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November 30 - December 2, 2006

After being asked by the
Cayman Islands Department of Tourism to cover the 2006 Cayman Islands Jazz Festival this year in Grand Cayman, I started doing some research on the islands.  Up to this point, I knew very little, namely that it was known globally for its ability to hide money from being taxed!  So, perhaps I’m not the most financially savvy person in the world - I also didn’t know that the total number of banks and virtual banks is approximately 500 – whoa!  But who would have thought that in only 4 hours on Air Canada, you could arrive in the Caribbean paradise of the Cayman Islands?  While I did spend my time on the largest of the three islands, Grand Cayman, I suspect that the other smaller, quieter islands are just as spectacular.  

As reported in a previous newsletter, the headliner for the 3rd annual jazz festival was
Natalie Cole – definitely the most well attended night of the three nights.  However, I would be remiss not to also mention the skills of Mike Phillips and Kem on the first evening’s line-up, Jeffrey Osborne and Boney James on the second and Arturo Tappin who opened for Natalie Cole on the final evening. 

I went a few days early to check out the island and relax on the beautiful beaches and to dip my feet in the
Caribbean Sea.  Just breathtaking!  Many thanks to my friends at the Sunshine Suites for going above and beyond during my stay those first few days.  (Check them out at http://www.sunshinesuites.com).

We also stayed at the Westin Casuarina Hotel Grand Cayman - well the pictures below speak for themselves.  Many thanks to the staff for being diligent and courteous. 


Westin Casuarina Resort Grand Cayman

View from the Westin Casuarina Resort Grand Cayman

Crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea

Cruise ships docked at George Town, CI

Melanie Reffes, Montreal travel writer and Cheryl Allan, CI Tourism rep.

  What sets these islands apart?  Immediately you get the sense of not only a Caribbean destination but that half of the population is made up of what is called ex-patriots, people that work there from many other countries, mostly England, Ireland, Jamaica and Canada.  It’s appealing to see the multicultural mix of peoples all working and living together in harmony.  Warning:  You must proceed with deep pockets should you plan to visit Cayman Islands.  As most goods are imported and cost of living is one of the highest, it is a very expensive place to visit – but if you’ve got it, then I’m sure you’d enjoy it!  In fact, according to the Caymanian Compass, the visitor demographic is the household that earns at least US$100,000 and is in the age group of 30-64.  But the weather, ahhh, the weather - temperatures seldom drop below 21C or rise above 32C. 
  We toured many historical sites including Pedro St. James which was built by a wealthy Englishman, using slave labour from Jamaica, that was so impressive it was given the honorary title of “castle”.  Then it was off to the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park which was beautiful and still experiencing the new growth since Hurricane Ivan hit them in 2004.  Lunch at the Kaibo Yacht Club was a lot more relaxed than we thought – tucked away in some of the lushness of the island. 

Pedro St. James

Myself and Melanie Reffes at Pedro St. James

Melanie Reffes, myself and Art Jackson, Smooth Jazz Magazine, LA at Kaibo Yacht Club

Heather Davis, Toronto travel writer at Kaibo Yacht Club

Having enjoyed fireworks and a cocktail reception poolside hosted by our hosts, the CI Department of Tourism, we went to enjoy the first concert on Thursday, November 30th
Mike Phillips really wowed the first night crowd in the Governor’s Ballroom of the Westin Casuarina Resort Grand Cayman, our host hotel.  Beautifully designed by Joanne Brown of Celebrations, the venue was immaculately designed in the greens and blues of the Caribbean.  He interacted with the audience at full tilt, dancing with them and even playing a special song for a couple celebrating their anniversary while they danced solo.  Mike’s band was incredible as well with Eric Parker as the young and talented musical director.  At 24 years old, Eric and Mike have a chemistry that allows for all unexpected musical directions to naturally unfold with uninterrupted fluidity.[1] 

Mike Phillips' band

Mike Phillips, Eric Parker

Mike Phillips

Mike Phillips' band

Mike Phillips performs for couple's anniversary

Mike Phillips' band

Mike Phillips' band

Myself and Mike Phillips

closed the evening with his soulful renditions from his debut Kemistry (Motown) as well as KEM Album II.  He comfortably held the audience’s attention with his laid back yet powerful performance while at ease behind his keyboard.[2]

Kem performs

Kem performs

Kem and his band

Kem performs

  The Cayman Islands are also known for its thriving diving and snorkelling opportunities to discover the variety and splendour of their shallow reefs and majestic wall will thrill the explorer in even the most jaded diver.  One of the trip's highlights was on Friday, December 1st when I went snorkelling on Capt. Marvin's stingray ship at Stingray City - yes, you can actually swim with and touch the stingrays!  These are "tame" Atlantic Southern Stingrays that await their daily feed from the fisherman's boats. The underwater life there is vibrant and extremely colourful with many different varieties of underwater life.   OK, I was a wuss and didn’t get in with the stingrays … I mean, Steve Irwin - hello!!

