A report by SmoothJazz Europe

By Inge Wenzel & Marijn Eland
From September 22 - October 3, 2012 Dave Koz held his first ever European Cruise "Dave Koz & Friends At Sea". SmoothJazz Europe was invited to see and experience what this cruise would be and it really was something! Thanks Dave!
To give the visitors of SmoothJazz Europe some impression of what this great week was all about, we made this report.

Click on the pictures to see a gallery of the day...Enjoy!
Day 0 - Barcelona | Day 1 - On Board | Day 2 - At Sea | Day 3 - Naples | Day 4 - Rome | Day 5 - Livorno | Day 6 - Nice | Day 7 - Toulon


Day 0 - Arriving in Barcelona (Spain)

After a pleasant flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona (this time only 2 hour flight for us and no jet lag) we arrived in a warm Barcelona. On arriving at the Hilton Diagonal Mar hotel, we immediately felt the great atmosphere of these cruises: the hotel was full with (mostly US) cruisers already. Some of the artists were also in the lobby - Michael Lington, Marc Antoine, Paul Brown, Bob James and Dave Koz also. After a warm and friendly welcome - it has been some years we last met Dave - we got up to our room. A great start!

Around 5pm, the party started with a welcome at the pool & bar of the hotel. Until 7pm we met so many people, from artists to crew and staff of the cruise. We spoke with Pat Prescott (from 94.7 The Wave), Marc Parnell (UK drummer, known from his gigs at The Pizza Express in London with many smooth jazz artists), Dave Koz, Marc Antoine, Amber Jones (cruise host, she did a great job), Michael Lington (and his proud parents), Gregg Karukas (musical director of the cruise), Christian Bößner (from smooth jazz events in Germany), and so on.
This party was mostly a great meet & greet among the artists and invited cruise guests - therefore a great party which felt like a family reunion!
And of course, Dave Koz said hi to all of us and was very proud that his European cruise was about to start!


Day 1 - Getting on board (Barcelona, Spain)

We started the day by bus transport from the hotel to the harbour of Barcelona where all the cruise ships are. The fun already began because Harvey Mason (Fourplay, drums) suddenly was not in the bus anymore, just before departure! On re-entering the bus, his fellow Fourplay collegues and other musicians on the bus cheered at him. Bob James' wife even suggested to start a singalong!
After a short drive, our ship - The Serenade Of The Seas of the Royal Caribbean International cruise company - came into sight at arriving at the harbour...what an immense ship! This would be our home for the next 7 days, fantastic.

On arriving at the terminal and after checking in, we were ready to explore this ship. From its immense interior with all the elevators and balconies, the fantastic buffet restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the shops, to the main concert hall (Tropical Theatre) and smaller Safari Club.
And at the mandatory life boat at 4.15pm we already saw some friends again!


Day 1 - Sailaway Party (Barcelona, Spain)

At 5pm on this first day, the cruise really started. Warmed up at the pool by DW3 - what a great band - Dave Koz welcomed us and introduced all the artists and special guests to us. With almost 2000 people around the pool, a fantastic and great party happened, with a lot of people dancing and singing. Artists like Gregg Karukas, Marc Antoine, Rick Braun, Brian Culbertson, Patti Austin, Norman Brown, Elan Trotman, Jeff Koz, Michael Lington and Fourplay all appeared on the balcony! And it was so funny to see that almost every artist was taking pictures as well! Anyway, they are not that often together at the same time at the same place!

After the party, the music inside the ship immediate continued. With solo performances of Paul Brown and Rick Braun/ Elan Trotman with the UK Collective (band of UK sidemen) at the smaller venues, and of course the main shows with Michael Lington and Jonathan Butler. These shows were of course opened by the man himself...Dave Koz! Dressed as a Spanish torreador, he started the musical events of the cruise with a great performance!
But the shows of Michael Lington and Jonathan were fantastic. It's almost unbelievable that these concerts take place on this cruise - and that for the next 6 days as well!


