My aim for this note was to talk about seeing Jonathan Butler in St. Louis last weekend and Kamasi Washington in Dallas the other night. For any other week, those stories would have been fun to write and could have provided interesting reading for followers of The Weekender. But, the passing of David Sanborn, just like his music and recordings, remains #1 on the charts of our lives and in our hearts. Very little of what I am about to share is new. I have recalled these episodes in past notes, but I feel the need to share them with you one last time.

My father played saxophone. His horn was a Selmer Mark VI. For most of his life, Sanborn played the same make of horn. Dave experimented with other horns and various mouthpieces, but the Selmer Mark VI was the mainstay. His horn was so old that finding parts and artisans who could keep the horn in good shape was difficult. Most of the work was done by Dave himself.

For those familiar with the Selmer Mark VI community of players, your place in that world is dictated by the serial number of the horn. I can recall my father and Dave sharing each other’s serial numbers. Freud would have needed about 5 seconds to analyze what was going on there, but we will not go further on that subject in honor of the memories of both men. By the way, my father’s serial number was deemed the more impressive one, a fact that he cherished.

My father introduced me to two musicians, David Sanborn and Bobby Short. While in college, I met up with my father at The Carlyle (NYC) to hear Bobby Short perform. Nattily dressed in a sport coat, tie and slacks, Bobby Short played familiar tunes on his piano and sang. Whether you could say he was a great vocalist or not, he had a style, for sure. He was the man at the bar that you wanted to chat with. Only later in life did I realize that Bobby Short was my father’s model for his own persona as he roamed the restaurants and bars of St. Louis waiting to be asked to play his saxophone and sing with his longtime buddies in the band.

But Dad was particularly mesmerized by David Sanborn. Coming from St. Louis, playing alto saxophone, hanging around Gaslight Square (former section of St. Louis that featured great music) and the “East Side” (the Illinois section of St. Louis that brought us Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Tina Turner….and Redd Foxx), the overlaps were amazing. Now the talent gap between the two was gaping, but the love of the music metric was a dead heat.

In the short tribute I wrote about David earlier this week, I alluded to David’s uncontrollable and boundless insecurity about his talent and performances. A glaring example was when David, Bob James and Marcus Miller were to perform their landmark album, Double Vision, on The Smooth Jazz Cruise. Miraculously, the songs from that album had never been performed live until that cruise, nearly 20 years after its release. In presenting this show on the cruise, we knew that it could only be done once and we feared that the crowd would overwhelm the theater, so we scheduled the show for midnight, using the late hour as “crowd control.”

Of course, David assumed that the late hour was due to our belief that the show was no big deal. Nothing could have been further from the truth. With his fear of no one showing up in full bloom, David was in constant contact with us the entire day of the show wondering why we were not promoting the show more. Again, he assumed that we were not interested in the show, rather than our goal of maintaining some semblance of order.

Showtime came. I was backstage. No reason to be there, but I was there, nonetheless. David asked me if the theater was crowded. Having just peeked out and seeing guests sitting in the aisles and standing wherever they could, with a twinkle in my eye, I whispered to David “about half full.” A despondent look ensued as he walked onto the stage head down and shuffling his feet. When he made eye contact with the bulging-at-the-seams venue, he turned to me, as I was standing just off stage, and uttered his two favorite words of excitement…”F— You!”

The most talented and beloved saxophonist of the genre was about to perform one of the most successful albums ever produced, live for the first time, in front of guests who were rabid fans, each of whom had paid thousands of dollars to be on the ship…and his only worry was whether folks would show up! Really? Thankfully, for him, we closed the midnight buffet early, otherwise no one would have attended. Right!

That was David Sanborn. Call it humility. Call it insecurity. Those of us who had the great fortune of spending a lot of time with David simply smile and call it “David Sanborn.”

