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The Weekender
Lifelong Love Affairs With Smooth Jazz

There really are sooooo many heart warming, Alzheimer’s-will-never-erase memories from our cruises, but one of my best jazz memories is from perhaps our second jazz cruise in 2006, our 23rd anniversary.

Standing in line talking to couples like-minded in our love of jazz. I remember waiting in the theater for our second show while the stage was being set up and music was being piped in, when all of a sudden a few people started singing whatever song was being played thru the speakers pre-show, and then the whole theater was singing as one. The host came out and said, “You guys don’t need us.” What a beautiful moment and one I tried and miserably failed at conveying to people we were trying to get to join us on the cruise.

Another hilarious moment was when we were waiting in line to enter the theater, and Al Jarreau was one of the featured artists that year. We were talking with people around us, and one of the couples with all sincerity asked us if Al Jarreau had Tourette’s. We said, “No, that he was emulating instruments; and when it’s good to you, sometimes you have to make those contortions and faces to get it out.” Hubby and I still chuckle at that to this day.

We found The Smooth Jazz Cruise in 2005 when we were looking for something to do for our anniversary. Had never had a vacation without kids, and this was our very first cruise, which sort of spoiled us for regular cruises. It is true that it feels like coming home every year when you come back. We took a break for a few years to get our daughter thru the Masters program for speech pathology, but now we are finally coming back home. Can’t wait.

— Debora & Victor Penson


In the Spring of 1981, I was living at (High School) Boarding school outside of Pittsburgh. Living with other kids my age exposed me to different genre’s of music, food, cultures, etc. Each night we were locked in our dorm rooms on a rigid study schedule until 10pm when we got an hour break, until night-time curfew.

At least once a week we would sneak out of the dorm for midnight adventures around campus/town. Coincidentally at that time Pittsburgh’s son George Benson released “Give Me the Night.” It became a bit of a mantra, and reeled me into jazz. That quickly spiraled to Spyro Gyra, Weather Report, Jean-Luc Ponty, and, of course, much more George!

I have seen George Benson 5-6 times over the years, with the most memorable show (so far) being when he led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in new renditions (of sorts) of his music. I am sure seeing him in January on The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’22: Back to Sea Sailing will be better.

– Jim Genstein


I have always liked music period, but in particular smooth jazz and R&B, but was never really close to the stars and musicians to talk to them or even take pictures.

Always was a big George Duke fan and on my first cruise, I saw him and asked for a picture with him. My wife was not around so he took my camera and asked someone to take a picture of us. I posed with George and then noticed it was Jonathan Butler who he asked to take the picture. Trying to be humble after the picture, I just had to ask him to take a picture with me and Jonathan. That’s when I realized that the smooth jazz cruise was going to be special!!!! And still is.

— Michael L. Smith


In NJ, in high school the 70s, I was a Rock ‘n’ Roll fan.

Our high school built a small radio station. I was lucky enough to pass the FCC test and became Wednesday station manager. My best friend was Thursday manager, so we had two days a week to manage, set up programming and monitor the High School DJs along with my own show. This helped me appreciate music from hard rock, progressive rock, some jazz, etc.

Favorite bands where Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, along with the other rock groups. What I loved the most was how these groups blended guitars, bass and drums with horns and other instruments to create their sound.

Moved to Florida in 1977 to finish college and never left. Started to hear some jazz at the numerous outdoor events that Florida has all year long.

Got my first CD player in 1984 and was blown away with the music quality. Started replacing my cassettes with CDs and tried buying some unknown jazz CDs that had sax or trumpet artists.

My aha moment came some time in mid 80s. Being on a budget we looked for free events to have fun. At Bayside Amphitheater in Miami was a free jazz concert with some “all star band” that I never heard of. Hey, it was a free night out. It was sponsored by the local Jazz station WLUV, 93.9.

The two names I remember were Richard Elliot and Alphonse Mouzon. During the concert I was blown away by Elliot’s sax and Mouzon playing the drums like I never heard before.

After that night, my budget had a jazz CD allowance, and I started listening to the jazz station and buying CDs for the artists I enjoyed.