Day 2 - Full day at sea (Mediterranean)

Traveling between Barcelona and our first port of call - Naples - this was our only full day at sea. And what is best to do at such a day? Having fun with a lot of activities on board! We had a masterclass by Fourplay's bassplayer Nathan East, cooking class with Dave and his sister Roberta, autograph sessions with all artists, Q&A with the guitarplayers on board, and the tradition Gospel Show, led by Jonathan Butler. And as main show Rick Braun and Norman Brown. Especially Rick rocked the house!

Nathan East talked about his incredible career, playing with Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Toto and of course Fourplay. He played some beautiful songs on his 6 string bass, but the highlight was the moment Patti Austin and Dave Koz accompanied him in the cosy Schooner Bar! As Andy Williams just passed away, they improvised (i.e. no rehearsal!) the song "Moon River", sung so many times by Andy Williams. This really was one of the highlights of all week! What a fantastic, emotional moment! Wow!

Dave's mom, Audrey, was famous of her cookies! And her recipes were handed over to Dave's sister, Roberta. A fun moment in the "Centrum" on deck 4 was cooking class by Dave and Roberta. And Dave, being a warm family man, was proud to have his sister, brother Jeff and also one of his aunts on board.

Being on board with all these great artists, it's always nice to give the guests the opportunity to get some autographs. The artists were everywhere around the ship, and so where the guests! Armed with posters, cd covers, the special Dave Koz Cruise hats, T-shirts, and so on...every item was carefully signed. Even our captain, Karen (from Sweden) had her own autograph session!
But not only autographs from the artist, questions could be asked as well. And in the full Dave Koz Cruise tradition, these Q&A are lots of fun with of course live jamming! Jonathan, Butler, Marc Antoine, Paul Brown, Raul Midon, Chuck Loeb and Norman Brown answered any question - speaking and playing!

The Gospel Show, led by Jonathan Butler, is always a very special moment. Whether you are religious, spiritual or not, this show was all about love and sharing and being together. It's for the musicians also a very great and warm moment to share their music with the guests. And they love to play some special songs, e.g. some great ballads. But energetic and uplifting music was certainly present!

After the main shows of Rick Braun and Norman Brown, this full day was ended at the Schooner Bar (which was THE place to be during late night hours!) with some jams by Michael Lington, Rick Braun and Dave Koz - all dressed in red which was the theme of this great day - "Red in the Med".


Day 3 - Naples (Italy)

Today we arrived in our first port of call, Naples. On these cruises it's always very exciting when you wake up and you notice you have arrived in a harbour. All kinds of activities around you, the view of the town or a nice landscape, other cruise ships etc. This was also the case with Naples, one of the oldest and nicest cities of Italy.

To make your plans on a day in a port of call mostly results in a mix of excursions, visiting the city and attending great on-board activities and performances. This day it was not hard for us, because we were invited to a meeting with other representatives of the smooth jazz genre in Europe at 4pm.
So we walked around in some nice and old shopping streets of Naples and got aboard in time for the meeting.

One of the reasons SmoothJazz Europe was invited by Dave Koz for this cruise was that he wanted to have a meeting of European groups of smooth jazz representatives. So besides us, Jimi King and Steve Quirk from UK (smooth jazz) radiostations, and Christian Bößner from the German smooth jazz festival at Augsburg were present. This meeting was hosted by Cameron Smith and it was a great opportunity to talk together and join forces for promoting smooth jazz and the idea behind the Dave Koz cruise. Well done Dave for bringing us together!

