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Veteran Vibes Player Gibbs Hits High Notes : At 69, and with dozens of albums behind him, he's still going strong. His quartet will play in Ojai on Sunday.


Jazz veteran Terry Gibbs has a musical biography that spans the world. He's a vibes player and bandleader with three dozen albums and hundreds of tunes to his credit, boxes of awards and was Steve Allen's music director for 20 years.

But that doesn't mean that the 69-year-old Gibbs is ready to rest on his laurels. He's still attracted by a good gig, and good gigs can pop up in out-of-the-way places.

On Sunday, Gibbs heads up the hill to Ojai's Wheeler Hot Springs, where his quartet will provide the next event in the restaurant's ongoing series of jazz dinner concerts. Joining Gibbs will be longtime associates Frank Capp on drums, Tom Ranier on piano and Dave Carpenter on bass.

The Wheeler connection is also a family connection. Gibbs' son Gerry, a drummer, played there last month, with saxophonist Joe Henderson, and raved about the room to his father. The elder Gibbs saw an opportunity to make one of his rare appearances in the area while taking advantage of an intimate setting for a quartet.

Before a recent phone interview from his home in the San Fernando Valley, Gibbs, fearful of being misquoted, asked the reporter if he was using a tape recorder. The interviewee's concern isn't surprising: It would take a note-taker of virtuosic dexterity to keep up with his rapid-fire patter.

On the job, whether behind his vibes or navigating a big band, Gibbs has a similar amicable intensity. He won't be accused of being a restless innovator, but Gibbs articulates with a focused energy and a fearsome sense of swing.

You really did come up right in the midst of the whole be-bop sensation of the '40s, didn't you?

Yeah, I got in on the ground floor. I learned so much from that in combination with the swing era. There were some great players--Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman. I worked with Benny, which was one of the highlights of my career.

Did you sense that, in be-bop, there was a kind of revolution underfoot in jazz at the time?

Well, I was in the service, and I grew up with a guy named Tiny Khan. He died when he was 29, unfortunately. When I say Tiny--he weighed close to 400 pounds. We were all young players. Tiny, Johnny Mandel and I were all kids together.

When I came home on furlough, Tiny said to me, "You've got to hear this new music called be-bop." Now, that's like me telling you that there's this new music called "bubligheti." The term be-bop sounded that foreign. He took me to hear Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

At that time, I had given up playing vibes because I had more technique than I knew what to do with. I was a classically trained xylophone player. I went back to drums. When I heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, I didn't know what they were doing at all. All I knew was that they were playing 50 billion notes--especially Diz.

I was home on furlough for 15 days and never went home to see my folks. I followed them from 52nd Street until they closed at 4 in the morning, up to Minton's until 10 o'clock in the morning--around the clock. I don't remember shaving or taking a shower. I listened to them playing.

I started playing vibes again. I played 4 million notes. One out of every 17,000 was right. Rhythmically, I caught onto the be-boppers fast because I was a percussion player. Harmonically, they were so far ahead. . . .

When I look back now, it's really so logical and simple. One thing follows another. Everything Charlie Parker played--and that Supersax does--was a song. Everything that came off the top of his head was a song. Nobody could write a song as good as he played.

How did you wind up in Los Angeles?

I had a little group from 1953 to '57, which was such a winner that we were on the road some 50-odd weeks a year, traveling all over. In those days, you never flew. You got in a car. I was actually a driver; I loaded up the thing, and I was the leader at the time, also. I worked so hard for four years that we just got burnt out.

I was going to come out and do studio work because I play all the percussion instruments. I was going to get into the studios. But I came out here, worked for five days and never wanted to see a studio again.

I've done conducting for Steve Allen for 16 years on television. I enjoy writing all the music and putting it all together, but I don't want to sit there and suffer.

It seems that you have a natural instinct to be a leader. Is that some kind of inherited trait?

I've been a leader practically all my life. I enjoy putting things together. But, believe it or not, I take good directions. I'll listen to anybody in the band. My Dream Band albums won every award in the world. It took 16 of us to make that. I listen and pick out what I think is the best, and then put it together.

Those big band albums from about '59 to '62 are still my favorites.

But, believe it or not, what I'm going to do Sunday in Ojai I enjoy doing more than anything else--playing with a quartet. I don't do it for anybody but me. I don't play for an audience. I hope that they like what I do, but I've got to satisfy me first.


* WHAT: Terry Gibbs Quartet at Wheeler Hot Springs.

* WHEN: March 6 at 5:30 p.m.

* WHERE: Prix fixe dinner and concert.

* COST: $50.

* FYI: 646-8131.

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