The independent London newspaper

Big band aid!

19 December, 2016 — By Dan Carrier

Ray Gelato and The Giants are set to play Christmas shows at Ronnie Scott’s

THE influence of a 1970s west London childhood comes storming like a hurricane out of the bell of Ray Gelato’s saxophone – and saxophonist and singer Gelato, whose band The Giants play Ronnie Scott’s every December, has the serious smoothness of a swing band leader from the era of great jazz and swing.

But, despite his seven-piece band bringing audiences the classics from the big band era, it wasn’t just the popular jazz sounds of the 1930s and 40s that have influenced him. He grew up in Ladbroke Grove and spent a youth soaking up the sounds of west London.

“I grew up in a council estate and I was into all the stuff that was going on during that time – the 1970s had all the glam rock and then, where I was, there was a lot of blue beat and ska, and rockabilly and reggae,” says Ray.

“I grew up with lots of people whose families had come from the West Indies and settled in west London – and that also had a big influence on my music. There were lots of record shops blasting out music.”

But The Giants are known primarily for their sound that takes its cue from the great swing orchestras of the mid-20th-century period, and that came from what he heard when he closed his front door.

“I had my dad Ira’s records to listen to, as well – and he loved his big band stuff. It meant on the one side I had all the crooners and then on the other the blue beat and the ska.”

He took up the saxophone as a teenager and within six months of first blowing a note was gigging.

“I loved the sound of it,” Ray recalls. “I started playing live almost straight away, but obviously I wasn’t much good. Instead, I learned on the job. I also wanted to discover the history of the instrument, who played it, so I listened to all sorts of early music such as Louis Armstrong’s bands, Louis Jordan, people who had saxes in their line-ups. And today I have never stopped listening, never stopped learning.”

He is currently working on three project: as well as The Giants, with whom he has played for the best part of 25 years in various guises, he also has other collaborators.

“It is important for musicians to work with as wide a group as possible, and in the current climate the best way to make sure you can earn a living, too,” Ray says. “I am working with the jazz singer Claire Martin in a trio and I have a group in Spain, too.”

As for Christmas, The Giants have become synonymous with their December residency at Ronnie Scott’s.

“I have a young family with two children, aged nine and 12, so for me Christmas is all about them,” says Ray. “I love to get the cooking started on Christmas Eve, and then it’s also a good excuse to play a bit of Bing Crosby on the piano at home and have a sing with them.”

And The Giants also enter into the spirit of the season: they have a tune called Is Santa Real?. They sell CDs and downloads of the tune each Christmas, with all the money going to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

“It’s nice to use the festivities to remember that it is about doing things for others as well as enjoying yourself,” adds Ray. Ray Gelato and The Giants play Ronnie Scott’s from Thursday, December 15 to Friday, December 23.

To buy Is Santa Real? online visit

Share this story

Post a comment