining star.

Another original cast member was Wayman Tisdale, who became a cruise host and left us far too soon. The inclusion of Marcus Miller was a direct result of both Wayman’s popularity and his unfortunate demise. Marcus came on to help his friend during the last days of his life and has been our leader ever since.

The cruise trajectory of Boney James is well documented. Cautious and careful are his watchwords and his history with The Smooth Jazz Cruise reflects that approach. Boney is the only artist to perform as an “on and off” special guest, part cruise special guest, full cruise guest and host.

Brian Culbertson and Candy Dulfer, both among the most exciting performers over the years on The Smooth Jazz Cruise, began as frequent guests, but have become annual participants and contributors. Brian’s show grows and grows each year and guests await his latest twist and take on his amazing music. Candy always presents a multi-dimensional show of her own, filled with dazzle and style.

Though not part of the actual vote-in process, no celebration in the history of The Smooth Jazz Cruise would be complete without Alonzo Bodden serving as our Cruise Director, Emcee and Comic and DW3 bringing their unique party band and performing band chops.

Well, that is how they all came to the ’24 sailings. Guests are obviously very excited about the lineup as both sailings are 90% sold out! Maybe “you” should be the next person you vote for to be on the cruise!

Book The Jazz Cruise '24
Over 70% Sold
Book The Smooth Jazz Cruise '24.1 & '24.2
Both Sailings Nearly 90% Sold
Book Botti at Sea '24
Over 60% Sold
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