Chieli Minucci and Musicians for a Cause
Featuring Special EFX and Friends
Smitty: You know, when we talk about summer vacations, we normally think about the months of June, July and August, but for jazz fans it’s a totally different thing now. We think about the fall, and when the fall comes around, the music starts to really swing. We’ve got some great cruises out in the water now, the Caribbean is starting to heat up, and all these great cruises are out there, and I’m here to introduce you to two wonderful people that have come up with a great concept to help us to appreciate the music and our lives as well. Please welcome for the Musicians For A Cause Jazz Cruise, two great people, Ms. Donna Whittington from Stewart Entertainment and Events, and Ms. Marilyn Horsey from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Hello, ladies. How are you?
Donna Whittington (DW): Hi, Smitty.
Marilyn Horsey (MH): Hello.
Smitty: It’s great to talk to you both. I think you have something really special going on here. When you can put some great music with a great cause and really help people to get into their life, get into the music and have a great time at the same time, I think it’s a wonderful thing.
DW: It is a wonderful thing, Smitty. We are so excited for this to happen and it’s something different from what most of the other cruises are doing, and we want to support a great cause while we enjoy the music.
MH: To introduce those of you who are not familiar with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we are one of the premiere organizations that will be coming up on our 30th anniversary very soon. NCADV has been really instrumental in assisting domestic violence advocates to continue to network with people who are doing their thing throughout the country, and we’ve actually branched out throughout the world. So it’s good to have an organization that you can look to who will provide the opportunity for you to get reenergized and for you to know that the cause is still so very important and it’s a way for everyone to say “Okay, I’m doing a good job,” and that’s why it was such a joy to be able to partner with Stewart Entertainment and Events and know that the cruise will be overwhelming success.
Smitty: Very cool. So talk to me about how you two met and formed this great bond of doing something that, I think, is just truly beautiful?
DW: Well as you know, I have a passion for jazz and I’m a social worker. I had a desire to combine the two, we just wanted to do something different, so when I started talking with my family, and in particular my twin sister Debra Lillie, we wanted to be able to give back to the community and support an organization while we were able to have a good time, so that’s kinda how we got involved with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. We started researching different organizations to find out who we could help while we are bringing people together. We looked at different organizations and then we thought about domestic violence because that’s something that has personally touched our families’ lives over the years, so we thought that’d be very appropriate, we thought that’s something that people could get behind. When you think of domestic violence, someone somewhere, knows someone or somebody that’s been affected. Male or female, mostly….more than likely a female, because this happens to men as well, but we thought that that’d be a good organization to be a partner with us for this event.
Smitty: So this is a tale of two passions, then.
DW: It is, it really is. Again, it has touched our lives and being a social worker, it was natural to want to gift an organization that helps to educate and prevent violence.
Smitty: Yeah, it made sense. I think that personally music is a healing mechanism in itself, and when I first heard about your two organizations coming together with the music and with the cause, I thought, hey, why hasn’t someone thought of this before? Because I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think people, when they go on vacation, there’s a desire for healing from the 9 to 5 and music has that effect on people. It’s sort of like the answer for a lot of things that perhaps may be stressful or just to get away and relax. So when you meld the two together, I think it’s just a fantastic union.
MH: Yes, I think one of the fascinating aspects that this cruise offers is that domestic violence is no longer something that’s hidden. It can happen to anyone, so with the idea of promoting this cruise on a broad spectrum, it allows people to support a great cause. As Donna said, we all know someone who has been affected, and if we are not actively putting and our money where our mouths are, we’re just part of that trend that stands by and says “Well, somebody else will take care of it, someone else will take care of it.” So when Donna contacted our Executive Director, Rita Smith, and she talked to our Vice President of Development, Brian Heider, they had this really good conversation. Donna had the opportunity to be in Pennsylvania, which is where I am when she attended the Berks Jazz Festival, and she has such passion and it just allows so many people to become wrapped up and pursue it, and that’s why we’re still working so very hard to make sure people realize that this is an opportunity for them to really say “I can support an organization, I can enjoy some good jazz, and hopefully we can highlight the cause even more.”
Smitty: I agree. So talk about how on the cruise the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence can benefit by being on this cruise.
