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Terry Gibbs
Produced by Cary Ginell

Terry Gibbs  

For over 60 years vibraphonist, drummer, pianist, composer, and bandleader Terry Gibbs has brought energy, creativity and capriciousness to the world of jazz. Bassist Chubby Jackson captures the tone of Gibbs' art when he says, "He's learned how to put a grin on music."

Listen to vibraphonist Joe Locke, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, pianist Steve Allen, and drummer Gerry Gibbs attest to Terry Gibb's musical prowess

Born Julius Gubenko in Brooklyn, New York in 1924, Gibbs grew up in a musical family. Terry's older brother, Sol, taught him to play the drums and xylophone. The boys' father, Abe, an accomplished violinist and bandleader, gave Terry his first musical break when he hired the young drummer.

Abe's band, the Radio Novelty Orchestra, entertained at weddings and bar mitzvahs. Abe instilled in Terry a keen awareness for the business side of the industry and an appreciation for Jewish music.

Listen to Terry talk how he incorporates Jewish music into his sound

Gibbs, along with the late Milt Jackson, mastered a curious new instrument whose popularity grew in step with the new sound of jazz: bebop. In New York City on furlough from the Army during World War II, Terry was entranced by the music of Charlie Parker. Gibbs spent two solid weeks at Minton's absorbing the new bebop style.

Listen to Terry recall the first time he heard Charlie Parker

After his discharge, Terry headed straight to 52nd Street where he learned to play vibes in a bebop quintet that featured tenor saxophonist Allen Eager and drummer Max Roach. Even today, Gibbs points to Dizzy Gillespie's percussive, drum-like approach to trumpet playing as the primary musical influence in his life. Gibbs departed Eager's Bebop Boys to join Tommy Dorsey's big band. The move lasted one night. Terry found the swing charts tame and unchallenging, so he left.

Soon after, Chubby Jackson offered Gibbs a chance to join Woody Herman's celebrated First Herd. Terry's career as a professional musician blossomed during this period. Herman allowed his players to experiment with bebop concepts within the framework of his primarily big band-style arrangements.

Along with Jackson and trumpeter Conte Candoli, Gibbs developed his own original "scatting" technique. Later, Terry extended his vocal originality with the surprise hit, "Lemon Drop." Although Gibbs only sang eight bars in the song, his vocal work caused a sensation.

Listen to Terry reveal how "Lemon Drop" improved his financial situation

I do everything hard. Whatever I get into, I do hard.

-- Terry Gibbs  

Woody Herman's band broke up with the close of the 1940s, and Terry found himself at the crossroads of his career. Labeled a "bebopper," Gibbs struggled with his own sextet and eventually landed back in a big band. Now, forced to play swing for clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman, Gibbs adapted his style to fit Goodman's needs. Gibbs also gained exposure with a new medium: television. Goodman's band appeared frequently on The Ed Sullivan Show, an experience which would serve Terry's career well.

Listen to Terry's ancedote about Benny Goodman on on The Ed Sullivan Show



As the 1950s progressed, Terry's vibraphone playing was again in demand. He played and recorded with some of the era's greatest musicians, including drummers Buddy Rich and Art Blakey, and pianists Horace Silver and Billy Taylor.

But Terry longed to have his own band. In 1957 he moved to Los Angeles, and the dream became a reality. Terry secured a date at a Hollywood hot-spot called the Seville. The club owner, Harry Schillo, gave Gibbs the freedom to play what he liked. Gibbs put on a 16-piece band every Tuesday at the Seville, and the gigs gained incredible popularity.

Listen to Terry discuss his long-term residency at the Seville



 

The Big Band Era died with the 1950s, and Terry Gibbs, as usual, adapted. His television experience with Benny Goodman came back to serve him well. He led three bands for television shows in the '60s, including The Steve Allen Show.

Listen to Terry recall how he first met Steve Allen

Gibbs' television career lasted 15 years, but when it ended, he kept working. In 1979 Terry serendipitously found himself on stage with veteran bebop clarinetist, Buddy DeFranco. The two generated a magical sound that both immediately likened to the Benny Goodman Quartet of the 1930s with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. The two remain fast friends and continue to play and record. Over 75 years of age, Terry carries on, and as for retirement, Conte Candoli put it best, "Not Terry. He'll just chew his gum and keep playing."

SHOW PLAYLIST

View the Terry Gibbs show playlist

NPR RESOURCES

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