David never embraced, even fought off, his association with the term “smooth jazz.” I believe that he loved the music that he made under that title, as Maputo (written, of course, by Marcus Miller) found its way onto his playlist almost every night. As he grew older, he opted for a highly stylized version, but, as he would share with the audience when introducing the tune, “if you listen closely enough, you can hear Maputo.” His concern was the label. David was too authentic, too committed to the music to attach his name to a term that he thought, rightfully, was a commercial gimmick. That degree of “selling out” was not acceptable to him.

David’s devotion to his craft and his fear of being branded something other than a great musician made it difficult sometimes to properly present and compensate him. A victim of his own success, most of the higher paying gigs for him were built around his “smooth jazz” tunes and popularity. For example, I wanted to hold a David Sanborn Jazz Festival in St. Louis with David as the host, etc. I was thinking about large outdoor crowds reveling in his music as he presented the various stars he had performed with over the years.

He was thinking about an acoustic show in a theatre where he could do a tribute to Hank Crawford. Which brings me to the moment in my life with David Sanborn that I will never forget. With David’s aversion to his smooth jazz connection, ever wonder how he became a star and co-host of The Smooth Jazz Cruise? Here is the story.

My involvement in securing David Sanborn for The Smooth Jazz Cruise was tangential at best. After making my interest in doing so known clearly to Pat Rains, David’s highly skilled manager, I sat on the sidelines and watched Pat, along with then cruise co-host Marcus Miller do their thing. They did the work. As it turned out, the issue was less about the “smooth jazz” label and more about David’s fear that the fans who were sailing on the cruise would not remember him, would not care to hear him, and would believe that his day had come and gone.

Upon hearing those concerns from Pat and Marcus, I did chime in a bit. One of my planning tools is to create a cruise that I would like to attend and then hope that another 1,999 people feel the same way. I shared with Pat and Marcus that I would move heaven and earth to see David Sanborn on the cruise, particularly if he were performing with Marcus and a few select others. Evidently, my “vote” was one of many that they were hearing and they were able to convince David to sail.

Once on the ship, the result was inevitable. The fans were in awe. They adored him. The response to his shows was unlike the more reserved responses that David was experiencing in the immediate years before the cruises. Always beloved and always at the top of the food chain, people like David, who need outward signs of support and appreciation to realize their success, can wither in the world of “straight ahead” jazz audiences whose self-imposed more formal demeanor can mistakenly be seen as tepid adulation.

Put David Sanborn on the stage of The Smooth Jazz Cruise and all hell breaks loose…in a great way!! From David’s mouth and confirmed by Pat, those experiences on our cruises were instrumental in lifting his spirits, energizing him to do more music and recreating his love of performing live. The immediate and positive reactions by the guests of The Smooth Jazz Cruise did more for the spirit of David Sanborn than any other event in his life!

The awestruck response to David Sanborn was not limited to smooth jazz audiences. There is no more skeptical crowd regarding the place of “smooth jazz” in the world of music than the musicians of The Jazz Cruise. Yet, when David Sanborn quietly took his seat in the Queen’s Lounge of our Holland America Line ship for the pre-cruise Musician’s meeting of a sailing of The Jazz Cruise, a murmur shot through the entire venue confirming “that’s David Sanborn.” Having been around those guys for 25 years, I know what an “awe” sounds like. This was the recognition of respect and admiration

Privately, he has shared with me that doing the cruises reunited him with Marcus, built relationships with Alonzo Bodden, Jonathan Butler, Eric Marienthal, and Candy Dulfer and dusted off many other connections that would be part of his life. David wound up touring with Dave Koz and later with Brian Culbertson, two direct relationships from our cruises. The team of Double Vision took to the road after the successful live show on the cruise.

David would go on to perform on many of our other programs and cruises. But, to all guests who sailed with us on the first cruise that featured David Sanborn, take a bow. It may be hyperbole to say that you saved his life, an honor that Pat legitimately holds, but you certainly made a great, great musician and man feel good about himself.

What will I miss about David Sanborn? 