Discovered Sanborn, Spyro Gyra, The Rippingtons, and many more. Also started buying and attending jazz concerts and WPB Sunfest (when it had jazz).

My next revelation was when I discovered The Smooth Jazz Cruise, which had many of the artists I loved to listen to. Since then we have been on every year of The Smooth Jazz Cruise.

During these cruises, I discovered Culbertson, Braun, Boney, Darius, Ingala. Got to see and hear some of my favorites and legends. Sanborn, Whalum, Dulfer, and the guy who first blew me away, Richard Elliot. So many more I would like to list.

Still love rock ‘n roll and oldies with smooth jazz rounding out my appreciation for music.


— Gene Marchese


We have to thank our daughter Melanie for the gift of jazz. She was ten years old and an inpatient at the Salt Lake City Primary Children’s Hospital for twelve days in 1991. We got Melanie when she was six days old. She operates on a six to nine month-old developmental level but loves music. We had a little radio by her bed and I found a smooth jazz station, KBZN “the breeze.”

I don’t know who enjoyed the music more – Melanie or us. The group I remember most was Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons. Our first jazz CD was “Black Diamond.” We got our first vehicle with satellite radio in 2001 and have been listening to “the jazz cafe/water colors” since.

The Smooth Jazz Cruise was always sold out the first three times we tried go. In 2016, we got a chance to sign up for 2018.2 and it was a fantastic time. We had to cancel on 20.1 but are going on the Back to Sea and on the ‘22.1 cruises.

Michael, you made a comment a couple of years ago that there were no jazz fans in “hay ride” music country. There are at least two in Idaho and Sanborn played a one-nighter in Idaho Falls back in ’93 or ’94. We were there.

— Bob and Celine Shilkett


I love smooth jazz and now my 7 year old granddaughter is a fan! She likes the guitar but she really loves keyboards. We watch The Hang with Brian Culbertson and she “play” along with him. Her favorite song is “Horizon” and she has made up her own lyrics to it. I play it in the car, put it on repeat and just feel joyful as she sings. It is wonderful to hear and see her happiness with my favorite music!

— Mary Triplett


In the 70s, I was working in radio, a career I left far behind. Although, I was working at a country and western station in Little Rock, our program director would receive albums that didn’t fit our format and he would generously let us have them.

It was then I became acquainted with a vocalist by the name of Kenny Rankin. I loved the purity of his voice and his albums could not be classified into any genre of the time. Next, we received an album from a kid from Detroit, a guitarist by the name of Earl Klugh. Through the time I was working there, my collection grew with albums from Al Di Meola, Freddie Hubbard, Vince Guaraldi and well, I could just keep going.

A side note, I was on the 2013 West Coast cruise when Earl Klugh waited for me in the Crow’s Nest while I ran back to my room for him to sign that album and, also on a cruise, my Winelight album was signed by that kid who was playing the bass on it. Thank you, Marcus!

— Tony Smith


My best jazz memory has to be picked from several very good ones, but the pick is based on both good memories and duration. I moved to Baltimore in 1973 and stayed there for three years. Soon after moving there, I discovered the Left Bank Jazz Society. This group rented a true ballroom, one of the few left in the country at the time, every Sunday for a show for its members. The doors opened late afternoon and the show finished early enough so that you could continue the evening at other clubs if you wanted.

One of the performances I attended that stands out for me was by Grover Washington, Jr. A live demonstration of circular breathing during the show was much appreciated with a great audience response. I attended these shows until moving away from Baltimore in 1976.

Thanks for the excuse to review some wonderful memories.

— Bill Page


I was a junior in college and my roommate bought an album for “white noise”. It was Spyro Gyra and I kind of liked it. I mentioned it to a friend and the next time I saw him he said if you like that you are going to love this. 1985 David Sanborn’s “Straight to the Heart.” That was it for me!

See you in January!

— Linda Shell


Like many things in life, my realization that I loved jazz was more of a journey than a single event or artist. I hope you enjoy this story.