That same afternoon, the legendary Bob James gave a masterclass. It's almost unbelievable that this is all happening on board!
But other performances were scheduled as well. In the evening, after some dinner in the buffet restaurant, we saw the great and always funny Patty Austin doing her show. If you have never been to a concert of hers, please do so asap! First of al her great voice is one of the most warm and powerful in the world. With all the fantastic songs she recorded during her career, it's a pleasure to hear her singing it live. But her humorous character must be mentioned too! Whether she's doing "Baby come to me" with James Ingram's part done by her as well(!), or talking to the camera-crew to step aside while she sings the most emotional song you can imagine, or commanding us to stop clapping because she has only 55 minutes for a 3 hour repertoire! Patti is the best!
After her ahow, Brian Culbertson entered the stage. And wow, what funky and full of energy is his show! Backed up by the ship's band horn section - great musicians! - he played his piano, his trombone, and moved us all! Great one, Culby, thanks!
After the main shows, Chuck Loeb, Nathan East and others performed all around the ship! Not to forget the extremely funny show of stand up comedian Ralph Harris!

It was a nice in day Naples - next stop: Rome!


Day 4 - Rome (Civitavecchia, Italy)

On day 4, the next port of call was Rome, well...its harbour Civitavecchia. Unfortunately, not all cities are close to the sea but Rome could be reached very well by busses as part of an excursion or even by train, which is very good in the European countries to use.
As we have been in Rome before, we decided to just walk around a bit in the nice village of Civitavecchia. With a nice local market, some shops and a great frozen yoghurt bar(!), we had a great time. But we were not the only ones who chose for this option as we could count a lot of Dave Koz Cruise special hats! And also Michael Lington's parents and Gregg Karukas chose to do the same!
Early afternoon we went back to the ship, seeing a windy change of the weather!

Beside the main shows of this, by Marc Antoine and Michael Bulton (his first cruise ever!), the real top-act was the battle of the basses, down at the Centrum on deck 4.
Hosted by Nathan East, the four bassplayers on board gave the greatest show you can ever imagine! Nathan East, Mel Brown, CC Thomas and (UK Collective bassplayer) Frank Felix, accompanied by the great Ricky Lawson on drums, played all kinds of funky and groovy soul hits of the past decades! As Nathan told us, many many hits can be recognized by their bassline, so that's what they did: start a famous bassline and everybody immediately sang and danced along! It was a great party!
Lots of people, including a lot of artists as well, gathered around the Centrum to be part of this show. And a lot of Youtube clips will be posted of this moment, probably also by the amateur filmers Gregg Karukas and Bob James :-)

When we left the harbour, towed by special ships, a new cruise ship came in. We had a great view on these maritime activities. And while leaving Civitavecchia and starting the nightly fun on board, we headed for a last Italian port of call: Livorno...


Day 5 - Livorno (Italy)

The next day, day5, we arrived in Livorno. From this port of call excursions could be easily made to Pisa and Florence. A lot of guests arranged an excursion and busses were already present early in the morning.
Livorno is also the harbour where the ferries to the French island Corsica depart. The village itself is cosy and on this Sunday there was a local market. And of course, in Italy you are always good for espresso, gelato (icecream) and pizza!

The afternoon was filled with these great on-board activities like "Billiards and beer" with Rick Braun, Masterclass with Norman Brown, but also the "So You Think You Can Jam" finals...the guests talent show. And talented guests there were! Judged by a jury of Dave Koz, Patti Austin, Ralph Harris and Jim Gosnell, the winner could win the prize for performing on Dave's main show that evening!

Speaking of which, that night Dave Koz had his own show. And shows of Dave are always fantastic with great entertainment but on a cruise like this, it's even better! Backed up by Dave Hooper (drums), Ronnie Gutierrez (percussion), Mel Brown (bass), Ross Bolton (guitar) and musical director Gregg Karukas (keyboards) and with special guests like Norman Brown, Brian Culbertson, Jonathan Butler a great show was guaranteed. Each show is always introduced by a movie from the earlier days of the artist, i.e. for Dave the early 90s. And from that period, the band members helped Dave think back of his haircut at time!
One of the most wonderful moments was the duet Dave did with a 16 year old young boy, Austin, who is a friend of Dave's and had overcome heavy illness. But what a fantastic saxophone player! Wow!
There was also a guest appearance by his brother Jeff Koz, who had co-written so many songs. And when Dave ended his show with "You make me smile", it was indeed a special grand finale: almost all artists on board ran onto the stage to support Dave. Awesome!


