Video Credit PinjLizard
It was April, 2013 on a once in a life time cruise, or actually the first prog royalty cruise ever. But the ship was only filled with half of us, and the other half were Italian nationals and their kids. The scene was surreal as Zebra, not really a prog band, took to the pool stage for the sail away party as children swam in the pools before them.
We stood in the crowd as strangers in our black t-shirts, unaware of the strong prog family we would soon become. Many of us had connected previously on Facebook but we had yet to met face to face. The hunt was a foot as we began recognizing progers from their prog regalia. Images and sounds of Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Pink Floyd filled the elevators, the dinning rooms and the Lito Deck. It was a dream come true, a real floating prog world, one that could not be understood, only experienced.
It was past midnight, after a full action packed day of running here and there when we found ourselves wired together looking for our next adventure. But there was nothing scheduled. So we set off in different directions and onto other decks to see what we could find.
We stumbled upon Mark Nissenbaum standing at a baby grand piano, The Baby Grand Piano, belting out an unknown tune, while an anonymous passenger accompanied him on piano. They yelled out, "help us write this song." We realized they were making it up on the fly. JoJo joined in and the song found its way to out to the audience of five. We had found our next adventure! We ran to the only bar that was open where many progers were congregating and told them the party is at the piano. Follow us!
When we arrived we found Scott Harris at the keys. The improvising had changed and Scott's incredible talent came through note for note without mistakes in the music of YES, Renaissance and ELP. We began to sing along and the crowd grew. Then came David Presley who dazzled us with the complete Tarkus Suite. It was at that moment that AHEPJ was rooted. Other keyboard players began sitting in, taking turns. Eventually Toby Moss Krawitz who was awoken from her beauty sleep, made her way in, wearing a holy Genesis t-shirt, giving us her best Tony Banks impression. Our joy was uncontainable and our Prog Family established.
At some point, as the party grew louder, the ships staff appeared and asked us to stop. We ignored them and continued playing and singing even louder. We were not detoured.
It was around 5am when we finally went to bed. Others never did.
Each night, after the last show we met at the Piano. Word had gotten out bringing in more and more musicians, singers and those who just wanted to watch and hang out. It became an event that even drew the ships talent.
The whole room was acoustified, as drummers and non drummers drummed on walls, tables and on the top of the baby grand (no rings please). Carry-on instruments were brought in such as Casios and a drum device. People made percussion sounds with glasses and utensils. Lyric sheets were printed and scattered about. We sang like our lives depended on it.
One of the outstanding highlights happened towards the end when Geoff Downs surprised us by sitting in. He asked us if we might know the song he was about to play. Most of us did not know the verses to "Video Killed the Radio Star" but we belted out the chorus that brought a huge smile to his face. We were all giddy as no one could believe what had just transpired. It was nothing short of magic and one incredible journey. Nothing could top this.
Or could it?
To see so much passion and talent among our Prog Family we knew we had to do this again and in a bigger way. The keyboard players were phenomenal and we knew we had the same caliber of singers, guitar players, bass players and drummers. We just needed a room, a PA and some organization.
Rael talked to the promoter and both agreed it was a great idea. Through negotiations we were given a room, PA, sound man and even equipment. We choose to have the event begin after the last performance of each night and have it run into the wee hours.
We needed a name so we called it the After Hours Electric Pro Jam (A-HEP-J for short) knowing we would get the chance to feature all the prog musicians. Karaoke was not our goal. Our intentions were to have an opportunity to play music that we would never have a chance to play at home. And to perform in front of a responsive and enthusiastic audience who loves and knows the songs as much as the players.
And so it began. We put the word out and created a sign up list.
We encourage semi-pro to pro musicians to pick their 3 favorite songs and watched how songs filled up quickly. We stressed how important it was that musicians be proficient in their instrument and somewhat at the same caliber of the players they would share the stage with. We begged for humbleness as the pre-requisite for participating. Our hope was that these performances would rise above a bar band jam, withstanding the occasional train wrecks. Our dream was to get through all these difficult songs together and in one piece.