DW: One of the ways that the Coalition is going to benefit is by being on the cruise. Some of the board members as well as some of their staff members are going to attend this event. They are a part of this whole planning that we are doing. It’s only natural for them to, of course, be on this cruise with us. Now, they’re not on the cruise to do therapy or anything like that. They’re on the cruise to have a great time like the rest of us and to celebrate, if you will, us coming together to benefit the organization because a portion of the proceeds benefit will their organization.
Smitty: I like that. I think, too, it’s wonderful in that we’re going out on a cruise to have a good time because we wanna celebrate our lives, we wanna celebrate what we’re doing, who we are, we wanna hear some great music, and we’ll talk about some of that in a minute, but I think at the same time the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is also a great organization in that they’re doing basically the same thing. They’re trying to get the word out about it, trying to alleviate those problems so that people can continue to enjoy their lives and to have a purposeful and satisfying life. So the two really come together very well, I think that you both have the same goals, the same visions. It’s just coming from a different avenue, but….
Smitty: But basically we’re doing the same thing. So I think it’s a wonderful thing, it’s a very positive thing, yeah.
MH: Smitty, and as well as you’ve just spoken about it, it’s an opportunity again for people to come and enjoy just the “escape” from the routine 9 to 5 or for most of us the 24/7 who are DV advocates and really know that we’re still doing what we need to do, but we’re doing it from a different aspect. We still continue to advocate for violence to be eradicated and for people to know that we have the support, the Volunteers Women’s Act and other causes, but we have to do something.
Smitty: Yes, I love it. So I want to, first of all, before we start talking a little bit about the music, I just want to congratulate you both for the passion that you have for what you do and for coming together and doing such a wonderful thing. I can’t say enough about your efforts and your passion for what you do, and I know, Marilyn, you’re speaking for the organization, I think you’re a great spokesperson for that, and I tip my cap to everyone there at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and, Donna, for your passion for the music and as a social worker, you’re melding the two together and I think that’s a beautiful thing, and I’m just glad to be in association with you both.
DW/MH: Thank you, Smitty.
Smitty: So let’s talk a little bit about the cruise. Now, give me the dates for the cruise.
DW: Dates of the cruise, we leave November 2nd, which is a Thursday evening, and we come back that following Monday, which is November 6th, of this fall, so November 2nd through November 6th.
Smitty: Okay. Marilyn….
Smitty: How much are you familiar with this music, with jazz? I mean, is this something that you’ve listened to before or was this something that Donna basically introduced you to?
MH: (Laughs.) It’s impossible not to be entrenched in this whole jazz movement because I grew up in a town where jazz and blues were part of the norm, so, I mean, when we wanna mellow out, we turn on some jazz and we get some work done. When we just wanna get some things done, we turn on some jazz and we bring our stress level down so that we can actually sit back and just really appreciate how the music emanates through the radio, through the CD’s, and it’s just an opportunity for us to step away from everything that is so stressful in our lives and just appreciate fine music, not that other kinds of music are not good, but jazz just touches you in a different place.
Smitty: Yep, it’s therapeutic, isn’t it? (Both laughing.) So, if you were talking to everyone out there that were thinking about getting on this cruise, Marilyn, what would you say to them?
MH: Two things: we appreciate the opportunity to present the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to you, we would generously give of our time and we would appreciate the graciousness of you putting your money to a cause that’s so very, very, very important. I mean, how many opportunities do we get to be with such great musicians who say “This is important enough for me” for them to block out this time to support us, and hopefully we can get everyone to say “I don’t have the necessary time, but there are other things that I can do to help provide this format for education around domestic violence, such as being on a cruise that supports a great cause.”
Smitty: Yes indeed. Ms. Donna, what would you say to the fans that may be on the fence, not sure if they wanna go, or they may wanna do something different, or perhaps they’re not sure about the cruise? What would you say to them to convince them that this is where you wanna be on November 2nd?
DW: Smitty, I would say a couple things as well. First of all, this is a different cruise in some respects in that it’s shorter; it’s a five-day, four-night long weekend and its a benefit cruise. Secondly, the musicians that are going to be on this event….Chieli (Minucci), Special EFX, Kim Waters, Gerald Veasley, Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra, Phil Perry, and Slow Train Soul and others….these are world class musicians. The music that they have produced over the years is just incredible.
