Jazz Cruises is the GOLD STANDARD for Jazz at Sea. Apparently, we have a very cool side hustle going. We just completed a wonderful 4-day, 3-night cruise that featured the very soulful Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle, the Godmother of Soul. Between those shows, hanging with Marcus Miller, enjoying the comedy of George Wallace and Alonzo Bodden, the songs of Lisa Fischer and a wonderful crowd of fans, this cruise was amazing! Not our regular gig, but a lot of fun!

I have shared the story of the origin of this cruise recently, but it is worth repeating. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has dedicated the Norwegian Pearl to music charter cruises. For months each year, it is one music charter after another. So, when a charter company fails to produce a successful program and wants to abandon the dates, NCL winds up in a bind. Marketing those dates to the public is very difficult to do, so the best course of action for NCL would be to find a charter company to take the dates.

In February ‘23, NCL gave us that very call. A charter company was unable to make their concept work and just wanted out of the contract. Could we take over the sailing dates. We were at sea at the time, but we took some time to see if we could make something happen here. We had been talking to Troy Andrews a/k/a Trombone Shorty about doing his own cruise, so that was our first attempt.

The initial call not only well, but we thought a deal was imminent. We were so certain that we started creating graphics and talking to other performers. Then, our pipeline into Troy’s world dried up. No responses. To this day, I have no idea what actually happened, but we were discouraged. We knew that a short program would be a great time to experiment with new concepts, new performers, and something outside our jazz world. We were still at sea. So, our focus had to remain on the cruises we were producing.

Then lightning struck. From none other than Michael McDonald who was our special guest for The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’23.2. He said the “magic” words, “I am having a great time and would like to do this again.” All our bravado about charting a new course and trying a new idea fell to the wayside. Yes, his music is not jazz, but his music is beloved by our fans. We may have wandered into a different area code, but not nearly as far as we first thought.

From there, it was an even shorter jump to Patti LaBelle. Close allies since the mega hit “On My Own”, once we finalized the concept, she was ready to go! Her agent, Ken DiCamillo, was a pleasure to work with. Always laughing, believing that a handshake was better than a contract, and making sure that we focused on the items that make for great performances, “Kenny D” put the finishing touches on the reunion of these two superstars.

Then, sadness ensued. Kenny D had a stroke and died just before Thanksgiving ’23. He had not been ill or showed any signs that a tragedy like this was in the offing. Our cruise details were disrupted. At that time, no contract had been executed and Kenny D’s notes were in his head. William Morris Endeavor Star Noah Guthman grabbed the reins and he and I recreated the original deal, calmed those involved, and wound up getting the job done.

Tragedy continued for the LaBelle camp as long-time road manager Joe Falcon died just a few weeks ago. Their team was deep in mourning when they boarded the ship. A prayer of remembrance was led by Patti just before their onboard sound check, the first time that her entire team had assembled since Joe’s passing.

On the cruise we drank a toast to Kenny D, another to Joe, another to Noah, another to Michael McDonald, and, since were pouring, since we were pouring, several to my third-grade teacher who told me time and time again “quit clowning around and start taking life seriously.” It was just one of those moments. Kenny D was only 67 when he passed. Joe not that much older. You know you are old when the first question you ask upon hearing that someone died is “how old?”.

Patti LaBelle will be 80 in a few weeks. Most 80-year-olds are happy to listen to music, let alone make music. Michael McDonald recently turned 72. Born and raised in St. Louis, Michael and I have spent some time doing the St. Louis thing with each other.

In St. Louis, when someone asks, “where did you go to school?”, the requested information is their high school. In the fractured socio-economic circumstances of St. Louis, where you went to high school tells you more about the person than their DNA. Long before our private lives were invaded by tech companies, if you lived in St. Louis, your most intimate thoughts could be learned by knowing the location of your high school pedigree.

The performances by Michael and Patti on the cruise were amazing, historic, and will be part of our memories forever. We thank them profusely.

Seeing Marcus Miller on the cruise was a lot of fun. We all know that he is a serious musician. A man who respects the bandstand, cares about his product, and always looking to challenge his band, his audience, and himself. On this cruise Marcus took up the duty of providing Michael McDonald with a first-class band, or, as Michael said, the best band he has ever performed with. That Marcus took this role seriously and with buoyancy is not surprising to anyone. The man is about the music and making the guests happy.

