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Interview Three: The Teaming of the Titans
Les Tomkins talks to Buddy and Terry Gibbs about being teamed up to play music together at Ronnie's.
Source: Jazz Professional
You two were teamed for an engagement at Ronnie’s a year ago. This was a very logical link–up. You have, in fact, kept it going?
Terry: Specially the last three–and–a–half months or so, we’ve been going pretty good.
Buddy: It was almost by accident that we got together, because when Richie Barz of Willard’s office actually booked us at Ronnie Scott’s, he said: “Well, you’ll play independently, and then maybe do a number or two at the end of the set.” But, as you know, it got to be more than just a number or two. After that, wherever we played it seemed to gain momentum—it’s been so successful.
Terry: It’s been positive. We’re playing jazz at places where they don’t have jazz. Like Las Vegas—we went from three weeks in a lounge into a show in the main room, and broke it up, doing what we do. That is, playing nothing but jazz.
So it’s a regular working group that you have now?
Terry: We’re really trying—yeah.
Buddy: Yeah, I think so. Terry’s still working with Steve Allen, I’m doing a lot of music clinics and some independent things, but we’re trying to do as much together as possible, because it’s fun.
Terry: You know, we’re both in the same position: we travel alone sometimes, and say you do well, and you really get a standing ovation, but you’re alone—you really have nobody to share that with. Now, they like what we’re doing, and we can share it with each other; we walk off the stage and we say: “Do you believe that? Wow, wasn’t that great?” Before that, we’d go to our separate rooms, and that was the end of it.
The format now is that you play all the tunes together?
Terry: We didn’t do it here, but at each show we usually try to do one tune as a solo.
Buddy: When we have time, we do our own independent features, yeah.
How do you feel about each other personally?
Terry: The lowest! I just do it for the money! No—our wives travel with us most of the time, and they get along well. Which is great.
Buddy: That’s also unusual.
Terry: It’s very important, believe it or not—our whole thing could be broken up if the two girls didn’t get along. We’ve been having a lot of fun. We spent a lot of time with the families in Las Vegas; Buddy’s son was there, and then my kids came up—it was great.
Buddy: I think Terry and I are compatible too because we both have stamina and energy left, at our advanced ages . . .well, I’m speaking for myself . . .
Terry: I wish you would!
Buddy: And the technique aspect—we both have substantial technique. We work off each other on a lot of the stuff—and it seems to work.
But it might have been thought that, with each of you being a virtuoso on his instrument, you could almost cancel one another out.
Terry: No, it works just the other way. In fact, we always root for each other, and when we play fours now, compared to when we started, we listen to each other more. If you transcribed it, it would sound like one instrument. We make up a lot of arrangements as we go along—because we have not had a chance yet to sit down and rehearse.
Buddy: And really work anything out—no. Our next step really is to record—that we must do. We have a lot of material and things now that we can use. It’s an old format, I know—clarinet and vibes was started by Benny and Lionel forty-five years ago. Yet last week a little girl said to us: “That’s really an unusual sound, clarinet and vibes.” Well, to young listeners it is.
Terry: That’s right. So it’s a new sound; we want those young listeners too. And to the older listeners—they don’t compare us to Benny and Lionel, because we don’t sound like them, to start with.
Buddy: No, they can’t compare us to Benny and Lionel at all—because Benny’s got thirty-two million dollars, and Lionel has . . . !
Terry: Seriously—we do have a lot of fun. And one thing you find when two people are on stage is: everybody wants to grab the mike. We have to shove it to each other half the time. All that’s very silly—if you let certain things interfere with the music, you’ll never have a good thing, ever. And we get along offstage, which is very good. Buddy and I just spent one week in Copenhagen, where we played a great club. We had a terrific rhythm section—Kenny Drew on piano, Ed Thigpen on drums, and Mads Vindig on bass. What a bass player he is! We looked forward to that job every one of the six days we were there. We should have recorded there, every night—that would have made a real good record date.
Buddy: Yeah, it should have been recorded. Have you heard Mads Vindig? Oh, gosh, he’s fantastic—he’s great. They’re turning out bass players in Copenhagen like mad, aren’t they?
Terry: We did a television show—the man said it was the best show he did. The whole tour’s been very successful for us; we’ve got standing ovations everywhere we played. Many people have said: “That should have happened thirty years ago.” But I suppose timing is what it’s all about—we got together at the right time in our lives.
It can be said that both of you play instruments that don’t blanket the jazz scene. Do you think that, with you out in the arena performing these days . . .
Buddy: Away from the Glenn Miller band? Yes, and the Steve Allen Show . . .and getting to the people, this is liable to inspire young musicians to take up these instruments?
Buddy: Oh, I’ve seen more clarinets, I know, in the past two years. Putte Wickman in Sweden has been popular for a long time, but he’s getting stronger as a clarinettist; Rolf Kuhn is playing and recording again. And we’ve got Ronnie Odrich; we’ve got Eddie Daniels in New York—he’s a marvellous player. So there are a lot of new clarinet players, and a lot of young people in schools now that are finally playing jazz on the clarinet. Including one young lady from one of the schools—I did a clinic, and she played pretty darn good jazz clarinet.
I’ve been pleased to see that two great alto players, Art Pepper and Phil Woods, have been using the clarinet lately.
Buddy: I knew about Art, but I didn’t know Phil was. Good for him—that’s great. If he starts playing it like he does the alto, I’ll break his fingers! I’m anxious to hear him, because he’s such a marvellous player. I’m sure anything Phil picks up he plays great; he’s one of the most prolific jazz players I can think of.
Terry: I don’t think he would attempt to play anything he couldn’t play well. I’ve always loved the clarinet. When you play with other clarinet players, most of them play like Benny Goodman; so, as a vibe player, you have to underplay the clarinet a lot. But I’ve never enjoyed playing with a clarinet as much as I do now.
Buddy: Well, it might get popular again. I hope so.
Terry: We’ll be ninety years old, and be on the road!
Buddy: I wouldn’t mind, as long as we’ve got the stamina.
What do you think about the state of the vibes today, Terry?
Terry: I like the state of California better! I’ll tell you what , . . there’s a lot of vibe players who play with four mallets. Now, I’m not referring to Gary Burton, because he is a genius. But with a lot of four–mallet players, it’s almost like they’re cheating, in a way—they can play a lot of different chords, and it can be wrong, but it can sound like passing tones. I’d like to take two of those mallets away from some of them, and ask them to play a line—and see if they can do it.
Buddy: It’s a lot like the piano players that don’t use the left hand too much.
Terry: That’s right. To me, jazz is instant composing—making up songs. Charlie Parker never played but one note at a time. When they use the four mallets, they get away with a lot sometimes. Not Gary, Mike Mainieri or Victor Feldman—they can do both, brilliantly. A lot of them, though, should learn how to play with two mallets also, besides the four mallets. Well, it used to be just the opposite—guys who played with two couldn’t play with four—couldn’t chord for you. Now it’s getting to be where they pick up four mallets, and seem to have a lot of things going on—but it can be all really nothing. They’ll play these passing tones till they hit one that sounds right—if they ever do. But there’s a lot of good vibe players around; a lot of young kids are playing the instrument well.
Copyright © 1981, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.