It’s the explosion of a thundering swing band at the height of the neon-splashed 1940s. It’s the elegant artistry of a sophisticated keyboard artist in the heyday of Swing Street. It’s the ebullient good humor of a Dixieland band under the jumping baton of a fun-making master of ceremonies. It’s a tinge of the blues that touches the melancholy of the heart. Above all, it’s the love for life, the joy for jazz, the sweet sweep of swing that makes audiences snap their fingers, stamp their feet, and clap their hands for the pure delight of music.
It’s the sound of “pianist extraordinaire” Roy Gerson.
Early Influences ...
When Roy was in his early teens, his father – an amateur jazz drummer – took him to the Westbury Music Fair, in his native Long Island. The concert that night was Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald. It lasted from ten at night, through four encores, to two o’clock in the morning, and when it was over, Gerson knew something he hadn’t known before: “If there were ever a question of me doing anything else with my life – because then it was time to think about college maybe – that conversation with my parents was over. It was going to be music, all the way. Because of the Westbury Music Fair – Oscar, Ella, and Basie.”
Roy ’s love for the music began with his father, who formed a local jazz band which practiced every Monday in the basement of their home in Malverne, Long Island. Young Roy would sit on the steps and soak up all the jazz standards of Miller and Basie, the showtunes of Gershwin and Arlen, the arrangements of Jimmie Lunceford and Louis Jordan. Soon, Roy took up piano lessons, mastering the complex harmonies of Chopin and Liszt. By the time he was eleven, Gerson had formed his own big band; by the time he was in ninth grade, he was playing piano jazz professionally in local restaurants.
The Learning ...
His talent took him to the Manhattan School of Music, as a classical piano major. But, soon, he fell under the sway of the sounds of Lester Young, Buddy Rich, the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” recordings and, above all, the pure entertainment potency of “Ambassador Satch” himself – Louis Armstrong. Gerson moved quickly and easily into the professional arena, gigging with clarinetist Sol Yaged’s traditional jazz band and becoming the regular pianist with the Widespread Depression Orchestra, playing all over the country in the early 1980s.
The Band ...
But, like the song says, Gerson wanted to have Manhattan, so he formed his own band, the Roy Gerson Swingtet and stayed in the city, becoming one of the most in-demand performers. He played the swankiest parties and the most prestigious corporate events, taking his newly-made fans with him when he branched out as a club and concert performer. Gerson headlined the top jazz clubs in New York, such as the Village Gate, Blue Note, Tavern on the Green, and a two-year stint at the club Zanzibar.
The Films ...
It wasn’t long before Gerson branched out and was embraced by other media. He made his film debut, as part of a 1920s jazz orchestra, in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club, swinging some of the classics of the Harlem Renaissance. Soon after, he was hired by Woody Allen for a cameo in Crimes and Misdemeanors and his more than a dozen subsequent films have included The Mirror Has Two Faces, directed by and starring Barbra Streisand.
Producers and fans were clamoring for Roy Gerson to commit his unique sound to posterity and his debut album, That Gerson Person, was recorded by the Jazz Alliance label under the supervision of the renowned Helen Keane in 1999. The album, with its dozen of classic jazz standards, received rave reviews around the country. For his follow-up album on First Take Records, Roy decided to swing upon a star: Gerson Swings Disney captured some of his favorite tunes and his enthusiasm for the Disney catalogue was shared by Michael Feinstein, Rosemary Clooney, and John Pizzarelli, who each contributed performances on the album.
[For more about – and from – Roy’s albums, see Discography.]
The Future ...
After a brief intermission on the performance scene, Roy Gerson has returned full throttle with two brand-new projects. The first will be his first live album, a collection of performances from take to take. The next project is his most ambitious yet, a combined album and concert series celebrating his lifelong passion for the swinging, joyful music of Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, and Louis Jordan. Called – inspiredly – I Love Louis, the project brings the best and most infectious standards of these three musical legends under one roof – that is, until Roy Gerson rips the roof off with his band’s burning renditions of these classics.
“You gotta swing”, says Roy. “If you're not thinking about swinging – (actually, it shouldn't be on your mind,) it should be happening. Because if it's not happening, nothing else really matters!” As we enter a New Year, Roy Gerson and his inimitable brand of swinging music will definitely be happening.
"You gotta swing"
PAUSE / PLAY
What I like best about Roy Gerson is that besides being a great musician, he truly loves to perform and finds great joy in entertaining people.
Supremely talented. Gerson knows how to royally entertain…energetic renditions of timeless classics…melody, passion, and improvisation all come together in one glorious package.
[Gerson] carries on the kind of swinging momentum that was once the hallmark of the best of the little 52 nd Street groups.
Run, don’t walk to hear Roy Gerson! He’s a breath of fresh air…plays with wit and imagination…in the tradition of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson.
A wonderful and unique talent.
It’s hard not to get up and dance when Gerson is pounding the keyboard.
Gerson riffs through swing ang jump tunes with a brashness, intensity, freedom and excitement that's rare.
Gerson is his own rave review ... keyboard genius ...
Roy Gerson, that facinating maverick, delights with standards ... consistently swings ... a joy to hear!
Swingingest show in town ... they couldn't have picked a big band guy who swings better.