If I Wrote John Heald’s Blog…

Posted in Blog, Journalism, Travel with tags , , , on Wednesday, 6 August 2014, by Stan
Carnival Legend at Rostock, Germany. (c) Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations

Carnival Legend at Rostock, Germany

Hello readers of John Heald’s blog. My name is Stan and I am pleased to be sailing aboard Carnival Legend, particularly on this itinerary. I will be writing the blog today, fully clothed, as John has buggered off somewhere and hasn’t been seen since we departed Estonia last night.

Today is a sea day. We are sailing past Latvia and word among the crew is that John has taken an unadvertised, unannounced, um, shore excursion. (Hmmm. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Calvyn, either. No telling where he could be.)

How did I gain access to John’s computer, you ask? Well, I tried bribing John’s trusty cabin steward, Ketut, but he flatly refused to cooperate no matter how much money I waved in front of him. But when I offered to clean John’s cabin, including picking up his underpants, within seconds the door to John’s cabin was opened, I was given the password to his laptop computer, angels began singing, and Ketut hasn’t stopped smiling.

Normally this is the part where John answers your questions. It looks like he did that before he ‘disappeared’, so let’s see what John’s got in the Q & A bag today, shall we? Off we go:


[Insert John’s Q&A here]


My wife and I travelled halfway around the world, taking nearly a day and a half to get to the Carnival Legend, our home for twelve days. In my six cruises with Carnival, this was by far the fastest embarkation we have ever experienced; well under ten minutes from the time we stepped off the bus in Dover, got checked in, through security, and to our cabin. It is amazing the amount of support and logistics involved in getting guests from various airports around London to the ship. Also as amazing were the personnel at the port dedicated to getting us all checked in and safely on board.

I am one of those who would prefer to get off the ship and go explore the city/country we are visiting. I do know a few people who would rather stay on board. Yes, the ship does provide ample activities to keep you occupied no matter what you choose to do on your cruise. But me, I’d rather go see and experience new places.

For this cruise we were seated with two other couples in the Main Dining Room. In our case it worked out very well. One couple is originally from India but now lives in the US. The other couple is from Ottawa, Canada. So we have three different languages being spoken at the table, three different lifestyles, but we learned we all have one thing in common: we love to travel. By the time we left Finland, it became a part of each evening’s ritual to share what we all had done that day.

One thing I’ve done on the last few cruises is ask our waiter why Carnival no longer serves the Baked Alaska flaming. I know why they don’t but the various responses the waiters give are hilarious, especially when they answer with a straight face.

As is tradition when I sail with my wife, we dined in the steakhouse; The Golden Fleece here on Carnival Legend. I had the lobster this time. While it was delicious, I think I’ll stick to the steak in the future. I’ll talk more about the steakhouse later.

We also took in a few shows in the Follies theatre and the Punchliner Comedy Club. It was at one of the comedy shows where my wife violated one of my cardinal comedy club rules; never sit in the front row. Yep, you guessed it. I got pulled up on stage.

I had noticed the designs and artwork inside Carnival Legend and initially thought it to be a mishmash of style. Then I saw the interview with the designer of the ship, John Farcus, on one of the cabin television channels. He explained that the ship was named first. Then he was able to design the ship around the name ‘Legend’, and came up with the theme of legends from around the world. Next day I started paying more attention, and wouldn’t you know it, it all made sense! It is nice to learn new things, even when you are on vacation.

We are still trying to get used to the sun not setting until 10:30pm, and trying to get used to 5 hours of twilight after that. It is pretty cool to stay up and watch the sunset, then watch the twilight…until you realize you have to get up in a few hours to start a shore excursion.

Now, then. This is my first trip to Europe. I was very excited about this itinerary and booked our trip based on the ports we are visiting, specifically St. Petersburg. Leading up to our departure, John’s timely posts about how he was putting together the shore excursions, visa requirements in Russia, etc., just whetted my appetite even more. In addition to the tours, my must-do list included trying food from six of the seven countries we visited, including England.