Smitty: Yeah, baby!
DW: So we’re not skimping at all on the music, so we’ve got the great talent that will be on board plus it’s affordable.
DW: It’s very affordable, and last but not least, and we stress that a portion of the proceeds will go to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Smitty: Now that’s cool.
DW: I think that’s a big thing for folks, you know. Money is going to the Coalition and we’re very excited to be able to even offer that because when we were brainstorming about this whole event, it was very important to us that we be able to give back to the community, whether it’s locally or nationally, so the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence was perfect. It was something where everything kept falling into place with the Coalition. I’m in Denver, their headquarters is located in Denver; I went to Philly, Marilyn was in Philly. Chieli was very helpful in the early planning stages. He was very instrumental in designing the line up. Things just kept falling in line for us and it was like, wow, this is going to be a great event for all of us.
*MH: The organization does not take federal money. All of our money, really, all the money that we get is given by people who know how important it is to have a voice that is not attached to the politics of this country. So when we make statements, it’s the statement that most of our membership allows us to make or expects us to make. The money from the cruise will help support the organization to stay free of the politics that some of the organizations can’t in these trying times as this budget continues to shrink.
Smitty: I can truly appreciate that.
Smitty: Yeah, I totally agree with you. One of the things that I think about when it comes to the jazz cruises….and there’s a few out there now….one of the commonalities of these cruises that I think is just so great is that the fans truly benefit from this because they’ve seen their favorite musicians at a theater, at a festival in a park, in different event locations, but this one is truly unique in that now they get to get up close and personal with their favorite musicians, they can have dinner with them, they can have lunch, they can have a drink by the pool, they can walk along the top deck of the ship, they get to know them, the musicians get to know their fans. I think it creates such an intimate setting in that there’s this true bond that comes together with the musician and the fans that I don’t think has ever existed before. I’ve talked to many of the musicians that have been on these cruises and the one thing that they talk about so much is that now they have new friends that they e-mail all the time now, they have friends that they see at different shows, and there’s just this whole familiarity that wasn’t there before. Now when they have a gig in Philly at the Keswick or One World Theatre in Austin, and they’re signing autographs after the show, now they’re hugging their fans, they’re talking to them on a more intimate basis because they’ve met on a cruise prior to that. Now you have a fan base that is truly a fan base that they know. It’s not just this fan from afar that they only know whenever they see them, you know, at a show and they sign the autograph and say “Hey, nice to see you again. Bye!” But now it’s a true fan base that these musicians have captured because now they’re up close and personal, and they find out what’s personal to them, what’s personal to the fans, and I think it’s a wonderful concept.
MH: WJJZ held an event at the Tweeter Center, we had a tremendous rain storm, but in spite of that, the fans still came and filled the arena for Gerald Veasley and for Kem and for all the musicians because that’s how passionate they care about their music. So it’s just a tremendous opportunity for other people to become part of that loyal legion of fans and connect with them on a personal basis as you just identified.
Smitty: Yes, absolutely. And Marilyn, you have a conference coming up as well in July?
MH: We do. The institutes for the various caucuses start on Friday, July 7th, and there are three different caucuses….Friday, Saturday and Sunday….and the conference actually starts Sunday, the 9th through the 12th. If anyone want information for advocates and people who just want to learn more about the effects of domestic violence and how they can assist and learn some more, the conference is in Atlanta. So for all the folks out there who have time and are close to Atlanta for those dates, please visit the Web site because Atlanta was chosen because of its close proximity to most of the states in the region. Unfortunately, for the folks across town, they’ve already made their reservations, if you’re coming from other parts of the United States, we need to have as many people who feel compelled to want to do something to participate in this conference. The good thing about it is our next conference after this one, will be our 30-year anniversary.
MH: So we need for you to come to this one, but we want everyone to make sure you become knowledgeable. Go to the Web site as much as you can to be up on times and this will give everyone the opportunity to adjust your finances so you can be with us. If you can’t be up with us in July, please plan to be with us for the 30th year anniversary.
Smitty: All right, so the 30th anniversary is when?
MH: It’s in two years.
Smitty: Two years from now? Okay. Now give me the Web address.
Smitty: All right, so you two have a favorite artist?
