CULTURE

Roy Gelato: Last Mohican of swing?

Saxophonist Ray Gelato is hailed as one of the most significant revivalists of swing. Frequently a headliner at the famed Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London during the 1980s, the Italian-British musician knows how to work an audience. In Greece, Gelato will be doing his stuff at the Planet Music club in Mets (44 Ardittou). You played swing at a time when punk-rock was in its heyday. How come? Around 1978, punk rock was at its prime and I was an outsider… I went to clubs where they played Louis Jordan, Louis Prima, Big Joe Turner and the like. I learned the saxophone by playing Bill Haley records and started playing in a street band. I would play solos I heard on records, but when people asked me to improvise, I lost it. That’s when I decided to take up music seriously, by going to night school and studying the great masters: Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster… The influence of Louis Prima and Louis Jordan comes across clearly in your music. But, how about Frank Sinatra or Bill Haley? Sinatra was the best singer who ever lived. A master. He never stopped fighting, till the very end. Louis Prima? One of my favorites. He had a great band with Sam Butera on the sax… I had the pleasure of working with Sam. It was an unforgettable experience. Louis Jordan? He was a forerunner of rock’n’roll. I would also say that he was one of the first rappers ever. Listen to his music carefully and you’ll see what I mean. Bill Haley? My dad’s favorite. I heard him perform live in the 70s. He is a great singer with a hot band. He’s been forgotten today and that’s a terrible shame… Aren’t you one of Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite musicians? We played for the queen twice, at the Ritz in London. She seemed to enjoy it. We have also appeared in front of 40,000 people in Hyde Park. It was a great experience but I prefer small clubs. You are seen as one of the leading revivalists of swing. I think that I have contributed. There were other bands too, but Chevalier Bros (our first band) was the one that got young people interested in swing. We played colleges and universities… The other important thing is that I never stopped playing this music. I feel like the last of the Mohicans.