Well, that’s the scene during the Sunday Jazz Brunch, a highlight of each Labor Day Weekend West Coast Jazz Party, now in its 13th year at the Irvine Marriott Hotel in Orange County, CA. The cruise is on board the Hornblower Entertainer, which sailed this year from Newport Harbor, Sept. 2, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m, with some 475 aboard.
Once the vessel departed, jazz was performed continuously on three decks simultaneously by a variety of performers; patrons move from deck to deck to catch their favorites, grabbing a table where they can see the musicians and eat. Food is overflowing from tables on two decks.
Standing out in appearances on the low and middle decks, accomodating larger bands and more fans, were trumpeter/vocalist Byron Stripling, leading a group which also accompanied singer Nancy Kelly. We overheard some patrons saying it was much better hearing the music up close. That’s one of the advantages of these cruises; you're right next to the musicians playing.
Steve Turre with his associates was another hit showing his impressive trombone style, but he really "wowed" the crowd parading up and down the aisle playing his unique conch shells.
Veteran vibraphonist Terry Gibbs was hailed by many as the star of the day. Still a flurry of mallets when performing, Gibbs, at 82, showed everyone his ability to swing has not been diminished. Working with clarinetist Ken Peplowski, the glorious days of Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton were evoked.
Besides the view, sitting up on top deck certainly had its advantage this hot summer day. Under an awning, a slight ocean breeze made it a very pleasant place to be. Even the music here was cool and low key with guitar and piano trios and the ever-pleasant vocalist Dewey Erney holding forth. Pianist Mike Melvoin, guitarists Ron Eschte and Bruce Foreman stitched the various groups together seamlessly.
Many passengers were content from time to time to just gaze out at the sparkling blue sea and take in the palatial homes alon the shore and crowds of beach-goers playing in the water all the while waving at weekend sailors on their colorful sail boats, skimming along out to sea.
Our hosts, Hornblower Cruises and Events, with locations in San Francisco and San Diego, have been in business for 27 years and have regularly scheduled dinner cruises and holiday events, as well as booking private charters for corporate events and weddings.
According to promoter Joe Rothman, this edition of the Jazz Party was a big success. There were evening concerts in the Marriott’s Grand Ballroom the four nights, and afternoon concerts around the pool Friday and Saturday.
The festivities got underway Thursday, Aug. 30, with a program featuring the son of the late great singer Mel Torme, Steve March Torme, a hip vocalist himself.
Friday evening’s lineup was memorable for the '40s-type Jazz at the Philharmonic show engineered by Gibbs with musicians lined up across the stage, exchanging solo bursts, trying to "cut" each other. The session received a rousing ovation.
As well, the great James Moody, at 82, still out there blowing, was featured. (By the way Moody did a rendition of his "Moody’s Mood For Love," an unforgettable song based on a Moody solo improvisation.)
Sunday’s Grand Balroom concert wound up the long weekend with a salute to Count Basie, with charismatic trumpeter Strilping leading a band playing the precision arrangements of the legendary Count’s band.