Smitty: Watch out now, I gotcha!
DW: I have a lot of favorite artists on the cruise. I’ll start off with Chieli, of course. Chieli is a favorite. Met him two years ago. He was in Denver and I fell in love with his music….probably one of his most recognized tunes, a tune by Stevie Wonder called “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” and I can listen to that over and over and over, so for me, Chieli is definitely a favorite and which is why I wanted him as the headliner for the cruise. (Laughs.) I feel biased on my part, but Chieli Minucci and Special EFX are my favorites. However, I gotta tell ya, Gerald Veasley blew me away and it was the very first time that I met him in Philly this past winter, in March at the Berks Jazz Festival, and I wasn’t really familiar with his music and I heard him and his band play, at his club, “Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base” in Reading, Pennsylvania, and I’m hooked. I am so hooked on Gerald, but Phil Perry, love his voice, he’s incredible, he’s got a new CD out, Classic Love Songs, and he just puts his spin on it and it sounds incredible.
Spyro Gyra, I think you probably asked for one favorite, but Spyro Gyra is always a hit with me. Jay is an incredible saxophonist, smooth and mellow! And Slow Train Soul is new on the scene, I believe, in America. They are from the U.K. and they have a CD out called Illegal Cargo and it’s incredible. It’s jazzy, it’s funky, it’s R&B, and very smooth, and Kim Waters is amazing on the saxophone. I Love him as well, so I guess I really don’t have a favorite. I’m just excited that all of them are going to be together, and in an intimate setting for four days! And if you can’t tell my passion for jazz music, there it is. (Both laughing.) And I can’t wait for November to get here because I have all my favorites right there for the next four days and a captive audience, and I’m gonna be in heaven. I don’t know about anybody else, but I will be in heaven on that cruise. I’m also excited about meeting their fans. I’ve been in contact with a lot of the fans via email and phone, inquiring about the cruise before they booked their cabins and we talk about their favorites on the cruise and how much fun we are going to have! I’m having a blast with all of this! I can’t wait to meet the fans of the musicians coming on this cruise…I love it that they contact me directly!
Smitty: I think everyone will certainly share your sentiments because these are some great artists and you mentioned your favorite song by Chieli Minucci, I just wanna mention that that song is featured also on his new DVD, A Night With Chieli Minucci and Special EFX, and Kim Waters has a great DVD out. All of these guys have new music and you certainly have a wonderful combination of artists on your cruise, and you’re to be congratulated. You have great taste!
DW: I do? Thank you.
Smitty: Okay, Marilyn. I didn’t forget you.
MH: I’m like Donna. I’m not even gonna try to say which one is my favorite. That would just not work, but I guess there’s a special tendency toward Gerald because he’s in my area, and I loved hearing him. And, again, it’s just such a great lineup, I wouldn’t touch that to say who was my favorite. (Both laughing.)
DW: You know, it really is unfair to say who your favorite is because everyone is absolutely equally incredible and the lineup just came together perfectly, and like I said before, the music, we did not skimp on the music because it’s a five-day, four-day cruise. The lineup is there. We’ve got incredible world class musicians.
Smitty: Well, I think you both answered quite well and I think if you ask any of the fans that are going on this cruise, they would probably say the same thing. They would say “That’s why we’re going because we love them all.”
Smitty: And that’s a beautiful thing. Now, I have got to ask you about this seventies party.
DW: Oh Smitty! The seventies party is just gonna be so groovy and we’re gonna have a ball. We are actually changing the seventies disco to Old School Party and include the eighties. We’re gonna party back to old school, back in the day, and I believe this crowd will….everyone will be able to appreciate the seventies/eighties music. We all lived in that time period and so we can appreciate music “back in the day,”cause I’m telling everybody “Bring your outfit.” I’m going seventies style…I have my Foxy Brown outfit. I’m still looking for the platform shoes. I have the big ‘fro, I got the big hoop earrings, I’m ready to go! I think my twin sister is leaning towards the eighties and is looking for some leg warmers…Flashdance style with big hair!! Either decade will be a blast, totally!!
MH: I’m gonna also encourage those who were not around to be a part of the seventies movement, but it’s the movement that you’ve heard so much about. You will get the opportunity to get a first-hand adventure with the seventies.” Come on down. We need you and we want you and we want you to experience it all, seventies or eighties.