It all started in 1968-69. I was only 13 years old and a student in a Massachusetts Junior High School. I had been playing the alto sax in school band for 5 years, but had just moved to Brockton, MA. My school band teacher was pretty progressive for the time in that he started the first Jr. High School show band in the area, and we were also the first Jr. High School to put on a musical – Bye, Bye Birdie. He also was dedicated to expanding our musical horizons and challenging us musically. As part of that dedication, he scheduled a band field trip to see Gerry Mulligan in Boston. Of course, that was during a time when Gerry’s show was somewhat psychedelic, more jazz fusion stuff and lots of flashing, colorful lights. I loved it!!

Then my family moved to Arizona the next year. And that’s when I discovered jazz/rock music. I absolutely went crazy over bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears. I was also fortunate to attend a high school that had a pretty good jazz/show band. And again, the band director was committed to challenging us and expanding our musical experience. While I was there, there was a student assembly that featured the Navy Show Band out of Sand Diego. Great musicians and great show!

After graduation from high school, I went on to community college as a music major, with the plan to become a HS Band Teacher. Again, great teachers and music programs. And I was getting more and more exposure to jazz. One of my classes was a jazz improv class, and one of the tunes that the instructor used was John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Unfortunately, I was not in a financial position to continue college, so after one semester I decided to pursue my passion for music by joining the US Army. I was one of the first musicians to join the Army band program under the new all-volunteer Army. (I turned 18 just before the draft ended.)

While attending training at the Armed Forces School of Music on the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, VA (all Army, Navy and Marine musicians trained there), I continued to get more exposure to jazz. And I developed a love for Vocal Jazz. Al Jarreau performed on TV while I was there – what a great show! And shortly after graduation I was introduced to Manhattan Transfer’s debut album. I think that was a major turning point for me, because after that I listened to mostly jazz music (on vinyl). Of course, the local radio did not offer any jazz music, and I still satisfied my pop/rock roots when I listened to the radio.

Then in 1976 I went to a performance by George Benson. The concert featured music from his Breezin’ album, and I was totally awe struck by his guitar playing skills! And I think that is when I truly realized that I loved jazz – especially instrumental jazz! I was on a quest to discover great guitar players, piano players, sax players, and trumpet players that touched my soul. Over the years I fell in love with the music of too many artists to list here.

As you can see, it truly was a journey, which was all part of my personal musical growth. And by the way, I never allowed my music appreciation to be only in the world of jazz. I am now 65 years old, and I have learned to appreciate almost all forms of music. Some more than others (like jazz), and some “music” I just can’t tolerate (like gangster rap).

Thanks for reading! I hope this wasn’t too long or boring.

– Steve Campbell


The moment I became a jazz fan was actually my wife, Cheryl’s moment. We were at a company function at the Four Seasons Resort at Aviara in Carlsbad, California. I was doing the normal small talk with customers, and Cheryl wasn’t having any fun so she went up to our room.

After the event was over, I went up to our room and found Cheryl talking non-stop about how much she enjoyed a Peter White show on the lawn stage below our room. She played a couple of his songs for me (she immediately went to iTunes and bought the Glow album), and I became hooked, too. We spent the rest of the summer going to several jazz shows, and shortly after that we signed up for our first Smooth Jazz Cruise.

— Mark Allen


I realized I was a jazz fan when I first heard George Benson play Breezin.’ Then I got his album and heard him sing and play This Masquerade, where he turned Leon Russel’s song into a classic and that solidified me as a jazz fan!

Thank goodness for Weekend in L.A. I started listening to and buying albums (then later CDs) of Grover Washington, Joe Sample, Al Jarreau and Dave Koz. Then a smooth jazz radio station hit the San Francisco air and I was introduced to Keiko Matsui, Jonathan Butler, Bob James, Fourplay, Rick Braun, Marc Antoine, Kirk Whalum, Brian Culbertson, Peter White, David Sanborn, Jeff Lorber, and so many, many more. Their music has gotten me over rough patches of traffic, exercise, and life in general. They have relaxed me, and inspired me, both then and now. I can’t go anywhere without my tunes!

— Ken Burr