Good things come in 18 pieces!

The Jay Craig Orchestra at Rayners Hotel Sunday 29 November 2004.

While listing all events without fear or favour, Swing Time occasionally owns up to a commendable bias: dancing to live music, with the music in question being the classic swing from the thirties and forties.

So it is with particular joy when a new name to the list turns out to be such a spectacular success. The Jay Craig Orchestra is up and running and ready to swing.

Band leader Jay Craig is known to many as the saxophonist in Echoes of Ellington, The Solid Senders, Skin Deep, Back To Basie, The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and many more. And it was following the demise of The Solid Senders, when leader James Langton moved to New York, that members of that band mentioned how much they missed playing the music.

Stepping manfully into the breach, Jay Craig put together this glorious 18-piece swing machine, and started rehearsal back in the middle of the year. This was their third public outing, and the Champagne Room at Rayners Hotel was full.

By way of introduction, Jay explained that this line-up actually had only five original members. Much to his chagrin, the rest of the orchestra was playing for John Wilson at ITVís studios as the backing band for Kevin Spacey, who was recording a spot on the Westlife Christmas Special. "Donít worry," Jay joked, "Their names have been noted in Bumper Beezer Book of Bastards!"

Not that you would have known from listening to this lot. Plumbing the deps, he came up with a set of the highest quality, each with a pedigree to die for. For example, remember the trumpet playing on The Beatlesí Penny Lane and Tom Jonesí Itís Not Unusual? That would be Mr. Tony Fisher, blowing his horn on the back line.

The Jay Craig Orchestra
The massed ranks of the Jay Craig Orchestra

The repertoire is as broad as it is wide. Tunes from Duke Ellington and Claude Thornhill sit with contemporary pieces by Phil Wilson and even Blood, Sweat & Tears. And condensing the swing credentials into a medley, the orchestra closed the first set with a dozen classics strung together, taking in Goodman, Miller, Ellington, James, Basie, Brown and Barnett.

Time on the bandstand has been well spent, as Jay has developed a fine line in humorous and informative inter-song patter. Passing around a jar of McSpirltes extra-strong sight-reading pills even brought laughter from the band, who then gave him a couple so he could get a band name right.

The line-up consists of a drums, bass, piano and guitar rhythm section, four trumpets, four trombones and five saxes, with Mr. Craig adding the occasional baritone in that department, or as in Letís Dance, a clarinet. And a consummate bunch of musicians they are; Phil Leeís exquisite guitar solo on Snowfall being one example amongst many.

But can you dance to it? Of course you can! Apart from the known classics like Marie, Take The ĎAí Train, Begin The Beguine, One OíClock Jump and In The Mood (and they were just in the medley!), you could leather the wood to The Magpie, Younger Than Springtime, The Fox and Sweet and Low. Delving into his past at Bostonís Music Academy, Jay pulled out Phil Wilsonís Outrageous Mother (so to speak) and in the second set, the even more bizarrely-named Celery Sticks At Midnight Ė both of them swinging little numbers.

The plans are to get the orchestra out in front of dancers in London, so watch out for that one. If you are planning an event in 2005 and want it to go with something more than just a swing, The Jay Craig Orchestra is at your service.

Meantime, theyíve already been booked back into Rayners on Sunday 30 January at lunchtime. Miss it and your feet will never forgive you.

© Andrew Winton November 2004.

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