The descriptions of the Berlin Top 10 and 2-day Grand Tour of St. Petersburg covered most everything I wanted to see in the short time we’d be in those places so I signed up for those two well in advance. Though I prefer the warm weather, the Winter Wonderland excursion in Helsinki also sounded intriguing.

So far, we have explored:

Copenhagen – Here we took the Walking Tour of Copenhagen. Our guide was very knowledgeable and took time to tell us the history behind many of the sites we visited. Copenhagen was very busy with five cruise ships in port. Our walking tour did cross paths with the large crowds but also took us along side streets well away from the other groups.

I didn’t realize how many bicycles there are here. It would have been nice to have taken a bicycle tour of Copenhagen. (Dear beards: I am volunteering to test out any future bike tours Carnival may add to the shore excursion offerings.) One thing I really wanted to try but was not able to was an actual Danish. Our guide stopped at a bakery but only bought one Danish…to share amongst the entire group.

We happened upon a music festival that was getting started soon. Unfortunately, the ship would be leaving well before the festival ended so we could not stay to watch it. A highlight for me was learning the legend behind the Gefion Fountain.

Berlin – All I can say is Wow! Ok, I’ll say a bit more. The weather was perfect. The tour was perfect. Carnival chartered an entire train for Carnival Legend’s guests to take them to Berlin (kudos to Carnival for pulling that off), then arranged eight different tours once we arrived in Berlin. We took the Berlin Top 10 tour. This one takes you to see remnants of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and many other sites.

The train ride through the German countryside en route to Berlin was very nice. Henning, our chaperone from the ship to the train station in Berlin, took very good care of our group. Sylvia, our guide in Berlin, was fantastic. Not only was she friendly and knowledgeable about the places we visited and the history of Berlin, she, herself, is from the former East Berlin and shared with us her perspective.

A German lunch was provided. In the past, I did not like sauerkraut. That was until this lunch. And I am glad I listened to the voice in my head that told me to get an authentic curry bratwurst from a street vendor. My wife and I will definitely have to return to Berlin and spend a few days here.

Helsinki – Originally, we planned to do just the Helsinki Highlights tour. But my wife decided later to include the Winter Wonderland tour. Putting aside my dislike for cold weather, off we went to an indoor winter wonderland where our guide, Ritva, told us a bit about Finland along the way. After donning cold weather gear provided by Unique Lapland, we went inside a cavernous room chilled to -5 °C/25 °F, and darkened to resemble the polar night. There we were served a shot of Finlandia (what else?) vodka provided in a glass made from ice. We rode an actual sled pulled by a team of sled dogs, skied a very short course on tandem skis, tobogganed, and visited three ‘ice hotels’ shaped like igloos.

Returning back to the ship just in time for the Helsinki Highlights tour, we hopped aboard another bus and headed off to see these highlights. Our guide, Maria, narrated our trip and we had a few photo stops. I had never heard of Jean Sibelius, but after Maria taught us about him, I realized that I was familiar with his work. And at our last stop, a few minutes before the bus was due to return to the ship, we ran across a marketplace on the waterfront. Getting a chance to try reindeer meat in Finland was on my list of things I wanted to do, but with the tours we had scheduled and the short time we had here, the likelihood of finding any, let alone trying any, seemed highly unlikely. Sometimes wishes come true in the strangest of ways: what did one of the marketplace vendors have for sale? Smoked reindeer meatballs! Of course, I had to try them. Turned out they were among the best foods I have ever tasted! And the garlic sauce they added on the side made them even better. My wife found a street vendor that had some of the best veggie sandwiches she’s ever tasted.

St. Petersburg – There’s nothing like visiting a place in person to dispel years of school history book teaching and Hollywood movie stereotypes. We’re on the 2-Day Grand Tour and so far it’s far surpassed my expectations. It’s hard to believe we’re actually in a country that not very long ago we were not allowed to travel to. Many of the people we spoke to admitted that St. Petersburg was the main reason they booked this particular itinerary.