Capt. Marvin

Capt. Marvin and crew

Capt. Marvin and Heather Davis

Multitude of stingrays

Multitude of stingrays

Crew and stingray

Crew and stingray

Heather Davis and stingray

The second night of jazz brought to the forefront the sultan of the
Woo Woo Woo, Jeffrey Osborne.  Held outdoors at Pageant Beach with full stage, lighting and great sound, Jeffrey had the audience, who could be classified as relatively conservative, on their feet and wooing right along with him.  His stylish and old skool sensibilities won everyone over with hands in the air and faces full of abandonment..[3]

Jeffrey Osborne performs

Jeffrey Osborne performs

Jeffrey Osborne's band

Jeffrey Osborne performs

Jeffrey Osborne and myself

Also on the bill for the night was the musically gifted and warm individual,
Boney James presenting us tracks from his latest work entitled, Shine (Concord Record Label), which he also produced.  What a gracious man, both onstage and off.  He wrote or co-wrote nine of Shine's 12 tracks, whose special guests include hip-hop/soul diva Faith Evans, jazz-guitar icon George Benson, R&B vocalists Dwele and Philip Bailey (of Earth, Wind & Fire), keyboard wizard George Duke, alternative-pop singer Esthero and Sounds of Blackness powerhouse Ann Nesby.[4]

Boney James performs

Boney James and his band perform

Boney James' being interviewed

Boney James' being interviewed

The buzz on the island on Saturday, December 2nd was the concert featuring Natalie Cole and the Caribbean favourite, Arturo Tappin.  We dined that evening right next to the venue at The Wharf, so close to the water that we got wet with the upspray, and as soon as I heard the unique stylings of Arturo Tappin, I jumped up and ran to the concert.  I had first enjoyed a performance by Arturo at the Barbados Jazz Festival held earlier this year, in January, so I knew we were in for a treat.  Of particular mention, too, was Arturo’s bass player, Nicholas Brancker, who was nicknamed “Bad Ass Bass Player”.  OK, maybe it was just me that gave him that name!  The entire band, though, was unbelievable and mega talented.  Rhea Dummett was the vocalist of the group and demanded attention on a very musically endowed stage.  A side note of Canadian content is that Arturo’s manager is Patrice Benn, a Torontonian!  Arturo told me that he played at the first Cayman Island Jazz Festival for the headliner, Roberta Flack.

Arturo Tappin, Patrice Benn, Ettiene Charles and Buddy Williams

Arturo Tappin and band perform

Arturo Tappin

Arturo Tappin and band perform

Arturo Tappin, Ettiene Charles and Rhea Dummett

Arturo Tappin, Nicholas Brancker and Ettiene Charles

Arturo Tappin and band perform

Rhea Dummett performs

  Then the diva of the festival, Natalie Cole, was up.  We were invited backstage for a photo op with her and the Minister of Tourism, Charles Clifford.  No interviews were allowed but that seemed ok once she hit the stage.  While Natalie doesn’t possess a powerful stage presence, she did manage to belt out many jazz standards in a laid back fashion that the crowd responded to with full support.  Not to mention that she looked fab in all white![6]

Minister of Tourism, Charles Clifford and Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole performs

Natalie Cole and her band perform

Natalie Cole performs

Minister of Tourism, Charles Clifford and Natalie Cole

One of the hosts would be recognized by many Canadians,
Darrin Henson, the MTV award winning choreographer and actor who played Lem Van Adams on the hit Showtime series “Soul Food” for five seasons, shot exclusively in Toronto.  With BET J as one of the major sponsors, the festival hoped to attract more visitors and benefit from the added monies flowing into the economy.  According to Caymanian Compass , the jazz festival costs approximately US$500,000 to execute and generally recoups 1/3 of that in sales and hope to break even by 2008-2009. 
To give you some background, the Cayman Islands laid the foundation of its vibrant economy only 30 years ago in the industries of international tourism and finance.  Christopher Columbus discovered the islands after seeing two small islands surrounded by a vast array of tortoises, and thus is the official logo of the Cayman Islands.  The Cayman Islands is a family of three tropical islands located 241 kms (150 miles) south of Cuba and 289 kms (180 miles) west of Jamaica in the central Caribbean.  The government of the Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory.
Another thing to note is that this destination is one full of British and predominantly Christian values. 
Translation:  the streets pretty much roll up at midnight during the week and on Sundays, most businesses are closed.  There are little variances in these 'rules' but for the most part, you can expect an early turn in unless you befriend some locals who know of some of the 'hot' spots.  Another thing that sets this destination apart is the multitude of cruise ships that stop in the shoreline town of George Town to shop, eat and catch some local culture.  The businesses in George Town tend to cater their business schedule around when the cruise ships come in as their businesses reap the monetary rewards when they are at port.  Keep in mind that most cruise ships carry approximately 2,000 people and when I was there, there were at least 4-5 ships docked around the weekends.  That’s a lot of people descending on the island all at once. 

