London Jazz Festival Preview (3) Frank Griffith on Mike Gibbs

Frank Griffith is looking forward to Mike Gibbs with the BBC Symphony Orchestra featuring Bill Frisell (guitar)

November 19th, 7.45PM. The Barbican

Born in 1937 in Harare (then Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia) Mike Gibbs learned piano and trombone, and in 1959 went to the USA to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston. After settling in Britain in 1965 he worked as a trombonist in Graham Collier’s band and John Dankworth’s orchestra. Gibbs quickly established a reputation as a composer and arranger and wrote music for radio, television and films as well as a number of his own bands. By the late 1960s he was receiving widespread critical acclaim highlighted by his album In The Public Interest being voted “best album of 1974” by readers of Melody Maker. Also in 1974, Gibbs took up a one-year post as composer in residence at Berklee School of Music which was extended until 1985 at which point he returned to London and has been based in the UK until very recently.

Gibbs’ influences range from Gunther Schuller, George Russell and Gil Evans alongside Charles Ives and Olivier Messiaen, but he avoids eclecticism and has created a personal style which borrows from many musical genres. Particularly significant in Gibbs’ work are his longtime associations with innovative soloists such as Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, John McLaughlin, Chris Hunter, Lew Soloff and Bob Moses, to name a few. These collaborations have helped to evolve and create his own distinct sound, as well as establish new horizons in developing the vocabulary and language for the big band.

The late Richard Cook wrote the below about Gibbs-

“Gibbs has the gift that all great leaders of big bands seem to require: that of making complex and daring ideas seem natural and inevitable. In these early records he fused advanced harmonic ideas with a groove that drew on Ellington, Gil and Miles, and Rock. As he demonstrated on Tanglewood 63, he could move from sun-kissed delight to moonstruck melancholy in a moment. Something about the voicing for the horns. He rarely asks for stratospheric playing, concentrating on middle register.”

In a 2003 R3 Private Passions programme with Michael Berkeley, Gibbs had this to say in response to being asked about any set approaches he might have to writing-

“I have no rules for arranging, but my relationship to the material is the source of my arrangements. Commercial considerations are the producer’s job and I try to incorporate the producer’s input. But even if a producer says he wants a Wagnerian sound or whatever, I still have to relate to the music in my own way. I analyse my own reaction to the piece. I think that’s why I’m not a producer!”

When asked how guitarist, Bill Frisell, will fit in, Gibbs has said that he planned on giving him a rhythm section part with the instructions “to insinuate himself” (into the proceedings) and to “instigate whatever he deems appropriate”.

I have every confidence that he will do both. My hope and expectation is that Gibbs will also insinuate himself at every juncture as well; he would be doing us a disservice not to.


Frank Griffith’s Quartet the Lord McDuff Quartet is playing a tribute the to Jack McDuff, the great Hammond Organist at Mill Hill Sports Club on Wednesday 21st October- 8.30PM

Frank played with McDuff for many years in the 1980s in NYC’s Harlem as well as throughout the USA on road tours. Featured are Ross Stanley on organ recently, ex-Billy Cobham guitarist, Carl Orr and drummer Matt Home. Details from MILL HILL JAZZ

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