© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Although The Terry Gibbs Big Band existed for only 3 years [1959 - 1962], performed in relative obscurity because it never toured and didn’t have most of its recorded output released until a quarter of a century after it folded, those who experienced it in person during its brief existence have come to refer to it by another name – The Terry Gibbs Dream Band.
And yet, during its existence, everyone, including the musicians who played in it, seemed to take the whole thing for granted. Nonchalance was the byword.
Let me try to explain this better so that you don’t get the idea that there was nothing special about a bunch of world class musicians getting together once a week to blow on arrangements by the likes of Bill Holman, Marty Paich, Shorty Rogers, Al Cohn, Manny Albam, Med Flory, among many others.
But that’s exactly what happened and nobody thought that anything extraordinary was going on while it did!
Mondays and Tuesdays back-in-the-day were “dark nights” which meant that most of the major restaurants, clubs, and theaters were closed. On average, people didn’t go out on these nights to cabaret. They had had their fun on the just-passed weekend and Mondays and Tuesdays were essentially backed-to-work days.
The musicians in Terry’s band basically performed for the love of working together. Because they played on “off nights,” they generally performed in front of small audiences. It’s difficult to pay 15 musicians of this caliber much of a wage when the revenue is being generated by a small cover [admission] charge and a one or two drink minimum. If the club owner met the Class B scale requirements [modest would be an understatement here], the Musicians’ Union stewards left things alone, grabbed a drink on the house [if they even showed up] and went home early to watch some television with their families.
The guys in the band worked with one another in the studios most days where they made a more considerable daily wage recording for movies, television and for radio [primarily “jingles” for advertisements]. Since there is so much money involved in the production of these entertainments, studio musicians work under a lot of pressure; they have to “get it right the first time.” Studio time is expensive and studio musicians are expected to show up on time and to be quick, accurate and free of errors in executing the music they are called on to play, whatever the context.
Enter Terry Gibbs - one of the loosest guys on the planet - offering a chance to play a bunch of swinging charts [arrangements] with a coterie of the world’s finest studio musicians playing big band Jazz for three [maybe even four, if they were in the mood] sets a night!
So there is Conte Candoli sitting up on a riser above drummer Mel Lewis dropping a handkerchief over Mel’s eyes as he tries to read the music, alto saxophonist Joe Maini shouting “Hammer, hammer” as Terry Gibbs bangs out his solo on vibes, and trombonist Frank Rosolino screaming “Work, work….” each time Stu Williamson [trumpet], Bill Perkins [tenor sax] or Pat Moran [piano] took their solos.
You had to be there to believe it. I’ve never see so many guys having so much fun playing in a big band. They laughed, smiled, played wonderful solos and pretty much swung their collective backsides off. And when Terry called the next tune, they rifled through the band book to find the arrangement all the while “hootin’” and “hollerin’” like a bunch of kids. These guys were so good that most of them had memorized the band’s exacting charts [arrangements] and didn’t need to look at the music.
Talk about taking the lid off a pressure-cooker.
Thankfully, you can hear the fantastic musicianship and the fun-filled atmosphere on a half dozen CD’s of the band in-performance that have been released since the band’s initial LP’s on Mercury, Emarcy and Verve first came out in the early 1960s.
Among these, my favorite is Terry Gibbs Dream Band, Volume Four: Main Stem [Contemporary CD 7656-2, originally released on LP as Terry Gibbs/Exciting Mercury MG-20704].
Here are Jay Roebuck’s informative insert notes to the CD:
After listening to this album, two conclusions leap to mind: All big-band albums should be recorded live. And all big-band albums should be this live.
That's asking a lot, though, because Terry Gibb's band ranks with the most exciting aggregations in big-band history. It had everything: drive, spirit, great arrangements, outstanding soloists, and Mel Lewis, one of the great big-band drummers.
It also had a dynamic leader in vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, who was the band's No. 1 cheerleader.
The band's early days in 1959 have been documented on three previous "Dream Band" albums on Contemporary. As good as they were, this collection, recorded at the Summit in Hollywood in 1961, is even more exciting because the personnel had stabilized, and the band had been together for two years. Also, this time the band knew it was recording and had special arrangements for the occasion. The material for the other albums had been taped by Wally Heider for Gibbs's private use.
"This was one of the few bands that really knew the difference between an eighth and a quarter note," Gibbs says." Just listen to 'Limerick Waltz.' They even knew what beat to make a swell start and end."
