Onboard Experience

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The origins of Blue Note at Sea started more than 30 years ago, when Norwegian Cruise Line (“NCL”) sponsored an annual jazz cruise on the old SS Norway. This program was a “group” cruise, meaning that the jazz program shared the ship with other passengers. Though this form of jazz cruise had its limitations, it was very successful for more than a decade and provided the foundation for the growth of The Jazz Cruise and, eventually, Entertainment Cruise Productions.

During those early years of NCL’s Jazz Cruise, Anita E. Berry quickly became the largest group leader in terms of the number of guests she produced for the cruise. Eventually her group was so large that NCL asked her to become involved in the production of the cruise, the selection of the artists, the ports-of-call and other aspects of the cruise’s development.

But all of this came to a stop in 2000, when NCL decided to terminate its theme cruises. This setback did not stop Anita, who, though just turning 70 years old, decided that she had the resources (guest list, cruise expertise, relationships with musicians and finances) to go it on her own. More than that, she had always wanted the “holy grail” of theme cruises, a full ship charter. What ensued, her creation of The Jazz Cruise, the first and still only full ship charter in the world dedicated to “straight ahead” jazz, just completed its Crystal Anniversary (15th) Sailing, all sell outs.

The Jazz Cruise established Entertainment Cruise Productions (“ECP”, which was then known as Jazz Cruises, LLC) as a significant producer of jazz cruise programs.  This role grew when, in 2003, Jazz Cruises, LLC took over the management of a fledgling new cruise known as The Smooth Jazz Cruise.  By 2004, Jazz Cruises owned that cruise program, and, from that date through the present, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and related “smooth jazz” type cruises have sailed more than 22 times.

Over the years, we have come to realize that the world of jazz includes many variations and types other than “smooth” and “straight ahead”.  There is a vast array of jazz that has its bones and structure from “straight ahead”, but allows for greater expression and interpretation.  As is the case with both “smooth” and “straight ahead”, there aspects of these “other jazz forms” that is not accessible to most of our guests.  Accordingly, and more than a little arbitrarily, we identified musicians and vocalists who are writing their own music, but who have not abandoned the quest for melody and verse. We could have called this “world jazz” or “today’s jazz”, but, at first, we opted for the slightly more inclusive “Contemporary” jazz as the descriptive moniker for the cruise.

As a member of the jazz world, we have worked with and shared time with both Don Was of Blue Note Records and Steven Bensusan of Blue Note Jazz Clubs.  The Contemporary Jazz Cruise, in terms of its lineup and feel, was very consistent with the goals and direction of both entities.  Rebooting The Contemporary Jazz Cruise as Blue Note at Sea was a natural evolution and all three parties involved are excited about the future of this program.  We envision that each of the entities will put their mark on the cruise and that the Onboard Experience will be enhanced dramatically by the expertise of the parties involved.

SELECTION OF MUSICIANS

The selection of the performers on Blue Note at Sea (formerly, The Contemporary Jazz Cruise)  was an arduous task.  We wanted “hip”, but not inaccessible; “cool”, but not too introverted and stylish without being overly indulgent.  We are very proud and excited to present the lineup that we have for the inaugural sailing of Blue Note At Sea, which includes 10 separate Grammy® Award Winners and a total of 44 Grammy® Awards in total.  From Pat Metheny, someone who has defined this space for decades to Gregory Porter, the hottest new vocalist on the jazz scene today, the lineup reflects our mission to present the “hippest and coolest” music in the world.

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SHOW STYLE PRESENTATION

Main Shows each Evening. Music on Blue Note at Sea is presented “show style”, meaning that each night there will be two main shows in the largest venue on the ship. Half of our guests will attend the first show and then will proceed to the Main Dining seating for dinner and the other half of our guests will go to 1st Dining for dinner and then attend the 2nd Show.  Of course, guests may dine at any of the specialty restaurants on the ship as they wish and at any times that they wish. Nonetheless, they will be assigned a time for the shows, one being at 6 pm (1st Show) and one being at 9 pm (2nd Show).  The nightly Main Shows are not necessarily the same show. If not, then the show that is performed at the 1st Show one night is performed at the 2nd Show another night, insuring that every guest has the ability to see all of the Main Shows.

Cruising After Dark. One of ECP’s most recognized programs is our ability to create unique and fun programming during the late night portion of the evening.  Around 10:30 pm or so each night, all guests have had dinner and have seen the main show.  On an ECP cruise, that signals the commencement of Cruising After Dark, where we present various forms of entertainment in multiple venues.  We will discuss the various shows in greater detail in a few weeks, but we can discuss now the shows that will be part of our Late Night in the Main Lounge.

  • Night Music with David Sanborn. We are very excited to be able to recreate Night Music on Blue Note at Sea Blue Note at Sea.  “Michelob Presents Night Music”, initially named Sunday Night , was a late-night television show which aired for two seasons between 1988 and 1990 as a showcase for jazz and eclectic musical artists. It was hosted by Jools Holland and our very own David Sanborn, and featured Marcus Miller as musical director. Guests included acts such as Sonny Rollins, Shinehead, Sister Carol, Sonic Youth, Richard Thompson, Jo-El Sonnier, Joe Sample, Slim Gaillard, Elliott Sharp, Pere Ubu, Pharoah Sanders, and many others. In addition, vintage clips of jazz legends like Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, and Billie Holiday were also featured. The show also featured a house band of Omar Hakim (drums), Marcus Miller (bass), Philippe Saisse (keys), David Sanborn (sax), Hiram Bullock (guitar), and Jools Holland (piano). The show often allowed its guests ample time to explain the origins of their sound, meaning of songs, etc. It also provided a national audience for lesser known acts (like Arto Lindsay’s band The Ambitious Lovers). Hal Willner was the music coordinator, responsible for the interesting musical mix-and-matching that took place on the show.  Lorne Michaels was the producer of the show and, as such, Night Music became a predecessor of Saturday Night Live.On the cruise, David will lead the Blue Note At Sea House Band, comprised of Billy Kilson (drums), Geoffrey Keezer (piano), Ben Williams (bass) and Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) for four nights of amazing music featuring them as well as pop-in performances by the stars of the cruise on the ship at that time.  There will be a lot of set tunes, but there will be a lot of jamming as well.  David will also take some time to speak with our special guests, share insights and provide our guests with a behind the scenes view into the world of jazz from the days of Night Music through today.
  • The Comedy of Alonzo Bodden. Alonzo Bodden, a past winner of Last Comic Standing and the Comedian-in-Chief of ECP’s Cruises, will perform his hilarious show for an additional two nights of Cruising After Dark in the Main Lounge.  Besides Alonzo’s humorous and pointed comments and observations about today’s events and the various humorous ways of the public, Alonzo is always able to comment (a polite word for roast) upon the ups and downs of the cruise itself.  Famous for taking the performers to task, some of the very best people watching can be found during an Alonzo Bodden comedy show.

NON-MUSIC EVENTS

In addition to the abundance of music presentations during the week, Blue Note at Sea takes the opportunity of having so many amazing and interesting jazz musicians onboard to feature interview and Q & A sessions throughout the week.  There are three sessions of Marcus Miller’s Conversations with the Stars, where Marcus interviews groups of performers who share a common thread and there are other folks who host and participate in one on one conversation, typically delving into both interesting jazz topics and the careers of our prominent players.

The events are not always serious, as Name That Tune games and other events highlighting the less serious side of jazz are also presented.  Musicians frequently interact with guests in informal settings during the cruise as well.  In fact, virtually all of the musicians freely spend time with the guests in the dining rooms, pool side and at events like our Cigars Under The Stars.