Natasha, our guide, was by far the best tour guide we have ever had on any of the Carnival cruises we have taken. Her knowledge was boundless. She was very patient and friendly. I wish there was a way to let her bosses know how good she is and how much her guests appreciated her professionalism. She led us on a whirlwind tour of St. Petersburg including Catherine Palace, the Church of the Resurrection on the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and much more. Oh, I can’t forget about the authentic Russian lunch with borscht, champagne, vodka, and Beef Stroganoff. After a couple of hours on the tour, I was starting to read a few Russian words such as restaurant, bar, bank, and stop. I would need a week of writing John’s blog to cover everything we’ve experienced on just the first day here. Highlights in St. Petersburg were many but among them were: getting to use the few Russian words I know, my wife finding a gift shop owner who knew American Sign Language, and meeting two guys from Africa. We really wished we had more time to talk to them.

Tallinn – By the time we reached Tallinn, I had come down with a cold. While visiting the old city and learning about the Russian and Swedish history of this city was interesting, all I really wanted was to go back to the cabin and drink some hot tea and sleep. We took the Jewish History tour, which included the old city. When we arrived back at the port and went shopping, we noticed the very high quality of the souvenirs in Estonia. Naturally, we bought several. The highlight happened in one of these shops: The proprietor spoke no English and I know absolutely no Estonian. Out of frustration I said, in Russian, “sorry, I don’t speak Russian.” Her eyes lit up and with a huge smile she responded with a torrent of words in Russian. I can’t explain it but it was if I was hearing her in English. That was an encounter I will never forget.

In all honesty, I was disappointed that no bicycling shore excursion was offered in Amsterdam. From what I’ve been reading, Amsterdam is a very walkable city. Exploring it the way the Dutch do – from a two-wheeled perspective – sounds like the best way to see the city. Obviously, you cover more ground on a bike and that is exactly what I want to do while in Amsterdam, where we will be day after tomorrow.

Since I’ve have a few Carnival cruises under my belt (and I still have John’s computer), I’d like to offer a few suggestions to the beards:

1 – On the Carnival.com site, add an “Insider Tips/Past Guest Picks” link on the Shore Excursions page listing things to do while in port, in between excursions, or at the arrival/departure port before/after the cruise. Example: “The Crazy Lobster in Cabo San Lucas is a few blocks from the marina and within sight of it. Easy walking distance. Excellent grilled steak, lobster, seafood, and traditional Mexican fare. Reasonable prices.” The legal beards can add a standard disclaimer that says these are ideas submitted by guests, not Carnival.

2 – Also on the Carnival.com site, make it easier to compare the Shore Excursions. Extend the descriptions on the Compare page so that you can read the entire description of each excursion without having to click ‘more’. Or, once you click ‘more’, have the description extend within the Compare column without opening a new page. As of now it takes forever because you have to: 1) scroll to find an excursion that interests you. 2) once you find it you have to click to get a full description. 3) then you either have to click the back button or click on Shore Excursions again and wait while the page loads all over again. This could literally take hours to read about all of the excursions if you have a slow Internet connection and are looking at a 7-day itinerary or longer.

3 – How about adding a ‘weather bug’ from Weather Underground or The Weather Channel on the shore excursion main pages on Carnival.com?

4 – In the Carnival Cap, er, Fun Times, add a section called “Cultural Tips” to the embarkation issue. Adding a few do’s and don’ts when visiting a foreign country on Carnival’s itinerary may be helpful. Example: In Russia, never turn down a glass of Vodka when it is offered. To do so is considered rude. Always drink it down all at once; do not sip. Pointing with the index finger, giving the ‘thumbs up’ sign, or the peace sign are considered insults in certain cultures.