The ‘ex-pat’ dynamic is so fervent that people in the hospitality industry often have their name, their establishment and the country where they originate from on their name tags!  While this is somewhat endearing and perhaps makes tourists feel like they’ve got a taste of home while in the Caribbean, I would have liked to have seen more native Caymanians in my daily journeys and in the service industries. 

All in all a great trip and I learned so much about an island that I knew nothing about previously.  Plus the jazz concerts were outstanding - especially given the fact that we were under the stars of the Caribbean.

The Cayman people are gentile and I give them a lot of credit for their temperament, given that literally half their population is comprised of ‘ex-pats’ (population is 40,000 - 20,000 are 'ex-pats').  The Caribbean Sea is just gorgeous, as are the beaches and people.  If you've got the deep pockets and are looking for reserved and beautiful spot to visit, then the Cayman Islands is the spot for you! 

Canadian Media Team and Cheryl Allan, CI Tourism

Karu Daniels, AOL Black Voices

Art Jackson, Smooth Jazz Magazine



Cheryl Allan, Cayman Islands Tourism – For being a great host and for putting up with all our idiosyncrasies and not completely losing it!

Canadian Media Team - Mel Reffes, Montreal Travel Writer and broom queen, Heather Davis, Toronto Travel Writer and goddess of the stingrays, John Masters, Meridian Writers' Group and king of coining phrases and keeping us girls in line.

Karu Daniels, AOL Black Voices - for making us laugh the entire time, for the nicknames and for being the emperor of the interview.  See Karu's coverage for AOL's Black Voices, HERE.

Art Jackson, Smooth Jazz Magazine, LA - for putting the 'smooth' in the trip.

And for all those not mentioned for making my time more enjoyable and fun!



[1] Mike’s impromptu New York debut at Wilson's nightclub in New York in 1993, and that led to a series of session and sideman jobs in jazz, R&B, and even rap. Eventually, he attracted the attention of Hidden Beach Recordings, which signed him and put him on the road in the summer of 2001 opening for Jill Scott. Phillips' debut album, You Have Reached Mike Phillips, was released by Hidden Beach in May 2002.
Source http://www.caymanislands.ky/jazzfest/mike_phillips.asp

[2] Kem might be a long way from Detroit street benches and being isolated from his family, like he was at one time, but the hardworking and humble Kem never forgets what the journey has taught him. "Every day I reflect on where I've come from. Right now, I don't have any problems compared to sleeping outside or dealing with addiction. Thankfully, I've been equipped by a higher power to battle those things."
Source http://www.caymanislands.ky/jazzfest/kem.asp

[3] Osborne's solo career has brought him five gold and platinum albums, including Stay With Me Tonight, Aymuk, and Only Human. He also recorded an album of duets with popular singer James Ingram, and scored an international hit with "On the Wings of Love" in 1982. Osborne's touring and recording continue to keep him busy much of the time, but he also devotes some of his time to charity work.
Source: http://www.caymanislands.ky/jazzfest/jeff_osborne.asp

[4]Pure, the ninth Warner Bros. album from Boney James, fits its title exactly: pure in vision, in spirit, and in the grooves.  From his earliest days delivering pizza to finance his dreams, through his apprenticeship on the road with artists such as Morris Day and the Isley Brothers, James' star has been steadily rising. Yet his remarkable success -- sold-out concerts, GOLD albums (Sweet Thing, Seduction, Body Language, and Ride), a Soul Train Award and a Grammy nomination -- was just a prelude to Pure and the promise of what lies ahead. "There was a lot of growth involved in making this record," he sums up. "The experience has changed me a lot. And I couldn't be happier with the results. It's just ... pure."
Source http://www.caymanislands.ky/jazzfest/boney_james.asp

[5]Once described as a cross between Teddy Pendergrass and Kenny G, Arturo Tappin is definitely the smoothest, saxiest horn man the Caribbean has to offer. He has been busy kicking his solo career into high gear with his roots reggae-jazz fusion. His dynamic live performances and charismatic idiosyncrasies on stage have been the reason why he is known throughout the region as the musician's musician.
Source http://www.caymanislands.ky/jazzfest/arturo_tappin.asp

[6] Natalie Cole's stunning new album Leavin' is simultaneously a bold point of departure and a moving return to form for one of music's most accomplished vocalists.  What comes through loud and clear on every track of Leavin' is not just a lot of love and vibe, but also an infectious sense of excitement and rediscovery. "You can call it a comeback," Cole says with a laugh. Indeed, Natalie Cole's latest musical statement shows her coming back to contemporary material with the passion of a new artist and the skill of an artist very much at the peak of her powers.
Source http://www.caymanislands.ky/jazzfest/nat_cole.asp