  • Our Phone Calls. Each call gave me an hour to check emails while he spoke about the history of jazz, the universe, and why he wanted to perform acoustically.
  • The Pre-Cruise “Talk”. David’s annual explanation of his diet, his needs for rehearsals, and assurances that his stateroom would allow him to open a window for fresh air.
  • The Post-Show Critique. After every performance, David would share with us how dreadful he sounded, how sorry he was for letting us down, and his promise to do better the next time. Seriously, that is the truth.

But, without a doubt, what I will miss more than anything is listening and watching him play. My first thought when I heard of his passing was the recognition that I will never hear or see that again. Selfish of me, of course, but for most of my life, I could count on “Sanborn on Sax” to lift my spirits and make me feel something special. 

In the past few days, I have listened to The Dream at least 10 times, perhaps hoping that the title was real and that our loss was just a bad dream. Another interpretation is more apt. David Sanborn was The Dream that came true. 

He was a man of enormous talents and heart, challenged from birth, challenged in life and, too often, haunted by self-doubt. These very human traits are what made him so endearing. He led an entire generation of music fans by being authentic and real. His legacy however will be that “sound,” the haunting, loving, and brilliant sound that he could produce.

Even the most novice jazz fan knows who is playing when listening to a David Sanborn tune. The only other possibility is that the player is someone trying to sound like David Sanborn. Failing to do so, of course.

When someone passes, you cannot avoid assessing where you were with that person at their death. Were there words unsaid? Regrets? As for David Sanborn, I can lay my head on the pillow every night knowing that I did everything that I could to show this man how much we care about him, love him and his music, and, most of all, respect who he was, what he did, and how he did it.

Now, and only now, it is time to say farewell. 

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].


In his 80th year, Kenny Barron — NEA Jazz Master, 13-time Grammy nominee, and veteran of The Jazz Cruise — is one of the greatest jazz pianists currently at work and a still-thriving link to jazz’s midcentury golden age. His latest album, Beyond This Place, features his longtime working trio of bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake, along with vibraphonist Steve Nelson and saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. The program includes original works from throughout Kenny’s storied career, plus Monk and more.


Kirk Whalum, who has sailed on The Smooth Jazz Cruise numerous times, as well as turns on The Jazz Cruise and other programs, has just released Epic Cool, his 28th album as a leader. Teaming up with producer Greg Manning, Whalum focuses on his songwriting to craft an album that’s passionate and spirited, but with his trademark soul. The album is very much a family affair, thanks to the presence of son Kyle on bass and nephews Kameron on trombone and Kenneth III on tenor. “I’m still on this path trying to do something important,” Whalum said. “At 65, I still feel very young. I feel like I have a mandate to be the very best version of myself and to push down some more doors.”

“Few musicians have had a greater positive impact on our programs than Kirk Whalum,” offers Jazz Cruises’ Executive Director Michael Lazaroff. “He is that rare talent that can be a major contributor to any of our themes and cruises. And, he is respected by musicians from every pocket of the jazz world.”


Enjoy 4 days and 3 nights of relaxation at the Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa in the beautiful Coachella Valley October 3-6.

Dive into a realm where you’re not just a guest; you’re a VIP. With no more than 400 other jazz music lovers, it’s one of the most intimate settings to enjoy music, comedy, food, and friends.
Arrive early or extend your stay using our Smooth Jazz Cruise exclusive code SJCDJF100 to receive a $100 discount per person by providing proof of your 2024 sailing or your current booking for 2025.

The star-studded lineup includes Ray Parker Jr., Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, Jessy J, Lindsey Webster, Marcus Anderson and the comedic talents of Alonzo Bodden

Reserve your space now by going to www.desertjazzfestival.com or by calling 800.248.7471. 


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 plans for the 25th Anniversary sailing of The Jazz Cruise ’25 are spectacular. The cruise is over 87% reserved and is currently in Open Booking, which means that now anyone may reserve any available stateroom. Staterooms with Verandas remain in inventory along with Ocean View and Inside Staterooms.

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. WAITLIST guests qualify for special terms when reserving a stateroom on The Jazz Cruise ’25 or Botti at Sea II.

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 
West Coast Style 

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. 


Yvette and Daniel – St. Louis
Caron and Timothy – Colorado

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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