5 – John has discussed this many times here in the blog. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I agree with many others who would like to see a vegetarian entrée option or two in the steakhouse. (Yes, I know it is a STEAKhouse.) There are starters and salads that are vegetablist friendly (sorry, John’s computer is taking over), but no entrées. Myself, I love a good steak. But my wife is a vegetarian and though we enjoy dinner together in the steakhouse, I feel bad because she doesn’t have anything other than appetizers and salad to choose for her main course. John and I talked about this on his Facebook page and he offered a brilliant (where’s that option to turn off the ‘Johnisms’ on this computer?) suggestion. I’d like to take his suggestion one step further: How about putting a note on the online Steakhouse Reservation page that says if you would like a vegetarian option to contact the Steakhouse a day ahead of your visit to discuss preparing something to your liking? The same note can be placed on the reservation confirmation placed in the cabin.

Ketut just ran in and informed me that John has been spotted back on board. I had better sign off of John’s computer before


 Jazz Around the World – The Inside Story

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , on Thursday, 12 June 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


How did Jazz Around the World get started? Well, it wasn’t an intended project. It just evolved into one.

Two years ago I wanted to do something on Facebook in honor of Jazz Appreciation Month. I started out by just posting a link every few days to a video of a few US Jazz musicians. After the first couple of postings, I decided to find a few international Jazz musicians to add to the mix. The feedback I received was positive and motivating.

At the time, the international musicians I featured were those I had heard of before. It was nice ‘revisiting’ them again. By the time Jazz Appreciation Month came to an end, I realized how much I was enjoying posting and watching the videos.

Not long after, an idea began forming, an idea that I could not put out of my head. What if I expanded this? What if I could find Jazz in 30 different countries? What if I could feature a different person or group each day of Jazz Appreciation Month? What if I could turn all of that into an around-the-world journey? Thus was born Jazz Around the World.

Now all I had to do was find another 20 countries. But after thinking about it I realized that I was familiar with artists from at least a dozen more countries. That left only eight or so to reach my goal of 30 countries.

My research began slowly, adding an artist or group once in a while. It began to pick up in earnest around December of 2013. The process led to discovering many new groups and artists. I think that was the best part of this journey.

Along the way I made some unexpected finds. A friend sent me a link last year to a clip of the standard “Four Brothers”. When trying to find that clip again, a group called The Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra appeared in the results. The name caught my attention so I clicked their link. I was blown away by what I saw. It took some digging but I learned that these were high school girls from Japan. I decided to feature them as the closing group on our tour, showcasing them as an example of what today’s youth are doing with Jazz.

One very big surprise was being introduced to Aziza Mustafa Zadeh of Azerbaijan. I woke up one morning and began mentally running through countries that I could include on the tour. At the time I had 29 of them so I only had one left to complete the tour. For some reason Azerbaijan popped into my head. Mustafa Zadeh’s name came up after only a couple of minutes’ worth of research. All I can say is to listen to her. Just listen.

Putting the tour together reacquainted me with groups I hadn’t heard in a long time. Shakatak is one of those groups. It had been nearly a decade since I last heard their music. I remember how much I enjoyed them when they first burst onto the music scene in the early 1980’s. Their music still brings back those memories.

Another thing I experienced was just how versatile these musicians are. Here in the States, we know some artists play at such an advanced level that they are ‘first call’ musicians for many projects, world wide. But once they travel outside the US, we never hear about their collaborations with other musicians. Bassist Richard Bona has an impressive resume chock full of international musicians he has worked with. Because he has worked with so many different artists, that means he is able to play countless different styles of music, not just Jazz. After adding him to our tour, I sat and listened to his music on YouTube for an entire day.

Along those lines, I noticed a handful of US musicians popped up frequently when looking a clips of some of these artists: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, and Marcus Miller. All of these musicians are on the Jazz Around the World tour.

There were a few road blocks along the way. For the visit to Cameroon, I wanted to feature bassist Guy N’Sangué Akwa. But the only clips available on YouTube were of his solos; no full-length material. Since I couldn’t use any of those videos, I was forced to choose another musician from west Africa. That is how Akwa’s fellow countryman Richard Bona became part of the tour.

