Gibbs, Terry (Contemporary Musicians)
Jazz vibraphonist Terry Gibbs has been a top bebop player for more than 50 years. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Gibbs, who was born Julius Gubenko on October 13, 1924, discovered the bebop jazz style when he heard legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker play in Manhattan's 52nd Street jazz clubs during the 1940s. "I practically had a nervous breakdown," Gibbs told Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times. "It was like I'd found something that I'd been looking for all my life." Gibbs's career accomplishments include membership in the Woody Herman Four Brothers Band, leadership of his own Dream Band, and appearances on television shows with Steve Allen, Regis Philbin, and Mel Tormé. His more notable collaborations include work with clarinetists Bud Powell and Buddy DeFranco.
Both Terry and his older brother, Sol, got into percussion at an early age, Terry focusing on the drums while Sol played the xylophone, an instrument he guarded and kept safely ensconced in his bedroom. Terry was under strict orders to stay away from the xylophone, but whenever Sol's back was turned, Terry would slip into his brother's room and try his hand at picking out melodies on the forbidden keyboard instrumentith a fair degree of success, it seems. The first song that Terry mastered on the xylophone was "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." When he was seven or eight years old, he accompanied Sol on a gig his big brother was playing at a casino resort outside New York. Every day when Sol went out golfing, Terry would slip into the casino and practice his song on the xylophone.
During one of these secret practice sessions, Terry was overheard by a resort visitor, who urged him to perform in the resort's weekly talent contest. Horrified that Sol would learn of his stolen moments on the xylophone, Terry, as related on the Vic Firth website, pleaded with the guest: "Don't tell my brother. He'll kill me." Much to Terry's surprisend reliefol was delighted to learn of his younger brother's enthusiasm for the instrument. Not only did he perform in the resort's talent contest, but on his return to Brooklyn, Sol arranged for him to take xylophone lessons with Fred Albright, one of the era's most widely respected percussionists. Reminiscing about his sessions with Albright, Gibbs recalled how his former teacher would travel three hours each week to give him a lesson for the modest sum of three dollars.
For a short time, Terry managed to keep a significant secret from Albright. After each lesson, the xylophone teacher would dutifully ask Terry if he understood the material they had just covered. Terry would answer brightly in the positive and play back the song or songs from the lesson perfectly. He recalled in an article reprinted on the Vic Firth website: "He'd give me all this hard music, like 'Flight of the Bumblebee,' and I'd play it perfect because I'd memorized it. After about seven or eight weeks, I think he got hip that I was memorizing everything, not reading the music, and he'd say, 'Take this piece of music from here,' and he'd point somewhere in the middle. I'd say, 'No, let me take it from the top.' I didn't know where 'here' was because I was memorizing everything." Gibbs fondly recalls his lessons with Albright, who he remembers as "a great man and a great teacher."
Gibbs's first big break came when he was 12 years old. One of the most popular radio programs of the era was Major Bowes Amateur Hour, a weekly talent contest that was broadcast nationwide from a studio in New York City. His confidence in his xylophone-playing skills bolstered by his weekly sessions with Albright, Terry appeared in one of these weekly radio contests and won. Almost immediately, he began making professional appearances in the city and beyond.
The name change from Julius Gubenko to Terry Gibbs came in two distinct steps. A boxing enthusiast, the young Brooklyn resident particularly admired a fighter named Terry Young, whose boxing style he sought to emulate. Close friends began calling him Terry, and Julius was largely forgotten. A few years later, when he was about 16 years old, Terry hit the road on tour with a bandleader named Judy Kayne. His billing, as he related on the Vic Firth website, was to read "featuring Terry Gubenko on drums and xylophone." However, publicity was being handled by Music Corporation of America (MCA), the biggest agency at the time, and MCA apparently didn't like Terry's surname at all. "Without telling me," Gibbs related, "the publicity came back saying 'featuring Terry Gibbs on drums and xylophone.'" His first reaction was that he'd been fired, "because I never heard that name; nobody'd asked me." Much to his mother's horror, "I became Terry Gibbs." His mother worried, "Who's going to know it's my son?"
When he turned 18, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Gibbs joined the Army and was trained as a tank driver. However, he never got to see any action at the front, because he was assigned to the 8th Service Command in Dallas, Texas, a unit that produced movies and radio programs for the Army. They needed a drummer, and Gibbs fit the bill. During a furlough from the Army, Gibbs returned to New York, where he was introduced by a friend to a new form of jazz called bebop and to its popular proponents, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. "I didn't believe what I heard," he recalled. As stated in the Vic Firth website, he found himself "intrigued with the whole thing because of the technique they had."
After his discharge from military service, Gibbs left the drums behind and concentrated almost exclusively on the vibraphone. Among the bands for which he played in the years following the Army were those of Tommy Dorsey, Chubby Jackson, and Buddy Rich. Late in the 1940s, he began a two-year stint with Woody Herman, an engagement that helped to win a new level of recognition for Gibbs.
In 1950, Gibbs formed his own band and worked for Mel Tormé on television. Although the band dissolved after the Tormé television show was dropped, Gibbs re-formed it at the end of the decade and took it to the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival in 1961. In 1951, Gibbs joined the Benny Goodman Sextet. Both Down Beat and Metronome polls declared him "the number one vibraphonist in the world" from 1950 through 1955.
Gibbs left his beloved New York in 1957, moving west with many other musicians to Los Angeles. On the West Coast, he formed the Dream Band, whose members included Conte Candoli, Richie Kamuca, Mel Lewis, Joe Maini, and Frank Rosolino. The Down Beat Critic's Poll in 1962 declared Gibbs's group "the best band in the world." One of the most fruitful collaborations of Gibbs's career has been with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco.
Well into his seventies at the start of the new millennium, Gibbs remains dedicated to his music and reluctant to walk away from the business he loves. "I keep threatening to retire some day," he reported on the Vic Firth website, "but so long as they call me, I can't quit. As long as I can still think of something to play on 'I Got Rhythm' and the blues, how can I quit?"
A Jazz Band Ball, Second Set, VSOP, 1957.
Dream Band, Contemporary, 1959.
Dream Band, Vol. 2: The Sundown Sessions, Contemporary, 1959.
Dream Band, Vol. 3: Flying Home, Contemporary, 1959.
Dream Band, Vol. 4: Main Stem, Contemporary, 1961.
Dream Band, Vol. 5: The Big Cat, Contemporary, 1961.
Bopstacle Course, Xanadu, 1974.
Air Mail Special, Contemporary, 1981.
The Latin Connection, Contemporary, 1986.
Chicago Fire, Contemporary, 1987.
Memories of You: A Tribute to Benny Goodman, Contemporary, 1992.
Kings of Swing, Contemporary, 1992.
Play That Song, Chiaroscuro, 1996.
Wham, Chiaroscuro, 1998.
Terry Gibbs & Buddy DeFranco Play Steve Allen, Contemporary, 1999.
Los Angeles Times, September 7, 1999, p. 6; May 18, 2001, p. F-18.
"Meet Terry Gibbs," Terry Gibbs Dream Band, http://www.terrygibbs.com/index2.shtml (December 3, 2001).
"Terry Gibbs," Vic Firth, (December 3, 2001).