The old joke was “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” The new joke is “I went to a casino and a professional sporting event broke out.” In the blink of an eye, not only is betting on professional sports being freely advertised, but past stars, even superstars, are the ones doing the promos. Betting and gambling are long-standing vices. To pretend they are not part of sports is foolish, but do we have to have that activity be presented as part of the sport? At times, it seems like betting is the sport and the game is no more than opening an envelope to reveal the winner.

I long for the days when betting was relegated to back alleys, smoke-filled bars, underground locations, and late-night haunts. Get where I am going with this?

Those same “venues,” the kindest word I could conjure, were the homes of jazz from the very moment that our music made it to the big cities. Such locales were part of the lure and became part of the lore as jazz spread through the country. My bet is that the business model for the music mandated the choice of locations. Everything about jazz in those days reflected a genre on a budget. The sale of alcohol was the primary source of income. Most of the business was at night, late at night, so the locales needed to be distanced from residential areas. And, of course, the perception of nefarious activity associated with jazz was a barrier to entry into the more gentrified areas.

The revenue stream from a jazz club, at least the legitimate portion, was tight, hand-to-mouth, or worse. Yes, there were some swanky clubs that featured big bands, offered lavish meals, and high-end glassware, dishware, fine linens, and cutlery. But those places were geared for dancing. A night on the town. Few survived the post-World War II era when folks began to dance to music other than “swing” performed by the great big bands of the era.

Today’s jazz clubs are in the 120 – 200 capacity, urban locales, and feature either a strong food component or a significant cover charge. Many are ticketed events plus the cover charge. The clubs present each act in multiple sets, each with their own admission and some have a late-night show where a lesser group performs for a small charge with the hope that the patrons will drink the night away. The clubs are crowded, your experience is rushed, and the seating violates all posture perfect protocols.

Would you want your jazz clubs any other way? Seriously, just as I wish that betting was less prominent in baseball, as an example, and starting pitchers went 6 or 7 innings or completed a game, I want our jazz clubs to have that feel of intimacy and energy. Certain aspects of the old days needed to be modified, and the clubs today are clean, safe, and present the music with proper sound and lighting. Food choices seem to improve all the time and other modern conveniences are being added daily. What more would you want? (Note to baseball fans: In his career, Bob Gibson had 255 complete games. Modern stars Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have combined for just 38.)

As the producer of jazz cruises for nearly 25 years, with tongue firmly planted against my cheek, I could offer a suggestion for what would be “more.” From the start of our jazz cruise programs, our goal has been to capture all that is great about a jazz club and surround that experience with the luxury of a cruise ship. When a guest walks into The Theatre, Rendezvous Lounge, or the Sky Lounge, for the time they are there, their jazz experience is defined by that venue just like being in Birdland, Blue Note, Jazz Alley, Dizzy’s Club or any of the other top jazz venues in the world. 

But, when you step out of those venues, you are on a luxury cruise ship that has restaurants, spas, fitness facilities, pools, etc. It is up to you how long you may wish to be “in the club” and how long you may wish to be “on vacation.”

Again, humbly, and respectfully, that is the magic of a jazz cruise program. You can visit a jazz club when you want, without concern about parking, traffic, or reservations, and, similarly, you can return to your vacation home under the same terms.

Once upon a time, we would tell guests that the best part of being on a jazz cruise program is that all you must do each night is to find your way back to a stateroom…doesn’t have to be your stateroom, just a stateroom! That joke is probably out of bounds these days. It may have been in the hazard earlier. But you get the point. All the greatness of a jazz club with none of the hassle.

Do you wonder if the spate of gambling opportunities is a sign that the underlying game is not worthwhile unless you have a bet on the outcome? Maybe we should experiment with adding betting to jazz! There could be an over/under bet on the length of a drum solo. Will the leader say the word “cat” more than 10 times during show? Will any tune go longer than 10 minutes? Will the guy at the other table who was dragged to the show fall asleep after 30 minutes? The number of wagers would be endless.

Thankfully, jazz does not need gambling to be exciting. Jazz is a good bet all by itself. In fact, jazz is the one thing that makes any gambler sit up and take notice. Jazz is a “sure thing.”

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


Hosted by Jazz Cruises regular Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival will be held May 10-11 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The two-day event honors the legacy of the gifted pianist, as well as the contributions of jazz women of today. Among the headliners are two artists who have sailed on The Jazz Cruise numerous times—Eliane Elias and Ingrid Jensen—as well as two emerging artists: Bassist Endea Owens and vocalist Julia Keefe who leads her Indigenous Big Band.


We’re excited to welcome Charles McPherson back to The Jazz Cruise in 2025. The legendary saxophonist has just released an album Reverence that was recorded live at Smoke Jazz Club in NYC. The album is dedicated to the late pianist and educator Barry Harris, a longtime mentor and teacher of Charles. “I owe a lot to him,” Charles explained. “He always told me that there was more to this music than just playing the horn – you actually have to know how to think to be able to do this well.” Performing with Charles is a usual stellar band of Terell Stafford, Jeb Patton, David Wong and Billy Drummond


In the last few weeks, we’ve posted two new episodes of the Jazz Cruises Conversations podcast, which features interviews, panels and talks from sailings of our cruises. The first one was recorded during the initial sailing of The Smooth Jazz Cruise and features an interview with the dynamic saxophonist (and wine curator) Mindi Abair. Amongst other topics, Mindi shares with our host Talaya how she broke into the music business in LA with a big assist from keyboardist Bobby Lyle. The second episode came from Botti at Sea during which I hosted a Jazz on Film series. For the session featuring clips from Nat King Cole’s spectacular but short-lived network TV show, we asked Gregory Porter to talk about Nat’s legacy. After all, Gregory’s affinity for Nat King Cole is both personal and professional, as you can hear in our conversation. Gregory even sings two tunes to prove it.

You can listen to these interviews on the Jazz Cruises Conversations pages on Spotify or iTunes or wherever you access your podcasts. Subscribe to the podcast or check out any of the more than 80 previous episodes featuring interviews from our sailings over the years.


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


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
Every Night is a Night on the Town

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. 


Sharon – Toronto
Monica and Charles – New York City

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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