Another obstacle was labeling – or lack thereof – of music posted on YouTube. There are many, many videos out there that only list the artist or a genre, but not the title of the song. I found some music that I wanted to feature with the musicians on our tour but could not provide song titles because there weren’t any. Note to those who will post new music videos on youTube: please include the song titles. That way, we can actually buy the music to help support the artist so they can make more music for us to enjoy…and for you to post.

Looking up the music of Christiane Legrand took hours. Among the many groups she sang with was a group called Les Double Six. Les Double Six did not use the same personnel on every track during a recording date. So just picking a song by Les Double Six at random may not be the one on which Legrand sang. Of course, the information on the YouTube clip did not show who sang on which song. Furthermore, the Internet itself did not have any information on who sang on which track. Add to that, the album that introduced me to Legrand in the 1970s is no longer on YouTube.

This project has been as much a labor of love as it has been fun to put together. My hope is that somewhere during the course of this tour around the world of Jazz, you will be introduced to artists you may not be familiar with, and that that will lead you to seek out more more music from that artist.

I would really love to get a grant to do this for real; to visit 52 countries in a year and listen to live Jazz in each of those countries. And, of course, write a blog or series of articles about it so more people can experience just how connected the Jazz world is.

World On the left is a graphic of all the countries we visited on our Jazz Around the World tour.

Jazz Around the World – 1 May – California, United States

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , on Thursday, 1 May 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Welcome back to the United States. Unfortunately, here ends the Jazz Around the World tour. I’d like to thank you for joining me on this unique journey. I hope you enjoyed the music as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. One of my dreams is to put together a real Jazz Around the World tour, hitting all of the major Jazz festivals and some of the smaller clubs.

If your flight does not leave right away, we have one more artist who wants to play for you.

Bassist Joshua Crumbly was only thirteen years old when he played along with his dad, saxophonist Ronnie Crumbly on the CD Like Father, Like Son. Fast-forward to 2014: Josh, a native Californian, is currently touring with Terence Blanchard. A recent graduate of The Julliard School, Crumbly is one of the young lions; definitely one to watch.


Trio performance at The Julliard School – “Stablemates”


With Beka Gochiashvili – Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”


Bass solo with Terrance Blanchard in St. Louis


Map of CaliforniaThank you again for joining me for Jazz Around the World. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today!

Jazz Around the World – 30 April – Japan

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 30 April 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Welcome to Japan. Our visit coincides with International Jazz Day. Osaka, Japan has been designated the Global Host City so there will be a lot of Jazz being played here today.

Today Jazz Around the World celebrates the ladies of Jazz.

First up is the world renowned pianist/composer Toshiko Akiyoshi. Toshiko has won countless awards, been nominated for 14 Grammys, and published an autobiography. Though she was actually born in China, she moved to Japan when her family returned there in 1945 after the war. Best known for her work with her big band, Toshiko can also be found performing in smaller groups such as trios or quartets. She has been performing for nearly 70 years and is still active. Let’s welcome Toshiko Akiyoshi:


With piano trio – “The Third Movement”


Solo at her 60th Anniversary concert – “The Village”


Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band – “Harvest Shuffle”



Our next performer is keyboardist/composer Keiko Matsui. Keiko’s unique blending of eastern and western musical elements defies classification. She discovered saxophonist Paul Taylor, who contributed to several of her albums before he branched on a successful solo career of his own. Please welcome Keiko Matsui:


With Branford Marsalis – “Beyond the Light”


Forever, Forever





Coming to the stage now is a group of high school ladies from Takasago High School known as the Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra. I found them last year while looking for a video of the Jazz standard “Four Brothers”. I was so impressed by them and their professionalism, talent, and dedication to their music, that I wanted to have them join our tour. I think you will agree that BFJO is a perfect example of why music needs to be in our schools. Please welcome the Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra:


It Don’t Mean a Thing


The Way You Look Tonight


Four Brothers


Map of JapanThank you for joining us here in Japan. I hope you enjoyed the concert. We fly back to the States in the morning. If you have time, we may be able to feature one more artist on our Jazz Around the World tour when we arrive in California.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today.