Smitty: So that means we’re gonna hear music from Kool and the Gang, the Commodores….
DW: (Laughs.) Oh, the Manhattans, the Spinners and mix it up with some Madonna, Flock of Seagulls and the rest of the one hit wonders of those decades!!
Smitty: Yeah, the Emotions, the Stylistics…oh, this is….
DW: Oh, it’s gonna be a ball.
DW: This has to be all night long.
Smitty: Oh yeah.
DW: We’re gonna be up all night because we come back from Playa (Del Carmen) that night. So we’re gonna hang out all day and maybe get a nap, and then we’re gonna party all night.
Smitty: Hey, I like that. So speaking of that, talk to me about the locations, the ports for this cruise.
DW: We are going to leave from Miami and once we leave Thursday night from Miami, we’ll wake up Friday morning in Key West, hang out in Key West for a few hours, and when we wake up on Saturday, we will be in Playa del Carmen all day long. That’s an all-day trip. We’ll be at sea all day on Sunday, and we’ll get back to Miami on Monday, so it’s gonna be an incredible long weekend. We’re gonna have a blast.
Smitty: So while we’re out at sea, there’s just gonna be a ton of music and just a lot going on, and then the ports are just to basically stop and enjoy them, and get back to the music.
DW: Yes. On Sunday, when we’re at sea all day, we’ve got some events planned, one of course being a meet and greet session with the artists. So if for some odd reason you haven’t had a chance to really just talk and be up close and personal with the artists, this’ll be another chance to do that, and they’ll have their CD’s, their DVD’s, whatever, they’ll have it there, and be able to hang out with the artists again. So we’re gonna keep the party rolling even though we’ll be at sea all day. We’ll have events lined up, like we’re planning on a reception of some kind, not to give it away for the Coalition. But one person I really wanna talk about is Bettie Grace Miner. Bettie Grace Miner will be on our cruise, and for those of you who do not know Bettie Grace Miner, you’re in for a treat. She is going to do a limited edition print of the artists. There’s only going to be 150 signed and numbered prints that are going to be available on this cruise. And, Smitty, you did an incredible interview with Bettie on your Web site that people can check out as well as her Web site, www.minerworksofart.com, so, I mean, people need to check Bettie out and see some of their favorite musicians. She’s got a great picture of Jay Beckenstein on there; she’s got one in the works of Chieli, so check her out as well.
Smitty: Yes indeed. Well, thank you. It’s funny you mention her. Bettie’s a true friend and she’s just a great human being and so talented, and she just really loves the whole cruise atmosphere, the whole thing. I’m honored to be anywhere in her presence. It’s gonna be great. All the musicians love this and they love to interact with the fans, and I think the fans are going to get such a treat to really see the other side of these great musicians, to know that they laugh, they can tell jokes, they can just be totally human, and I think it’s going to be really cool to see them in this relaxed meet and greet atmosphere, not just for the meet and greet event itself, but the entire cruise will be a meet and greet, you know?
DW: You’re so right.
Smitty: Yeah, so we’re just gonna sail and hang and have a good time.
MH: Can I also include that for folks who are undecided about what they wanna do for their vacation, this is an opportune time for stepping away. It can really be a time for them to get some real serious time for them to devote for themselves and to do something that will make them feel really good about their vacation time also.
Smitty: Yes, I totally agree. Well, I wanna thank you both for your efforts and for this great concept and for the cause and for bringing people together to enjoy some music and to really see how they can better their lives both on the ship and off the ship.
DW: Absolutely. Thank you, Smitty.
MH: Thank you.
Smitty: All right. We’ve been talking with two wonderful ladies that have put together such a wonderful cruise that’s going out in November. It is called the “Musicians for a Cause Jazz Cruise Featuring Chieli Minucci and Special EFX” and the other great artists, and if you have not signed up yet, I would encourage you to do so, this is a wonderful cruise, I highly recommend it. Ladies, thanks so much once again and look forward to seeing you in the future and on that cruise.
DW: Thank you so much.
MH: Thank you.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.stewart-entertainment-and-events.com and www.ncadv.org and www.blueskiestravel.com.