On the middle day of the cruise, Marcus was the leader of what was undoubtedly, the coolest and best onboard, outdoor, poolside, late-night jam session ever. Lisa Fischer, Lynne Fiddmont, and Romeo Johnson were there to add first class vocals. Joining Marcus in the band was Music Director Eric Marienthal, Arlington Jones, Bill Heller, Jay Williams, Kevin Turner, Munyungo Jackson, Patches Stewart, and Nate Phillips. A tried-and-true Jazz Cruises “A” team.

I spent a lot of time this week walking around the ship watching people have fun. The intensity of the search for enjoyment is much greater in a shorter cruise. I learned that. Our longer cruises have a beginning, a middle and an end. Shorter cruises have none of the above. It is more of an “on your marks, get set, go”. Both are valid. Both are fun. But there is a different vibe, for sure. We had a great time on the cruise.

Again, this type of program is not our regular gig, but, as the cruise ended, we had but one regret. Sadly, the program was billed as “A One-Time Only Cruise Getaway”. We’ll see.

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].

Botti at Sea II (’25)
The Botti Vibe Goes Sailing

One of the jazz magazines called the other day to talk about Botti at Sea II (’25). The writer had not sailed on Botti at Sea ’24, the inaugural sailing, but had recently attended a dinner at which two couples who had been on the cruise were sharing how much fun they had on the program.

One of the husbands, who was neither a cruise fan nor a music fan, told the group that it was the best people watching event in years. He could not remember seeing so many sophisticated and engaged people having so much fun.

I had not thought of the cruise in that way, but it was an apt description. Of course, that is the Botti Vibe. Elegant, talented, first-class, but also fun and exciting. Chris has collaborated with some of the top performers in the world, Sting, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra, and many more. Earning a Grammy®, multiple Gold and Platinum records and a score of chart-topping jazz albums, Chris’ talents and excellence is in the upped end of the “no doubt” category.

But, as alluded to above, the Botti Vibe is more than that and it has never been in greater display than on the cruise. Botti at Sea II (’25) continues that party, every night is special aura that captivated the sold out sailing a few months ago.

With every day being either a gorgeous, fun filled day at sea or on a beach enjoying Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Every Night is a Night on The Town… dinner, a main show and then your choice of late night fun and excitement. 18X Grammy® Winner David Foster performs with his famous wife, Katharine McPhee. 5X Grammy® Winner Esperanza Spalding presents a magical show of great music and dance. Corinne Bailey Rae shows why she is an international star. Kamasi Washington, perhaps the most dynamic musician in jazz, will present his famous show. Kool & The Gang, an OG with great songs and pizzazz, will hit the stage. And, of course, Chris Botti and his amazing group of musicians and vocalists will mesmerize you. Ready to dance, Mindi Abair and an all star band are ready to make that happen. Add in the comedy of Alonzo Bodden and more.
Yes, you can catch the Botti Vibe on land. No one performs more than Chris Botti, but the “at sea” version of the Botti Vibe…now, that is special.

Newport Jazz Festival

The storied Newport Jazz Festival has just announced the lineup for its 70th edition, to be held August 2-4, 2024 at Fort Adams State Park in that iconic Northeast town. With Christian McBride at the helm as artistic director, the historic event features artists from a wide range of jazz genres and “jazz-leaning” genres. Among the 50 or so headliners are several artists who have sailed on our programs, including Kamasi Washington, Kenny Barron, Robert Glasper, Samara Joy, Artemis, Johnathan Blake and, of course, Christian himself who will lead a Jam Jawn group with special guests.


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 began “Open Booking” on March 5, 2024 and is over 50% reserved. Anyone may reserve any available stateroom either by calling the office during regular business hours or doing so online.

Journey of Jazz ’25
Jazz Life at Sea & On Land 
West Coast Style 

Jazz Cruises’ newest program, Journey of Jazz ’25, hosted by Marcus Miller & Gregory Porter is currently in the stateroom Selection Process for Pre-Sale Reservation holders. “Open Booking” will begin on April 30, 2024.

For more information about the cruise, the lineup of musicians (as of today), full itinerary, pricing and reservation process, go to www.journeyofjazz.com.

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