Jazz Around the World – 29 April – China

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , , on Tuesday, 29 April 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Welcome to China. We will be staying in Shanghai for both performances. Today we will be treated to performances by Shanghai Jazz and also singer Jasmine Chen.

We’ll get things started today with Shanghai Jazz, but before we do, a little clarification is in order: Shanghai Jazz is not the name of the group; it is the name of album – Shanghai Jazz: Musical Seductions from China’s Age of Decadence. The release features more than twenty young Chinese musicians that are at the cutting edge of a resurgence of Jazz in China. Here, then, are a couple of selections from their latest project:


The Old Tea House – Shanghai Shuffle/High Society


The Love You Can’t Get



Coming to the stage now is Jasmine Chen. Ms Chen has a gift for singing both in Chinese and English. Her abilities cover both sides of the world of Jazz in China; she sings classic Jazz tunes with her own Chinese lyrics, and she also reinterprets traditional Chinese folks songs in a Jazz setting. Let’s welcome Ms Jasmine Chen:


Summer Samba


Give Me A Kiss (With Five Below)


Take Five

(You may need to turn up the sound for this one)



Map of ChinaThank you for joining us here in China. I hope you enjoyed the concert. We’ll meet at the Internet Airport for an overnight flight. Next stop on our Jazz Around the World tour: Japan.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today.

Jazz Around the World – 28 April – Philippines

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , , on Monday, 28 April 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Welcome to the Philippines. Our lineup today features two greats from different eras.

First we will hear from pianist Roberto Delprado Yulo Enriquez, better known as Bobby Enriquez. Though he is usually associated with the piano, he did play about a dozen other instruments. During his set you will see how he got the nickname “The Wildman”. I was lucky enough to see him perform at the Playboy Jazz Festival back in its infancy. And yes, the nickname fits. Please welcome Bobby Enriquez:


Classical Gas


Kapantay Ay Langit


The Shadow of Your Smile


Live at the Village Vanguard with the Ritchie Cole Quintet – “Hi Fly”


Next, we’ll hear from Ms Charmaine Clamor. Charmaine can be found gigging around the Los Angeles area…when she is not out touring the world garnering numerous accolades. She is truly becoming a world-class artist. Her sultry voice and impeccable style is winning – and breaking – hearts everywhere. Her brand of music is something she calls ‘Jazzipino’. You have to hear it to understand how she makes Jazzipino work.

We are in for a real treat today: I believe Charmaine will sing for us in three different languages during her set. Ladies and gentlemen, Ms Charmaine Clamor:


My Funny Brown Pinay


My Harana


It Don’t Mean a Thing


With Selaelo Selota – “Lolita”


Dahil Sa Yo


Map of the PhilippinesThank you for joining us here in the Philippines. I hope you enjoyed the concert. We’ll meet at the Internet Airport for an overnight flight. Next stop on our Jazz Around the World tour: China.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today.

Jazz Around the World – 27 April – Australia

Posted in Blog, Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on Sunday, 27 April 2014, by Stan

джаз филармония холл - © Stan Thomas/Kanale Creations


Welcome to Australia. We’re scheduled today to have a couple of artists stop by and play for us. Plus, we’ll hear from a native of neighboring New Zealand who now makes her home here. In fact, she will open our performances today.

Introducing Maree Steinway:


Live – “Bye Bye Blackbird”


Live – “Comes Love”


Next, we travel back in time a bit to hear the man known as the grandfather of Australian Jazz, Graeme Bell and His Australian Jazz Band:


Black and Tan Fantasy


Our last group is the Australian Jazz Quintet. We will enjoy two selections from them:


Samba de Orfeu


Sol Fuego


Map of AustraliaThank you for joining us here in Australia. I hope you enjoyed the concert. We’ll meet at the Internet Airport for an overnight flight. Next stop on our Jazz Around the World tour: The Philippines.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. Support the artists. Buy their music. Go out and see some live Jazz today.