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School of Music

  • Photo of Derrick Vaz aboard the Celebrity Summit cruise ship playing double bass with band

Smooth Sailing

My name is Derrick J. Vaz. I graduated from the University of South Carolina in May 2020 with an undergraduate performance certificate in Jazz Bass from the School of Music and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication. Upon graduation, I was was set to embark on a 5-month contract aboard the Celebrity Reflection, a Solstice-Class cruise ship, where I would have been the bass player for the jazz band. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled those plans, so I began pursuing a Master of Arts in Brand and Media Strategy at East Tennessee State University. A year later, the ships in the Celebrity fleet started sailing again, and I was re-offered my dream job aboard the Celebrity Summit cruise ship. 

Before I joined the ship, I had to complete an extensive medical exam that determined my fitness for duty. I also had to furnish a safety training certificate, as this is required by the international convention for the Safety of Life at Sea. Once I completed these requirements, I was ready to join. On June 9, 2021, I flew to Miami and boarded the ship the same day. Once I arrived at the ship, I had to go into quarantine for ten days. This is a new policy by Celebrity to ensure the health and safety of its crew members. I was in a room with a balcony for these ten days practicing and preparing for my first day of work.

After the quarantine, I met up with my band and started rehearsing. Our band was called ‘Music Soup.’ The guitarist and pianist/singer are from Greece and our drummer is from Brazil. We enjoyed entertaining guests with a variety of musical styles, mainly jazz, funk, Latin and pop. My time in the UofSC Left Bank Big Band, along with my private lessons from Dr. Craig Butterfield, greatly helped prepare me for this job. 

A typical day in the life of a Venue Musician aboard a cruise ship consists of morning meetings, individual practice time, and two to four 45-minute sets. As Entertainment staff, we were also permitted to have meals in the Oceanview Café, the guests’ buffet. Entertainment staff could also use the state-of-the-art guest gym and spend time in other guest areas, a wonderful perk not afforded to all crew members. The ship has 12 decks, and each deck had something new to explore. On embarkation days, we were responsible for manning the emergency assembly stations, where guests would check in and learn about the safety protocols for the unlikely event of an emergency. 

Celebrity has several COVID-19 protocols in place to help protect both guests and crew. For every cruise, each of the 704 crew members are given an antigen test, and guests must be vaccinated and provide a negative test within 48 hours of travel. Crew wear masks in guest areas and maintain social distancing at all times. 

The Summit visited several exciting ports of call, including St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Barbados, Curacao, Nassau, Cozumel, Costa Maya and St. Maarten. Crew were offered tours in ports of call. My most memorable experience during a shore excursion was in Cozumel, Mexico where I was able to swim with stingrays and sharks. 

The highlight of my contract was Rock the Summit, a spectacular showcase of all the live musicians on board. This included our show band, solo musician, acoustic duo, jazz band, and the party band, which I later joined on saxophone a month prior to signing off. During this show, we prepared our best music and performed in the Celebrity Theater, an auditorium-style hall with a grand stage and over 400 seats.

I’m incredibly thankful for this opportunity and for all of the skills and knowledge I gained from the UofSC School of Music which helped me navigate this new adventure. I highly encourage graduating music students to pursue this opportunity, as it is incredibly rewarding, both musically and financially. I can’t wait for my next contract!

Topics: Jazz, Craig Butterfield


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