Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ray Gelato in 2011

Last Saturday, the musical offerings in London were as rich and diverse as usual, in almost any genre you might think of. Nevertheless, Ray Gelato and his Giants were at the 100 Club, an occasion that, at least in principle, it's not to be missed. The club itself was started by the great Victor Feldman's father (the composer of "Seven Steps to Heaven" was present as an 8-year old drummer) in right smack in the middle of WWII, and its history is so rich (see this and this) that it's almost obscene. Nowadays, it lacks the solemnity of other clubs, but still keeps an aura that seems to rub off on whoever takes the stage.

This wasn't the first time I've seen Gelato. The very first time, strictly speaking, happened when I was still a teenager, back in Spain. I don't know how I'd got hold of a record catalogue from England, one of those booklets that one read attentively with the reverence granted to all things unattainable. At the time, I was into classic rock'n'roll, and for some reason, the cover of Gelato's LP, his first one, got locked in my brain. All that, without having the slightest idea about the kind of music Gelato did

About 15 years later, I finally got to see Gelato and his Giants, no more "of Jive", live, at the 100 Club, incidentally, with the long-lasting line up that included Clark Kent on double bass, Steve Rushton on drums, and Alex Garnett on saxes. Gelato leaned heavily on Louis Prima's legacy and his show, with his musicians in uniform and ties, was a salute to a golden age of American popular music. Plenty of swing, jump, and entertainment.

Gelato, Clark Kent, and Alex Garnett, in 2001

Years go by and people change. Those Giants vanished and personnel changed. In that transition phase I saw the band a couple of times and, although the skeleton of the music was still there, unmovable and unchangeable, it looked too thin, as if it couldn't throw or take any hard punches. Last year at Ronnie Scott's they seem to have gained some muscle, but, at least in my memory, they hadn't reached the standard of the previous Giants. It should be born in mind that, like in the old great Swing bands, musical empathy and general camaraderie are pivotal for this band, and although they can be faked, it takes time to happen in actual fact. In that particular show, Ray himself didn't look so great, his voice and tenor were not in the best of shapes, and his fight with his greying hair was quite visible and gave him a sort of vampire-like look.

Next month Gelato will be fifty, and judging by what was seen and heard on Saturday, he's in shape. He seems to have lost weight, and by quitting one of those hair-related battles where the only elegant solution is to surrender to reality, he's embraced his grey hair and he now sports his hair in a classy shade of platinum. On stage, his vocals are spotless, and on tenor, although he ends up completely run down, he displays a rocky, hoarse, virile tone, which is rare today and takes the listener back to the great Rhythm&Blues honkers.

On Saturday, after a very fast, and unannounced “Them There Eyes” followed by “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me”, Gelato said hello and told us that his regular drummer – Sebastiaan de Krom – had had an accident. He introduced, praised and thanked the sub, Matt Senior, who took the driver's seat for the first time ever in his life, and it shouldn't be the last, after a mere 20-minute rehearsal.

It may have been the tension due to having to play with a new goalkeeper, it may have been the natural evolution of a line-up which has been together for a while, or most likely because of a mixture of both, the Giants sounded like never before. Their repertoire didn't touch so much on Ray's idols Louis Prima and Dean Martin, and there were more tenor sax solos, like in “Flying Home” and “Go, Red, Go”, respectful nods to Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb respectively – the other winds, especially Andy Rogers on trombone, were impeccable – and, generally, less entertainment and fewer gags than what I've seen before. As the night went on, the atmosphere got hotter and more relaxed: pre-rehearsed jokes were replaced by spontaneous asides, with Gelato, sweaty and without jacket or tie, letting a few swear-words slip, something that wouldn't happen in other venues or with a different audience.

Ray Gelato Giants

As in other areas of show-business, humour and enjoyment, pure hedonism, are taken as lack of seriousness and professionalism. Besides the spotless job by all musicians, either the vocal choir provided by the winds, and the notable passion and concentration of the whole band, having a brand new drummer was a second show in itself. On top of the regular features of a Ray Gelato show, including Kai Hoffman's vocals in a couple of tunes, seeing Senior sight-reading all the music, aided by the signs from pianist Gunther Kurmayr, was just extraordinary. Is there still anyone who believes that written-down music doesn't produce swing and expressive music? Because it's pretty obvious that it depends on who's doing the reading.

It's a sad fact that Ray Gelato is most likely one of the last musicians really capable to do a believable show of swing and jump music. Leaving genres aside, his is a show that should be seen and listened to at least once in a lifetime. Because, like a friend said in the early hours of Sunday, "I don't know anything about jazz, and I don't know why or how, but this music has made me feel great".

Check Ray's website for future gigs near you.

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PS: The "unknown" Matt Senior, who dazzled the audience, is actually a well-seasoned drummer. This is from the website of jazz band Puffins.

Matt [Senior] has worked extensively on a wide variety of shows both on tour and in the West End such as Sweet Charity, Spring Awakening, High School Musical, Guys and Dolls, Rat Pack Live, Miss Saigon, Five Guys Named Moe, Follies, Merrily We Roll Along, Chicago, Saturday Night Fever, Star Wars Live On Stage and many others. He toured Australia with Shirley Bassey, and has recorded and toured with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and London Concert Orchestra. Matt has worked on a number of TV shows and film soundtracks, and is looking forward to working with Michel Legrand on a new stage adaptation of Jacques Demy film “Umbrellas of Cherbourg”.

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