Terry Gibbs retired from performing after celebrating his 90th birthday, but his energy, irascible humor and enthusiasm make him sound like someone decades younger. A native New Yorker, Gibbs was a classically trained musician with a scholarship to Juilliard as a snare drummer and timpani player. He recalled, “But I got thrown out of school. I went on the road drumming with big bands and played in the army with a 38-piece orchestra. I had all this technique and didn’t know what to do with it. When I heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, I had sort of a nervous breakdown and then really started to play vibes.” Gibbs’ first recording as a leader was in 1949, but fate intervened. “We were all in the Woody Herman band. Then Stan Getz became famous, so the company put it out under his name. We had no contracts, just let us play. I’ve been that way all my life.” Gibbs worked with Benny Goodman during the early ‘50s, but soon his career took off and the vibraphonist recorded on a regular basis into the mid ‘60s. After moving to the West Coast, his Dream Band was recorded live in several clubs, but most of the music was long unavailable or unissued until Contemporary released six CD volumes beginning in 1986.
Gibbs shared, “I love recording live. I don’t want multiple takes. With my Dream Band, we would play three days and record three days. So when you play the same song, any night could be a different tempo. You can’t edit when you record live.” Gibbs’ friendship with TV’s Steve Allen went back into the ‘50s and they recorded a number of LPs together. He recalled, “Steve Allen was a big fan of mine in New York and when he had me on the show he’d play with my quartet. In the ‘60s, he was putting a show together for Las Vegas and he asked me if I’d like to be an act. We ended up playing the vibes duet, which would break up the show so much that you couldn’t follow it. While we were there, he said, ‘I have a TV show coming up, would you like to be musical director?’ He let me run the whole thing. I’ve been a bandleader since 1950, so I really know how to treat musicians and get the best out of them. That’s why my bands have always been good.”
Gibbs’ small groups with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco proved to be popular. “From 1979, we played together as co-leaders for 20 years. We were booked as singles with a band, each playing for a half-hour, at Ronnie Scott’s in London. Ronnie suggested that we play a song together at the end. Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton made that instrumentation so famous, when you get any two idiots playing clarinet and vibes, it sounds good.” Terry Gibbs’ memoir, Good Vibes: A Life In Jazz, published in 2003, is full of hilarious stories, plus one that occurred after its publication. He explained, “Scarecrow Press doesn’t go into stores. They’re online. I got this call about my book and started to tell this guy where to get it and he was calling to tell me my book won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award as best book of the year. I said, ‘Tell your mother I said hello,’ and hung up on him. I thought I didn’t need this crap. After ten minutes, I thought about it and called this friend of mine in New York who worked for ASCAP. When I told him about getting a call from some idiot telling me that I won, he said, ‘Yeah, we’re all talking about it.’ They flew me and my wife in to New York. It was wild getting to talk about the book. I’m not a writer, but I have all these favorite stories, with Benny Goodman,cBuddy Rich, people I really had fun with. [Historian] Cary Ginell checked every one of my stories. The good things you can’t help but remember. I never had a goal, things just happened. I never thought of playing with Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie.” Although Gibbs’ recorded output slowed a bit late in his life, he remained active playing in clubs. “When I get on stage, I don’t know that there’s an audience, I just try to play what I hear. I like a good rhythm section, especially a drummer, and I can’t do better than my son. I used to go out as a single and work with local rhythm sections. If a pianist played wrong chord changes, I played his. But if a drummer slowed down and sped up, it was hard to play. It’s not like a saxophone where you can hold your note until you know where you’re at. You can’t hold a mallet and look like a statue.” Gibbs’ son Gerry has recorded often for Whaling City Sound and its founder was frequently calling Terry. “Neal Weiss has been after me to record for years. I told him 80 years is enough, I’m having fun doing nothing.” But in late 2015, he played in a jam session at his home with Gerry on drums, pianist John Campbell (who lived nearby) and a young bassist named Mike Gurrola. Gerry’s wife videotaped the second song, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”.
Gibbs continued, “She put it on Facebook and overnight it went viral, getting 46,000 hits!” Gibbs finally agreed to record a CD for Whaling City Sound. “I made several conditions: that we do it at my home and I only worked when I felt like it. They paid the guys for four days. We recorded 31 songs over four days without hearing a playback. I didn’t think about anything but having fun playing.” It was released this past spring as 92 Years Young: Jammin’ at the Gibbs House. Gibbs celebrated his 93rd birthday on Oct. 13th and says he is through with recording and performing, though he admits, “D.W. Drums made me a drumset for my guest house and I go out there three to four times a week to play. I’m getting my chops back and having fun. But I just play for me.”
For more information, visit whalingcitysound.com/wcs092.htm
- Terry Gibbs—Quartet (featuring Terry Pollard)/
Mallets A-Plenty (EmArcy-Fresh Sound, 1955-56)
- Terry Gibbs Dream Band—Vol. 1-6
- Terry Gibbs—Bopstacle Course (Xanadu, 1974)
- Terry Gibbs/Buddy DeFranco—Chicago Fire
- Terry Gibbs—From Me To You—A Tribute to
Lionel Hampton (Mack Avenue, 2002)
- Terry Gibbs—92 Years Young (Jammin’ at the
Gibbs House) (Whaling City Sound, 2016)
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