Last night, I saw Herlin Riley perform with his band at Jazz St. Louis. Though Herlin has been an almost regular on The Jazz Cruise for the past few years, it has been a while since I saw him as the leader of his own group. He was great, as always. For those who sailed on The Jazz Cruise ’24, Herlin set the place on fire! Herlin’s music and style are synonymous with New Orleans. You can feel the pulse of Bourbon Street in the sound of his drums.

Tonight, at a different venue in St. Louis, Paula is joining our neighbor to see Sheila E.! Now that will be a whole different experience. Sheila E. has sailed with us several times. That she puts on a great show is an understatement of epic proportions. Her talents include virtually every element of the percussion world, the ability to sing, the self-expression to be a songwriter and more. She is a highlight reel set to music.

Interestingly, both Herlin and Sheila E. are 66 years old. They look younger but have been on the scene so long that you might assume that they are older. Every great drummer that I have met feels that the spotlight should be on them. They are the heart of the band, the keeper of the beat, and the driving force behind every tune. If you are waiting for my rebuttal, get comfortable as it is a long, long way off. I have never heard a great band that did not have a great drummer, but I have heard some very average bands so pretty good if they, too, had a great drummer.

To make this circle complete, there is no such thing as a great band, or even a good band, that sports a poor drummer. Drums are the foundation upon which you can build something big, something impressive.

In the nearly 25 years that I have been involved in producing music cruise programs, I have had the great fortune to have watched and listened to some of the very best drummers in the world. Jeff Hamilton, Lewis Nash, Roy Haynes, Billy Hart, Billy Kilson, Jack DeJohnette, Jimmy Cobb, Peter Erskine, Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, John “JR” Robinson, and Harvey Mason… just to name a few. Each has their own style. Their own approach. A personality emerges from their play. Just like other instrumentalists, there are drummers who play a lot of notes and those who are minimalists. That approach may change with the tune being performed, but, for the most part, that trait is part of their being.

At this point, I should remind you that I own a drum kit, take lessons, and practice 2 – 3 times a week. In no way does any of that qualify me as a drummer. A drum enthusiast, perhaps. Notice, there was no mention of me having talent, rhythm, or gigs. My performances thus far have been for very small audiences, mostly folks related to me, and the occasional drum bomb when there is a vacant kit on the ship or on a stage. Further, I have not played with other musicians in 40 years.

Someone asked why I have not sat in with a band. I told them I would feel like I was back in 4th grade. They shrugged that off and told me I was exaggerating. No, I told them, in 4th grade, I received an “Unsatisfactory” for “Plays Well With Others”. I seriously doubt that much has changed since then. None of this has ever stopped me from imagining what it would be like to perform with a great band. The operative word here is “imagine”.

In Legend of Bagger Vance, the Matt Damon hero is urged to “See the Field” and imagine hitting the perfect golf shot using the perfect swing. For Matt, it worked. But another movie moment is probably more apt in terms of my drum skills. In Working Girl, the story of a young woman’s dream of being a business success, her friend, played beautifully by Joan Cusack, tries to add some reality to those dreams with the following insight:

“Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear.
Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.”

Just as “See the Field” is overly optimistic, “Doesn’t make me Madonna” is overly cynical. Outside of the delusional, most of us dream with the goal of feeling what it would be like to do amazing things. Many imagine being able to fly. Few jump off a building with that expectation. And none of us would succeed at anything if we did not try to “See the Field”!

My respect for musicians and vocalists goes way beyond drummers. I marvel at anyone who can make beautiful music. I just saw a YouTube video of a piano player and a violinist playing Hallelujah! It was mesmerizing. To be able to do that must feel amazing. Like most of us, I am left with admiring and enjoying. Okay, that does not make me Buddy Rich. Never will.

But I am still much better off for having that dream, than I if I never dreamed it all.

By Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise, Chris Botti at Sea, The McDonald & LaBelle Cruise and Journey of Jazz. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at [email protected]


The Jazz Cruises’ team heads back to sea next week for the Michael McDonald / Patti LaBelle Cruise, a four-day program featuring those iconic vocalists along with support from Marcus Miller and Eric Marienthal. The world of funny will be well represented as both George Wallace and Alonzo Bodden will be on the ship. Miami – Nassau – Miami. That is it!

