OUR TAKE: Let’s Talk Vocals

Recently, I checked out the lineup for our very first cruise as Jazz Cruises, The Jazz Cruise 2001Dee Dee Bridgewater was the headliner vocalist for this landmark event, which infamously sailed just a few weeks after the 9/11 tragedy. Dee Dee will reprise her history of performing on inaugural sailings when she joins Marcus Miller and Gregory Porter on the first sailing of Journey of Jazz (9.12.25 – 9.19.25). On the 2001 sailing, Dee Dee was one of very few vocalists in the lineup. The Jazz Cruise ’25 features Dianne Reeves, Catherine Russell, Ann Hampton Callaway, Niki Haris, Clint Holmes, John Pizzarelli, Bria Skonberg & Benny Benack III. The history of vocalists on the programs of Jazz Cruises is worth discussing.

In addition to Dee Dee, the first sailing of The Jazz Cruise presented Ken Peplowski, Houston Person, Wycliffe Gordon, John Clayton and a few other musicians who continue to join us on an annual basis. The balance of the lineup were largely musicians who are no longer with us. Red Holloway, Keter Betts, Eddie Higgins and Joey DeFrancesco were stars of that cruise that have passed. Then there is a list of musicians who, for one reason or another, are no longer part of the rotation. From the beginning, however, there were no female musicians and very few vocalists.

The first sailing of The Smooth Jazz Cruise (2004) was even more voiceless. Jonathan Butler was the only vocalist and there were no female performers of any kind. 2005 saw the addition of Oleta Adams, thereby doubling the number of singers and breaking through the male only lineup barrier. Finding vocalists to join Jonathan over the years has been a challenge. The list of performers is long and distinguished, but, for whatever reason, very few resonated with our guests. Chaka Khan, Ledisi, Brian McKnight, Chante Moore, Jon Secada, Jody Watley, Peabo Bryson, Regina Belle, Maysa, Angie Stone and others took a turn on The Smooth Jazz Cruise bandstand. Though they were at the tail end of their careers, we were fortunate enough to present the legendary Natalie Cole and Al Jarreau.

To this day, finding the right vocal fit for The Smooth Jazz Cruise has been challenging. Those that have been successful on a consistent basis are George Benson, Jeffrey Osborne and Larry Braggs. With George performing on a limited basis now, and given the challenge of performing on a cruise ship, it is unlikely that we will be able to present him on further cruises. Jeffrey’s popularity was proven when our 20th Anniversary Pick the Artists Poll named him the #1 vocalist with a vote total that was greater than all other nominees together. 

Ms. Monet is back for ’25 after a successful debut. And one of our stars of the early sailings, Patti Austin, has graciously agreed to be the voice of The Summit, our Super Band. Judith Hill will be making her debut and both Jonathan and Larry will be singing your favorite tunes.

Ms. Monet

The addition of more vocalists on The Jazz Cruise and The Smooth Jazz Cruise over the years reflects several considerations. First, we have found that many vocalists are prepared to perform with one of our bands or a combination of their music director, most often a piano player, and our musicians. Second, adding vocals to our lineups has been well received by our guests. Listening to tunes they know being presented by top voices has enriched the cruise experience, broadened the audiences and enlivened the programming. Finding the “right” singers, however, remains a challenge, particularly for The Smooth Jazz Cruise.

Botti at Sea II is intended to offer the broadest array of talent and programming, so vocalists abound. With at least one more significant vocalist addition to be announced soon, this cruise boasts Katharine McPhee, Corinne Bailey Rae, esperanza spalding, Morgan James, Thana Alexa, Mindi Abair and Benny Benack III.

Journey of Jazz ’25 follows suit with Gregory Porter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Bria Skonberg and Benny Benack III.

The art of jazz remains dominated by instrumentalists sharing the bandstand. There is no plan or reason to believe that our cruises will depart from that foundation, nor should it. One way to look at our programming is to assess the volume of music. In reviewing the history of our cruises, the hours of vocals have not been added at the expense of instrumental presentation. Instead, vocals account for the expanse of our programming. The total number of instrumental music on The Jazz Cruise ’25 is no less (actually greater) than it was in ’01. The total number of hours of music, though, has increased dramatically, directly related to the addition of vocals and special shows.

That is our story, and we will sing (and play) it from the top of the mountain down to the sea. After all, Jazz Cruises is the Gold Standard of Music at Sea Since 2001.

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].


Let Brian Culbertson tell you why
this is a can’t- miss event!

1-Day tickets for STL Jazz Fest are now on sale!
For details about the festival and information on 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



Our friends at Vail Jazz are continuing the tradition established by the late Howard Stone, whose curation and leadership set the tone for this festival, as well as for the education programs offered by the organization.

The Vail Jazz Party, a three-day event held Aug. 30-Sep.1 at the Manor Vail Lodge Jazz Tent, is a veritable The Jazz Cruise on Land with headliners such as Ann Hampton Callaway, Niki Haris, John Clayton, Lewis Nash, Terell Stafford, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Oatts and Bill Cunliffe. Niki even hosts a Gospel Show on Sunday.


This sprawling free event is held over the four-day weekend downtown in the city that claims some ownership of the labor movement. Originally founded in 1980, the 2024 edition of the Detroit Jazz Festival features many artists who have appeared on our Jazz Cruises programs, including Christian McBride, Monty Alexander, Warren Wolf, Chief Adjuah, Billy Childs with Sean Jones, Isaiah J. Thompson, Nate Smith and Marquis Hill. Drummer Brian Blade is the artist in residence and will perform multiple sets with his Fellowship band.


Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this festival in our nation’s capital features a hybrid of free and paid concerts, with the main event being a series of outdoor concerts Aug. 31 and Sep. 1 at the Wharf, as well as some shows at the nearby Anthem venue. Headliners include several Jazz Cruises favorites such as Samara Joy, Dianne Reeves, Kenny Barron, James Morrison, Ron Carter Trio and the Emmet Cohen Trio with Houston Person. In addition, the festival hosts the DCJazzPrix International Band Competition, with the winning group receiving a $15,000 prize and a yearlong association with the DC Jazz Festival


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 90% 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. 


Tom and Carol M.
Clarence G.

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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