When we talk about Christmas and being merry and looking forward to a few good tunes, then all we need to do is go to Ronnie Scott’s and attend one of Ray Gelato’s gigs.
This year, Mr Gelato has been sold out throughout all the dates he is playing at Ronnies: that’s nine dates to all those unfortunate people who haven’t managed to get tickets. To all those who attended and are going to attend this week (Ray and his band are playing till Wednesday 23rd!), well, it is easy to say they are jolly lucky to be there.
Gelato and the Giants are the smoothest, groovetastic band that have graced the Ronnies’ stage this year. And what an amazing treat to listen to such super swing music at this time of year.
Ray and the band start the show with When You Are Smiling (written by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin in 1929), recorded by a big array of artists such as Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima, to name but two. Ray’s rendition is sung with a big smile on his face throughout and so what more can an audience ask? Such a strong voice, such verve and passion, the show is immediately running at ninety miles per hour and we are all enjoying the ride.
The first set is full of gems; one that needs a special mention is a song penned by Clifford Grey, If You Were The Only Girl In The World (1916) and sung with great emotion and made unique by Ray’s voice and his band.
(Note to all readers - do take time to listen to the lovely Henry Burr singing this song. It is so beautiful and moving.)
It is so refreshing to see how certain old tunes are still so good to listen to when performed live by such a talented band. “It is a pleasure to kill myself every year,” says Ray after he has just finished playing a wonderful rendition of Reet Petite And Gone by the great Louis Prima. It is impossible not to swing and nod along with the musicians and the great Gelato!
But Ray Gelato does not only play great renditions of other artists (Prima, Como, Jordan), he also writes his own material and Bar Italia is one! The song is all about the small but perfectly formed bar almost opposite Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street. It has been there a long time and serves yummy cakes and panini till the early hours of the morning in a uniquely Italianesque manner. Ray sings the song with gusto, with fun, and if there are any readers who have not been to Bar Italia yet….well, I should say they should make it their priority to do so in the New Year.
Listen to the lyrics of the song and you will discover what a fabulous place this little bar is. I am also an occasional habitué of the place, often using it as a backdrop for my interviews.
If Bar Italia is not enough, the audience is treated to another beauty - Is Santa Claus Real? Written by Ray, this is a new CD single whose entire profits are going to be donated to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. It is a moving, tender song whose recording features the choir of Fielding Primary School from Ealing in West London. A must buy!
Another favourite on the night and one song I love (albeit difficult to sing, as it is in the original Neapolitan dialect) is Guaglione (penned by the Italian Aurelio Fierro, who recorded it in 1956). Ray sings this in the original dialect, well enunciated, well performed. There needs to be a certain emotion when singing in Neapolitan dialect; apart from the difficulty of the language, the text needs to be read and understood well if one is to perform it live. Ray has got this perfectly, it is a treat to witness this song live.
A faultless sax player on the night to accompany Gelato on his quest is of course Ollie Wilby. I cannot help but think what a natural talent he is! The whole band is in unison with Ray. Once the second set starts , everyone is looking forward to more gems. One in particular, written by Ray, is Twilight in Soho (an area that’s very close to Ray’s heart). It is reminiscent of a Scorsese film, the dark tones of his saxophone hit one straight away. Absolutely beautiful.
A Pizza You from Ray’s and the Giants’ Original Flavours album changes the mood totally and it’s done with a perfect balance, a sexy, culinary tour de force.
More swing with a rendition of Whirly-Bird by Count Basie sets the tempo, with Ollie Wilby’s sax solo transporting the crowd into a frenzy! Loud, bad and dangerously talented.
Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano (You Want To Be Like An American), written by the swing jazz singer that was Renato Carosone (1956) - a personal favourite of mine - is yet another example of Ray and the band’s cool status. Such a famous song needs to have freshness, passion: this is superbly rendered…again.
Another Louis Prima’s gem, Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody (recorded by Prima in 1956 using both songs, although they were originally two separate tunes) takes the show to the end.
The crowd has been rapturous throughout the performances in both sets. The crowd is, in fact, still crazy about Ray and the band. That’s the way to do it, Ray! That’s amore!
Lineup: Ray Gelato: Lead Vocal and tenor sax / Danny Marsden: Trumpet / Andy Rogers: Trombone / Ollie Wilby: Saxes / Gunther Kurmayr: Piano / Ollie Hayhurst: Bass / Seb De Krom : Drums
Words: Erminia Yardley
Photos: Carl Hyde