We undertook these dates at the behest of Norwegian Cruise Line who was trying to fill a charter slot that had been abandoned by a producer who was not making it work. Being able to secure the services of both Michael and Patti was fortunate and provided a surge of interest, event hough it is a short itinerary.

Our cruise is fully reserved, which surprised us as we had no expectations having never produced such a short cruise. Evidently, the desire to sail for just a few days, have a ball and then head home is strong. And, after all, why not!

Our team is having a great, great time producing this program. We have stuffed five days of events into three full days of cruising. Plus, we are excited about the music of our hosts, some more special time with Marcus and Alonzo and trying a new ship. This event is a “One-Time Only” cruise, however. My guess is that we will try to do something like this again….perhaps soon.

Given the short time at sea and the time of the year, our entire office will be either on the cruise or helping in some way. To accommodate that schedule, JAZZ CRUISES’ OFFICE WILL BE CLOSED ON BOTH THURSDAY, APRIL 11 and FRIDAY, APRIL 12, and will reopen as usual on Monday April 15, 2024.


Guitarist Norman Brown, who has sailed on The Smooth Jazz Cruise numerous times in the past, has just released a new album, It Hits Different, on Shanachie Entertainment. The recording, his 14th as a leader, features eleven originals that seamlessly unite the best elements of jazz, R&B, pop, blues, and beyond. Guests include vocalist Wirlie Morris, drummer Lil’ John Roberts, keyboardist Tom Schuman, guitarist Paul Brown and other notable contemporary jazz artists. “I’ve put a great amount of time, energy and focus into developing my gift of channeling a heavenly sound that strikes the spirit, moves emotions and makes you feel good,” Norman explains. “The music on this album expands my personality and artistic expression and it reveals additional elements of my character.”


2-Day Tickets are now available on Ticketmaster for STL JAZZ FEST. 1-Day Tickets will go on sale Friday, May 31. For details about the festival and how to purchase tickets, see below:

Produced by Jazz Cruises
The Factory – Chesterfield (St. Louis) Missouri

Eric Marienthal Quintet, featuring Niki Haris
The Comedy of Alonzo Bodden

Mindi Abair with Eric Marienthal & Friends
The Comedy of Alonzo Bodden
  Doors 6 pm / Showtime 7 pm

Jazz Cruises’ ’25 Programs

The Jazz Cruise ’25
Celebrating its 25th Anniversary

The Jazz Cruise ’25 is 82% reserved and is currently in “Open Booking,” where anyone may reserve any available stateroom. You may view current stateroom availability and start your reservation on the website now.

The Smooth Jazz Cruise ‘25.1 & ‘25.2
Starting its 3rd Decade

With both sailings being fully reserved, guests wishing to sail on a ’25 sailing of The Smooth Jazz Cruise should JOIN WAITLIST now. Cancellations will be filled exclusively from the WAITLIST.

Botti at Sea II
(’25 Sailing)

Botti at Sea II is in the Open Booking stage and is over 60% reserved. Anyone may reserve any available stateroom either by calling the office during regular business hours or doing so online. It was this time last year that there was a “run” on staterooms, so act now! 

Journey of Jazz ’25
Jazz Life at Sea & On Land 

Jazz Cruises’ newest program, Journey of Jazz ’25, hosted by Marcus Miller & Gregory Porter, has completed the Pre-Sale process and began Open Booking on April 30, 2024. Like a race care, this program as gone from 0 – 60(%) sold in the blink of an eye. 



Guests on the ’24 jazz cruises received The Weekender mug, which we hope you will use with your Saturday morning coffee while you read the latest edition. Please share a picture of yourself & your mug with us so that we can include it for the 100,000+ folks who receive The Weekender each Saturday.

Tag us @thejazzcruise @bottiatsea @thesmoothjazzcruise #jazzcruises and #theweekender. Email your photo to [email protected].

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