Day 6 - Nice (Villefranche Sur Mer, France)

After visiting Italy, it was now time for entering France. With a superb port of call, Villefranche Sur Mer at the French Riviera, we started our two-day France adventure. And in this harbour we had to go on shore by tender transport, the ship had lowered his anchors. But what a fantastic view that gave, just looking from the decks to the village, or just walking in the village near the small harbour and through the tiny streets!

Before we left the ship we participated in a TV show, hosted by...Dave Koz! The production team had set up a small talkshow on deck where Dave interviewed some guests and us as well, as part of a promotion video for next year. And as Dave was mentally preparing for the show, the production team set up the set.
The funny part was when the producer introduced us to Dave, not knowing that we know Dave personally! "I know these guys!", Dave said! We all had a great time...curious how this video will show up!

Next thing was to decide where to go...to Nice or to...Monaco! We took the train to Monaco, from the small local train station it took us only 15 minutes to travel to Monaco! And that was of course a fantastic idea! We noticed, however that other guests - recognizable through the familiar hats - had the same idea.
We walked around in Monaco and looked at all these amazing yacht. But we also noticed a dino-sax... Maybe next year's mascot for the cruise?

Back on board again there was a party going on at the pool. DW3 played and people were dancing, even the ships' crew as they have never experienced such a great party on their ship! Brian Culbertson enjoyed the afternoon and some people were glad they could cool off their warm feet of all the excursions! It was a relaxing moment before the great party that night...DK All Starts NEON night!

All Star Night on a Dave Koz Cruise is always so much fun, especially when the theme is Neon Night! Everybody was already dressed up with all kinds of neon attributes when the show started with Dave Koz, Michael Lington, Rick Braun, Brian Culbertson walking through the audience and down the aisle, having their instruments wrapped in neon lights!
And all artists showed up, doing their own songs or helping the others: Rick Braun, Marc Antoine, DW3, Dave Koz, Norman Brown, Patti Austin, Gregg Karukas, Elan Trotman, Paul Brown, Michael Lington, Jonathan Butler, Brian Culbertson. And in the end the stage was packed with all these musicians, having the biggest party, together with the audience! Wow, can you imagine that on a cruise ship?


Day 7 - Toulon (France)

On our last day before leaving this wonderful cruise, we visited our last port of call, Toulon in France. Another very nice city at the French Riviera. From this place you could go on an excursion to St. Tropez but to be honest, we could use some sort of a restday - and we were not the only ones with that thought!
We stayed on board, enjoyed the view on sea and land, and laid down near the pool in the warm and nice early October sun enjoying a show of Gregg Karukas, musical director of the cruise. And we learned this week that Gregg likes to make some videos, but how can you actually tape your own show? Yes, by attaching your camera next to the whirlpool!

Besides the show near the pool, there were some more activities around the ship. What about a rehearsal of Paul Brown with the UK Collective or bingo with Brian Culbertson?

And when our last evening on board started with a beautiful sunset, and we were puzzling in our minds how to pack everything in our suitcases, we made ourselves ready for the last main show...Fourplay!
A show by Fourplay is something special: 4 jazz legends on one stage - Bob James, Nathan East, Chuck Loeb, Harvey Mason - with the finest compositions and fantastic sound! By the way, every show in the Tropical Theatre had outstanding sound, this whole week.
But this Fourplay show was even more special with guest appearances by Dave Koze and Patti Austin. You could see that Dave felt honored to be part of this group.

But this night was also the night of saying goodbye, and at the beginning of the show Dave thanked us all for being part of this great week!
Thank you Dave, see you next year!