By 1961, all the section leaders (saxophonist Joe Maini, trombonist Bob Edmondson, and trumpeters Al Porcino and Ray Triscari sharing lead) were in place, and "these guys called the shots on when to breathe, and they breathed together."
If there's a standout on this album, it's really the ensemble playing which even overshadows the excellent solos. The reed section of Maini and Charlie Kennedy on altos, Richie Kamuca and Bill Perkins on tenors, and Jack Nimitz on baritone is especially impressive.
"I really believe this band should go down as one of the great ensemble bands," Gibbs says. "I think it rates with Basie's band of the Fifties, Woody's Second Herd, Benny Goodman's band with Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw's with Buddy [Rich]."
The reference to Goodman is significant because Gibbs adopted Benny's strategy of having the arrangers weave his vibes in and out of numbers as Goodman's did for his clarinet. "I didn't want to just play a vibes solo and then step back and let the band play," Gibbs explains.
If a direct comparison is to be made of Gibb's exciting band, the inevitable one is to Woody Herman's Second Herd, the celebrated Four Brothers band. And, perhaps, it's not mere coincidence that most of the Gibbs musicians (including the leader) once played for Herman.
"I think you have to give Chubby Jackson a lot of credit for the spirit of the band," Gibbs says. "He always had enthusiasm, and I probably picked up some of that from him." Gibbs wasn't the only cheerleader, though. Not in a band where Frank Rosolino, Joe Maini, and Conte Candoli were constantly shouting encouragement.
That spirit is captured on this album which long has been unavailable. It was
recorded at the Summit (formerly the Sundown) with the masterful Wally Heider again at the controls. The music sounds like it was recorded yesterday instead of 29 years ago.
A year later, in 1962, Gibbs's band won the New Star Award in the annual Down Beat magazine critics' poll, an amazing achievement since the band had never toured.
Now, thanks to the herculean efforts of Gibbs and label owner Ralph Kaffel in obtaining the rights to release this material, we again can enjoy this magnificent band at its peak of performance.
Bill Holman's chart of "Day In, Day Out" gets the album off to a roaring start with a performance that sounds more like an encore than opener. But, then, this band always did play the first set like the third. The entrance by the Al Porcino-led trumpets after Terry's break will raise the hair on the back of your neck. There's also a trumpet solo by Conte Candoli and some booting tenor by Bill Perkins.
Shorty Rogers arranged "Summit Blues," which he co-wrote with Terry. Bassist Buddy Clark shares the honors with Gibbs. Holman's funky "Limerick Waltz" features some great drum work by Mel Lewis and solos by trombonist Frank Rosolino, Gibbs, and a preaching Joe Maini, who was one of Terry's favorite alto players. "I always loved Joe's playing," Terry says, "because he always had that edge."
Al Cohn's lovely arrangement of "You Don't Know What Love Is" showcases Gibbs, who works in a brief reference to "Angel Eyes." Manny Albam's "Sweet Georgia Brown" chart is a tour de force for the band.
Gibbs and Maini are the soloists on Al Cohn's "Nose Cone." Cohn apparently was fascinated with Terry's proboscis since he previously had written "Julie's Bugle" for Gibbs (a.k.a. Julius Gubenko). Holman arranged "Too Close for Comfort," a superior pop song of the day, to feature Terry, Richie Kamuca, and bassist Buddy Clark.
Albam's shouting chart on Duke Ellington's "Main Stem" gives pianist Pat Moran her only solo opportunity. (Moran, incidentally, was the third woman pianist who had worked with Gibbs. The others were Terry Pollard and Alice McLeod, who later married John Coltrane.) After Terry's solo, the brass provides a launching pad for Kamuca's tenor. "Richie always hated big bands, but he loved to play with this one," Gibbs says. The band takes this one home with Conte Candoli up top.
Holman dresses up the old warhorse "Ja-Da" for a medium-tempo romp for Terry and Conte. "T and S" stands for Terry and Shorty, who collaborated on the tune. Rogers wrote the building arrangement which features Terry and some great ensemble playing with Ray Triscari on lead trumpet. Mel Lewis provides a textbook lesson in big-band drumming.
The album ends the way it began—on a high.”
Two of my favorite tracks on the disc are Bill Holman’s arrangement of Day In, Day Out and Manny Albam’s chart on Sweet Georgia Brown and you can listen to them on the following videos.