Over the months AHEPJ began to take shape. We realized we would have a time allotment for around 80 songs. This gave players more opportunities to play on stage. We found it unusual that there was a serious lack of guitar players and lead singers and found ourselves overtaxing a few musicians. Thanks to Greg Bennett, Tom Matlosz, and JoJo Razor for their contribution, time and effort it took to learn so many songs.
Two months before sailing the sign-up list was closed. Players knew which songs they would be playing with plenty of time to prepare. We insisted each musician study and learn their parts throughly since there would no group rehearsals. It was up to members to talk with other players on each song regarding which version and parts would be played.
AHEPJ was word of mouth only with very little promotion by CTTE as they and us had no idea of what our final outcome would be. With the sign-up list closed there were a handful of musicians that wanted to join in. A few musicians were asked to gave up their spot so that these late comers had a chance to perform on stage (thank you Rael and many others). The nightly schedule was created and posted for all to see. Something solid was forming in the air.
At about the same time, Rael, while in meditation, heard to call the Hard Rock Cafe in Miami to arrange a pre-cruise party. To our astonishment the Hard Rock graciously offered their room, back line and sound crew. We also realized this could become a great opportunity to raise funds for a needy children's music program so we decided to have a raffle and called on any to donate to this cause. The top four prizes included Joyce Francis' original work of art, a signed Paul Whitehead Trespass litho, Tom Matlosz's personal autographed copy of Tales of Topographic Oceans, and a CTTE YES guitar.
And so it began... again.
We knew we were at the right place when we saw AHEPJ blazing brightly in the warm night sky on the Hard Rock Miami Maquee. The Hard Rock had given us the large room upstairs which was full by the time we, your humbled hosts, arrived. Raffle tickets were sold, the stage was set and musicians signed up eager to play. The excitement was electrifying to say the least.
It was 8 o'clock and time to play hum de dum de dum
We all waited with baited breath, charging the air, not knowing what was going to unfold. The first group of musicians took to the stage and this is what we witnessed.
Video Credit | Cruise Guests
The rest of the night was a joyous sound of music that exceeded every expectation. People cried with their excitement. New bonds were made and our Prog Family grew. Now this surely couldn't be topped.
Aboard CTTE, after a full exhaustive day including shows seen, room setup, banners hung, posters posted AHEPJ begins, but with more of a whimper than a bang. During the day our start time had been changed to 11PM rather than after the last show of the night. So many of our performers and core audience were still attending shows. We scrambled trying to find songs where all performers were present. But within an hour the room was full and we hit our stride.
We set the pace at the Hard Rock and it continued for the next four nights. Each night the room was filled with happy musicians and prog passengers as well as some of the talent we had come aboard to see. Many of them even got up and played on stage with us (view our video archives). Like the first CTTE cruise, Geoff Downes closed out the show with "Video Killed the Radio Star" and this time we knew the lyrics. There were other planned surprises but unfortunately we did not have time to include them all.
Possibly next year?
Video Credit | Cruise Guests
We would like to start off by thanking the promoters. We would still be around the piano had they not given us the opportunity to be amplified, provided us with instruments and trusted our vision. Without them there is no AHEPJ.
We would like to thank the sound production crew especially Bill and Mike. We know how difficult it is to run sound for a band let alone 60+ musicians. You did a fantastic job all things considered.
We would like to thank all of the performing musicians for your hard work and preparation. Without you, every one of you, AHEPJ could never have achieved the success that we all experienced. We bow and curtesy to you with great admiration!
We want to thank the spouses of these musicians for having to listen to numerous renditions of this and that prog song and for putting up with the pre-cruise stresses. All of you deserve the AHEPJ support medal!
We want to thank every audience member who made their presence shown night after late night until the last song was played. Your loving forgiveness during fumbled moments motivated all of us to try harder and pushed us beyond our comfort zone. All of you gave us the reason to be alive!
And last but not least we want to thank the CTTE talent for hanging out and being part of the AHEPJ audience experience. Each night dreams came true as the songs we love were played for you, our heroes. And when a few of you joined us on stage you created moments that we will never forget.
It was all great fun and isn't this what life is really about, fun!
So this all brings us to now, now, now. How in the hell are we going to top this?
We can't wait to find out!!