Over the years, the Hot Jazz series organizers have brought numerous entertaining acts to these shores for national tours. It is fair to say that when it comes to providing audiences with their enjoyment money’s worth, Ray Gelato rates high among them. TheBritish saxophonist and vocalist will be here with his quartet for a seven-gig nationwide tour January 6 to 13, with shows lined up in Ganei Tikva, Jerusalem, Herzliya, Beersheba, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
The 56-year-old Gelato is clearly a chip off the old-school block. There is something distinctly and delectably yesteryear about his demeanor, both on stage and in conversation.
“You could say I am a bit of throwback,” the Londoner admits. “It could have something to do with my heritage. I’ve always gone towards that sort of music, the swinging sort of sound.”
“I like everything, really,” Gelato continues, “from rhythm and blues to rock and roll to modern jazz and everything in between. I love American popular music.”
Gelato appears to love life, period. It’s not just the music, the performance thereof and the entertainment value he offers. The man simply exudes a sense of bonhomie. He is blessed with a developed sense of sartorial elegance and has a preference for tailor-made suits. He likes the odd cigar, and gastronomic pleasures are near the top of the Gelato gratification priority list.
That may also have something to do with the artist’s genetic background.
“I am Jewish, actually half-Jewish,” he says. “And half-Italian. My mother’s Jewish, and my father’s from New Jersey. The family was originally from Salerno near Naples. Yes, I am a Jew.”
That’s not a bad cross-cultural fusion, certainly when it comes to an appreciation of some of the basic pleasures of life, such as music and food. “I learned to cook from my Jewish grandmother. She made terrific food, so we grew up with fantastic culture in terms of eating,” he notes.
Over the years he has taken his culinary continuum up a notch or two as part and parcel of his professional duties agenda.
“I also get an appreciation of food on my travels as a musician. We get to sample the different cuisines,” he explains.
That, says Gelato, makes his upcoming long-awaited trip here even more of an exciting prospect.
“I’ve heard that the food in Israel is something special. Israel will be a completely new experience for me. It is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go,” he says.
Coming here will also provide him with a sense of familial closure.
“My grandfather was a London taxi driver, and he always talked about going to Israel. He never got there. I’m the first of my family to get there,” he says.
The vocalist-saxophonist will come here on the back of his annual Yuletide slot at the renowned Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London. That was one of the places Gelato frequented when he was a teenager, thirstily imbibing the sounds and vibes emanating from jazz clubs and other venues across the British capital in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“It was a vibrant scene back then,” he recalls. “I’d hear jazz, rhythm and blues and all kinds of stuff.”
Gelato says he didn’t have too much in the way of academic achievements but eventually found his thing in life.
“I was really a school dropout, but I eventually started playing sax when I was 19,” he recounts.
That was a pretty late start, but the youngster soon made up for lost time.
“I learned pretty fast,” he says. “I think I was probably a reasonably natural player. I taught myself and I went to night school, but I really learned on the circuit.”
It was largely a matter of jumping in at the deep end, or deep ends.
“I’d ask bands if I could play. I’d perform with reggae bands and rhythm and blues bands.”
It was frequently a steep learning curve.
“I’d get told to go home and learn the music and then come back,” Gelato chuckles. “But I eventually got there.”
A few years down the line, Gelato added vocals to his reed playing. True to his on-the-fly ethos, that was the result of good old serendipity.
“I started singing out of necessity. Someone asked me to sing, and I said that I’d never sung in my life. But they said I had to do a number because the audience had asked for vocals,” he recounts.
And so it came to be.
Judging by Gelato’s singing on such perennial hits as “Everybody Loves Somebody” or “Buona Sera,” the man is a natural in the vocal department, too.
“I sang two numbers, then three numbers and that was that. People relate to the vocals more than the instrumental stuff,” he observes.
Singing also allows Gelato’s colorful personality and joie de vivre to come through. It reminds one of the beguiling magnetism of someone like Dean Martin or Louis Prima. With performances for Paul McCartney and Queen Elizabeth II under his belt, Gelato’s Israeli audiences can expect to be right royally entertained.
Ray Gelato and his quartet will perform on January 6 to 13. For tickets and more information: (03) 573-3001 and www.hotjazz.co.il