Excerpt from A Conversation with Terry Gibbs:
You talked in your book about race a bit, and how you would defend your fellow musicians against racism. When you encountered racial prejudice, it really pissed you off. You were there from the early days of jazz… do you feel the music was well integrated between black and white, or did you feel there were divisions?
Among the musicians? No. With other people? Yes. A black musician could hire a white musician without any problems. But it was hard for a white musician to have a black musician in his band. I don’t think I wrote this story in my book… we were playing down South, at this really exclusive club. Those days, if you did really well at a club, you’d come back again and you’d do a circuit. You could be on the road six months, going from one to the next. This was a good club, paid good money. I’ll never forget, one night I got off the bandstand, and the ghoul who ran the club, he’s standing there with his two big apes with him, and he says, “Terry, you are the best attraction I’ve ever had at this club. You’re that good, and I want you back for eight weeks next time… if you get rid of that coon on piano.” What happened next was very fast. When I used to box, I would get that burning feeling—I didn’t know you were hitting me. You couldn’t beat me if you tried. The second he said “coon,” I felt that feeling. So he says, “Get rid of that coon on piano and I’ll give you eight weeks.” Immediately I answered, “You know what? You got a deal. I’ll get rid of the coon on piano, and you get rid of your fat wife.” I kept walking, and I thought I was going to get killed by those apes. But I couldn’t help it. Any kind of prejudice used to bug me. There was another time when I was young, and some guy was behind me saying “Kike, nigger, wop…” I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I just turned around and cocked him. I was young. I hit him and ran. I was maybe fifteen or sixteen. Guy never saw it coming. I knocked him down. Those things always bugged me. That’s why I asked, when I did the Regis Philbin show, if I could have an interracial band. Nobody had one in those days.
Did you ever feel that any of the white jazz musicians were looked down on because they we’re “authentic?” Jazz is considered by many to be African American music. You know the whole Ken Burns school of thought.
I thought the Ken Burns series was very badly done. It never showed anything about the Woody Herman Band. The greatest band of the late forties. Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Shorty Rogers, Lou Levy. You can go down the list. It was an all-star band. Didn’t get a mention. I myself was never mentioned. The only reference to me in the whole series is when they showed a marquee that said “Erskine Hawkins and Terry Gibbs,” at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Ken Burns didn’t know anything about jazz. He was just good at making films. His jazz series was mostly all about blacks. It didn’t give Benny Goodman as much credit as it should have. Benny Goodman deserved as much credit as Branch Rickey got for hiring Jackie Robinson to play second base. Benny was the King of Swing. He was famous all over the world. Swing was the popular music of the day. Benny was more famous than the President. He hired Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, never thinking about black and white. Benny didn’t care about that. He cared about playing the clarinet. He didn’t care what you looked like. He just wanted to play. So he hired those guys, and he could have lost everything! This is 1937 or ’38.
You never felt that anyone dismissed you personally during your career… “Oh, he’s a white cat, forget him.” Nothing like that ever happened?
I worked all the time. I did well with audiences. Look at the cover of this magazine. That’s me on the cover, and look at what the caption says: “You’re only as good as what’s behind you.” That’s true. If you don’t have a good rhythm section you can’t play shit. If you don’t have good players on stage with you, you won’t have any inspiration. So I always hired the best players.
Excerpt from "A Conversation with Warren Wolf, Jr.," from the upcoming book, "Masters of the Vibes," by Anthony Smith.
A.S.: I heard that you're from a family of musicians, and that your dad was a player, and he might have pushed you hard to practice. You play several instruments, and you were something of a musical prodigy. Is all that true?
W.W.: Every bit of that is true. My dad's name is Warren Edward Wolf, Sr. He started giving me formal lessons at the age of three. I played drums and mallet instruments, like vibraphone and marimba, and basic chords on the piano. We did a lot of lessons and training, and the schedule was lessons after school from 5:30 to 7:00. I was a normal kid. I went to school in the morning, came home around three, then watched TV and things like that. But when 5:30 came around, we went down to the basement where we had all our musical instruments. The first half hour was on vibes and marimba, the second was on drums, the third on piano... and that could all switch up at any time. We would cover various styles of music, from classical to jazz and pop. I'm talking the Eighties, so we did a lot of Anita Baker, Yellowjackets...
A.S.: How old were you at this time?
W.W.: Right now I'm thirty-four. I turn thirty-five in November.
A.S. So we're talking about when you were very small.
W.W.: Yes, I was very small! I started when I was three years old! I was definitely a small kid. My dad had to build a little box for me, because I was too short to reach the instruments. I had to get on the box every time, until the age of about six or seven, when I got taller. I practiced with him, and went to Peabody Preparatory on the weekend, where I studied with members of the Boston Symphony, like Leo LePage. The good thing about him was that he was a jazz drummer who had lived in Boston back in the day, but he now happened to have a job with the Boston Symphony. He's deceased now. But it was five days at home, then Saturday mornings with this guy... it was a lot.
A.S. That's quite an early training regimen.
W.W.: Mm hm.
MORE INTERVIEW EXCERPTS COMING SOON, FROM AN UPCOMING BOOK WHICH WILL INCLUDE IN-DEPTH CONVERSATIONS WITH MANY OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST JAZZ VIBES PLAYERS!