Sometimes, opportunities lead to extremely debilitating circumstances that call for a complete overhaul of the Spirit. My one-month performance on a cruise ship turned out to be exactly that situation. Aside from making far less money than I consider myself to be worthy of, the accommodations on Deck 1 of a 17-Deck ship proved to be less than I am ever able to accept for myself in the future. “What’s the lesson?” asked my dear friend Aman. Well, there were many.
First, knowing my worth is first and foremost the most important lesson I can ever learn. Entertaining hundreds of people is my forte. Knowing what I should be compensated to do this is of paramount importance. Then, choosing the right musicians to accompany me is next on the list. When you are confined to a band that doesn’t know your repertoire, this can be HELL for a professional vocalist and that was my experience on this gig. Too many musicians call themselves Jazz musicians without knowing the vocal Jazz repertoire.
Here’s mine: www.fyicomminc.com/Jazzquest/divajcrepertoire.htm. Certainly, from over 250 songs, a true Jazz musician would know 50 of these songs. However, on this journey, that was not the case. So, this gig was like pulling a train without an engine. Each of the 24 nights we performed, I resorted to singing the Blues in Bb, just so I knew the musicians would know the song. A few times, I had to stop them from starting the song in the wrong tempo. My question is: “If you don’t know the tempo I want to sing in, why start the song without my count?”
Second, where you are living and how you are living dictates how well you feel when you perform. This is standard for any vocalist. You must be clean, warm, and comfortable. All three of these elements were lacking on this cruise. The crew cabins are not well-kept, so I felt very uncomfortable. Also, the second one they moved me to (to get me off the top bunk, where I cried to climb up into most mornings at 2:00 a.m., as my 26-year-old roommate slept, curtains drawn) had a faulty temperature gauge to the point that I caught a horrible cold, being chilly for four days. I finally called maintenance and an engineer came and closed the vent that was wide open.
Third, my left foot was swelling, continually, until I got my water pills mailed to me by my daughter to my friend in Fort Lauderdale, where we docked every Sunday. It was so painful and I was the only one standing on stage and in the club. Painful. Uncomfortable. Miserable. Eventually, I figured out that the salt in the foot had a lot to do with my feet swelling.
I bought two pair of shoes, one Sunday, at Famous Footwear in Hollywood, FL, that never fit. They were Italian-made but didn’t coincide with American sizes. Just pitiful. I returned them, when I got off the ship for good and the cashier wanted to argue with me about not bringing the boxes back, which I had never taken from the store. “We always explain that we will not refund your money, if you don’t return the boxes,” she said snottily. “Well, WE never told ME that, when I said I didn’t want to take the boxes,” I responded. “Well, the next time you may not get a refund, if you don’t return the box.” Needless to say, there will NOT be a next time for me to shop at that store. Customer service is a thing of the past. I wonder if she knows that I could start a Facebook campaign to shut her out of a job?
Fourth, after one week, the food started tasting the same – tasteless. The fatigue of the crew that works seven days a week, 10 hours a day was in the food. Extremely uncomfortable. Eating in the crew mess hall became more interesting than in the guest buffet, where the young waiters walked around from table to table producing obvious false smiles, apparent to me and the band members, during the third and fourth week.
The upside of this journey is that I managed to WOW my audiences, night after night. At 66, any singer is happy to hear that she or he is appreciated. “OH, Baby,” got me over ever time! That’s a hook I developed at O’Hara’s Pub in Fort Lauderdale, in 1988, that has carried me along for 26 years. “OH, Baby,” exclaimed cruise guests, as they passed me on deck or in the elevator. A memorable line that brings a smile to the faces of those who watch me perform.
I would love to say getting off the ship in St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Labadee, and Cozumel was interesting but because of the intense tourist shopping scenarios, I did not enjoy those places very much. In Falmouth, a friend picked the four of us band members up and drove us to Montego Bay. That was the most fun I had off ship.
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Montego Bay, Jamaica
On ship, I slept most of the mornings on Deck 17 in the lounge, simply because it was sunny and quiet. In my room, you couldn’t tell if it was night or day. Plus, the air conditioning kept my nose stopped up. So, I got up, during the first week as early as 6:30 a.m. and went up to Deck 17. The following three weeks, I rose around 9:00 a.m. and went up to Deck 16 for breakfast, then into the lounge for a nap. There was little else to do because the Internet was too expensive ($30-35 for a 24-hour period) and too slow to be bothered with.
In port, on Sundays, in Fort Lauderdale, we all had to disembark, meaning that as guest crew, we had to go through customs with the other 4,000 – 6,000 guests. Most harrowing experience I can remember. Just like being in a cattle call. So uncomfortable. One Sunday, our drummer had to do this twice because the port manager gave him the wrong ID card, getting back on the first time! Ugh! Painful. Repeat!
Did I mention that the piano player (60) fell asleep at the piano? Now, this was truly a first for me. I was mortified. I just called his name loudly until he was revived. “I could not be playing and asleep,” he insisted. “Yeah, right,” I maintained. “Yeah, right!” Luckily, he didn’t snore.
We performed on the Promenade Deck 6 twice a week for one hour.
At Jazz on 4, we preformed from 9:30 pm to 12:30 a.m. six nights a week.
So, in conclusion, what I learned is that “All that glitters is not gold!” These cruise gigs may seem like a dream to most but, if it were not for the spa, where I enjoyed the steam room and large shower and the audiences that showed great approval of the music I brought them, I would have chalked this month up as the worst ever spent in my career.
I learned that only I know my true worth and that it is my responsibility to demand what I need as far as payment and accommodations BEFORE I sign a contract and hire musicians. And I must be sure that the musicians I hire are up to the job, meaning that they know the music I perform.
Now, after one week of being off the ship, I am in Spirit Overhaul Mode. Sleeping in my own bed is very healing. Eating my own cooking, and being in my own space is rehabilitating. I will think very carefully before I accept any future contracts that take me out of my comfort zone. If the Creator wants me to perform for multitudes, I must insure that I am duly compensated and comfortably accommodated. This is what I learned!
P.S. I did meet some wonderful people and for this I am ever grateful!
Zoila, Lilliana, and Vanessa from Mexico City
Kiki & Jeff from CT
Vicky and Nancy Chaloff from Florida
One of the “Oh, Baby” crews in Jamaica.
Ladies from Indiana in Jamaica
More audience members in Jamaica
Carl and Victoria Branker, publisher of Treasures of the Heart Magazine from Pembroke Pines, FL. Here, they are at Juici Patties in Falmouth, Jamaica. We became fast friends. “Oh, Baby!”
So, all’s well that ends well. Home safe and comfy, never to leave again without sufficient remuneration and accommodations and that is a promise to myself! My Spirit is, again, on the rise.
This video is about sleep deprivation: