Band Leader, Piano, Guitar, Vocals
Craig Gildner — Blue Sky 5’s dynamic leader, male vocalist, guitarist and pianist — can never get enough of the music called swing. Craig, a musician blessed with perfect pitch, finds that the pulse of an upright bass, accompanied by the open hi-hat cymbal rhythms, syncopated saxophones and trumpets are what make him smile.
His love affair with America’s most original music that stormed the country years before he was born began at the age of two. That’s when Craig’s radio station manager uncle gave him dozens of 78 records featuring big band and vocal stars like Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Harry James, and Sarah Vaughan. The ones he didn’t like were sent rolling down the basement stairs to meet their doom. He played the rest over and over till the grooves turned gray.
His parents, who grew up on swing, made sure that Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Lionel Hampton were on the turntable at all times. In 1986 Craig got an opportunity to DJ at a local jazz station in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. The jazz bug bit him for good.
Craig moved to D.C. in 1991 to eke out a future in audio recording. Two years later, a performance by the Tom Cunningham Orchestra at a Middleburg, Virginia wine festival presented him with an unexpected opportunity.
On a band break, Craig’s dad approached Tom to compliment the band, and upon noticing the band had no piano player, immediately started advertising Craig’s talents. Within a week, Cunningham had a new pianist and vocalist who occasionally played guitar.
Seeking more artistic flexibility, Craig formed Blue Sky 5 in 1999 with musician friends who frequent the swing scene’s dance floor. The quintet became an instant hit on the D.C. and Baltimore swing dance scenes.
In addition to Blue Sky 5 and the Tom Cunningham Orchestra, Craig has had the pleasure of performing with regional and national swing artists, such as Bill Elliott, Paul Cosentino, Casey MacGill, Big Joe Maher, and Johnathan Stout.
When not hunched over his Baldwin upright working out an arrangement, Craig enjoys the pursuit of refining his dance style a la Dean Collins, cycling, cooking, collecting old movies, and adding items to his arsenal of vintage clothing.