This orchestra was formed as a rehearsal band in February 2004 after a mere 20 years of thoughtful contemplation and fearful procrastination by its leader, BBC Big Band baritone sax man, Jay Craig (never one to rush in to things!) and, following 6 months of cruel and pitiless rehearsal, made an instantly impressive debut at the glittering Champagne Room of the magnificent Rayners Hotel in London the following August. There is (allegedly!) a regular line-up for the band but, due to the fact that all the members are among the very busiest players in London, actually getting them all on the bandstand together has proved an interesting challenge! (It has been suggested by various subversives within the organisation that actually paying “proper” money might be one possible solution!).
The Jay Craig Orchestra is a truly stellar outfit and the players are all “hand-picked” (whose hand?!) and drawn from the ranks of the three finest big bands in this country…. the BBC Big Band, Syd Lawrence and John Wilson Orchestras.
Following the band’s launch on what turned out, rather uncomfortably, to be the hottest day of 2004 (in fact the order had finally to be given, albeit reluctantly, to “ABANDON JACKETS!” due to the savage conditions that afternoon!) the band rapidly gained a large following and it soon became “Standing Room Only” in The Champagne Room every time it appeared there.
Such was the success of these concerts that a series of monthly ballroom dance evenings followed at the hotel. In addition the band has also played for London’s swing dance community at Jitterbugs, The 100 Club, the fabulous G.I. JIVE Spring Ball at the stunning 1930s Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley and the “Jumping At The Woodside” festival in Gloucester and is well-equipped should you require a really classy dance band for your wedding or party ( everything from Glenn Miller to The Gay Gordons….. except pop stuff, of course! ). The orchestra and Matthew Ford also played recently at the premiere party for the film Confetti.
The band has a truly wonderful vocaliste in the impossibly glamorous Miss Louise Cookman ( whose “day job” is with the excellent Pasadena Roof Orchestra ) and is also occasionally joined by the great Matthew Ford who, of course, gained his sky-high reputation with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra.
One reason for the band’s appeal to both public and musicians is the fact that it does not use any amplification which means that there is no “Marconi Operator” to get in the way between the band and the listener. By far the most frequently heard comment about the band is about what a lovely SOUND it makes. This is entirely down to the musicians (for once!) actually being allowed to balance the music themselves using their own ears just as the great bands did in the 1930s and 40s. (Looking at photographs of those days it is rare to see anything other than just a vocal microphone on the bandstand.)
Jay likes to think of the orchestra as a kind of living juke box…. it plays nothing but his favourites from his extensive and some say bizarre, record collection (….mutterings of disbelief in the ranks are not entirely unheard of at rehearsals!). If he hears a record that he particularly likes he usually transcribes the music himself for the band or has one of his two veteran arrangers Cy Payne and Tommy Sampson do the job. Other arrangers and bandleaders who have also generously contributed to the band book are Barry Forgie, Sir John Dankworth, Colin Skinner, Mike Smith, Chris Dean, Colin Campbell, Allan Ganley, Pete Long, Gerg Francis, John Wilson, Eliot Marray, Stan Coates,
Jorg Achim Keller, Colin Towns, Michael Kilpatrick and Bryan Pendleton.
The library is extensive and contains all the big band and Frank Sinatra hits (should you require them) although, left to his own devices, Jay prefers to dig up forgotten classics and rarities from the swing era, giving them new life!