Of all the jazz related events coming through the greater Houston metropolitan area, the launch of the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise stands at the top of the list of must do and see events. Tantamount to the cruise, is the pre-launch concert held the night before at Moody Gardens Convention Center in Galveston, Texas. Billed as the most amazing array of smooth jazz entertainment ever experienced on one stage, the concert is fast becoming the highlight of the year. For those jazz aficionados who are unable to partake of the cruise, the pre-cruise concert event is a prelude to what passengers will experience during seven illustrious days of smooth jazz entertainment in a variety of flavors.
For the second time in as many years, the star-studded event left the shores of Galveston heading to points in Mexico and the Caribbean with a contingent of talent that reads like a "Who’s Who in Jazz;" however, it was the night before that sent the cruise ship Conqueror on its merry way. Hosted by keyboardist Brian Culbertson, the concert featured Gerald Albright, Norman Brown, Craig Chiquico, Eric Darius, Candy Dulfer, Nick Colionne, Alan Hewitt, Maysa, Marion Meadows, Paul Taylor, Gerald Veasley, Pamela Williams and special guest star George Benson. In addition, there was also a cameo appearance by Bobby Lyle, who just happened to be at the concert. Patrons in attendance not only included the general public, cruise ship passengers were in attendance as well. What was just as significant was that the cruise would feature an additional cadre of artists that included Boney James, Chieli Minucci, Althea Rene' and a host of other musicians with considerable merit.
Sponsored in part by Houston’s KHJZ 95.7 "The Wave" and Air Tran Airlines, the concert was filled with a heavy contingent of jazz filled funk and circumstance. In addition, KHJZ’s own air personality in the name of Donna McKenzie went along for the ride as well. She was scheduled to feed talking points and videos back to the station on a daily basis. Adding yet another highlight to the festivities, all of the billed artists put their best foot forward with music that was nothing less than a jam packed funk fest. Never allowing for a dull moment, Brian Culbertson invited one star after the other to exhibit the stuff that made them funky. Brian’s efforts were just as dynamic to say the least. For more than two hours, he and the other artists cavorted across the stage individually, collectively and in unison to exhibit jazz in an improvisational style. In fact, the music that was heard at Moody Gardens on the night of January 27th was nothing like the laid back jazz that is often heard on radio. In one way or the other, concert attendees were reminded of how contemporary music should really be experienced, especially when all of the combined elements of R&B, pop, rock and improvised rhythms and melodies are included in the mix.
The overall impact of all that was presented during the show was not only astounding; an infectious zeal took hold of the audience at a level conducive to a much-appreciated enthusiastic response. Some in attendance knew exactly what to expect, while others were taken aback by the level of exposure they were receiving. Seldom does smooth jazz radio go the extra mile towards emphasizing the style of music heard during the concert. At any rate, the end result of the entire night was an event that gave everyone something to take home with them and to the cruise ship the following morning. That aspect also included the appearance of guitarist George Benson, the ultimate highlight of the evening.
George Benson’s stature in contemporary jazz is one of reverence and he also stands as the genre’s most iconic guitarist. His influence has had a tremendous impact on R&B, pop and jazz as well as many up and coming artists of the 1970s, ‘80s and beyond. George’s inclusion had an immediate impact on the crowd that night and his repertoire of old and new songs merely raised the stakes of the entire evening. His medley of tunes fed a frenzy of delight that had already been fueled by Brian Culbertson and company. The decision to meld the old with the new was a strategic one; in fact, the All Star Jazz franchise has also proven to be the same. The greater Houston metropolitan area’s benefit bodes well with rekindling a legitimate and enthused interest in jazz as a form of entertainment. With KHJZ 95.7 "The Wave" serving as a catalyst towards bringing quality live jazz entertainment to the region, shows and events such as All Star Smooth Jazz cruises and the pre- concerts will set the stage for even more extravaganzas. The upcoming 2008 All Star experience is already in effect and if the last two years are any indication, Brian Culbertson will ramrod another dose of exciting jazz music in Galveston and on into the islands.