The Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival only began in 2013 but already feels like an established and unmissable event in the city’s cultural calendar. I’ve been to several gigs every year and it’s always been an excellent experience – not just the fantastic music (Chris Barber, Lillian Boutté, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley, Imelda May) but the great atmosphere around Colston Hall over the three days. The 2015 festival may well have been the best yet.
It kicked off in fine style in the main hall with a foot-tapping, feelgood set of jazz, blues, jive and swing from Ray Gelato and the Giants. When the festival’s impressive Artistic Director Denny Ilett, smartly dressed in a tux, came on stage to introduce the band, the dancefloor was empty. It didn’t take long for that to change and only a couple of songs later, there were (among many others) around 30 couples dancing energetically to Gelato’s swinging sounds.
He started with an old favourite – When You’re Smiling – followed by My Kind of Girl and Lovin’ Machine, which he introduced (with tongue in cheek) as “autobiographical.” They did a lively version of Cab Calloway’s Jim Jam Jump, and then, by request, Bar Italia, one of his own compositions. Later they performed another self-penned track, an amusing, catchy rant set to a shuffling beat called Get Off the Phone! (‘That device / Is always near / In fact it’s glued / Onto your ear / Take my advice / Leave it at home / Get off the phone!’). I’ve Been Around the Block, Got Plenty of Miles on the Clock was a great upbeat number, and there were a couple of instrumentals – Boulevard of Broken Dreams and The Claw – which showed Ray is a fine saxophonist (as well as being a fine vocalist).
The show ended with Hoagy Carmichael’s New Orleans, Mack the Knife and the wonderful Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody. A rousing reception saw them return for an encore of Angelina/Zooma Zooma.
The playing and signing was high quality throughout. There’s something classic and timeless (but absolutely not dated) about Ray’s act – the sharp suits, that sound, those covers – and this was a hugely entertaining start to the festival. At one point, Ray mentioned that it had been a long time since he’d performed in Bristol – let’s hope it’s not too long before he returns.