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In 1968, inspired by a performance by the U.S. Navy Steel band at a parade in his birthplace of Wichita, Kansas, eight-year-old Gary Gibson sacrificed his rusty old round metal "Sno-flake" sled in order to hammer out his own four-note steel drum. Thirty-five years later, he would take a two-month hiatus from his busy schedule as a Seattle-based jazz musician to live in Trinidad, West Indies, the birthplace of the steelpan, and become a national champion as a member of the 120-player strong "Exodus Steel Orchestra" in the 2004 Panorama competition. His most recent award from Trinidad came as 1st prize winner in two out of three categories of the 2008 "Symphony and Steel" orchestral composition contest.

Though his early musical training and education through graduate school was in the classical realm as a percussionist and composer, he shifted his attention as a teenager to jazz and Caribbean music styles. While still keeping one foot firmly planted in his classical roots as a composer and performer, and another firmly planted as a jazz vibraphonist, he has embraced the steelpan as his primary vehicle for jazz improvisation.

Gary began seriously playing the steelpan as a college music student in 1979. A drummer, vibraphonist, and keyboardist since the age of five, he holds a Master's degree in Music Performance from Wichita State University. As a graduate student there, he led his own 16-piece pan group, the "Pan America Steel Orchestra." The group recorded "Inland Evolution" in 1985, a collection of Gibson's original, experimental works for steelpan ensemble.

Gibson has recorded feature movie sound tracks as an orchestral section percussionist, played both drums and vibraphone in jazz performances with his quartet (as well as with numerous other groups), and been the pit drummer/percussionist for numerous shows at both of Seattle's premier Broadway theaters. As a composer and orchestrator, he has created numerous works on commission for various ensembles ranging from steel drum band to symphony orchestra, jazz ensemble to pit orchestra. He was on the jazz faculty at Seattle's Cornish College of the Artsfor eight years, and taught previously at Chicago State University and North Texas State University (now University of North Texas), where he was the first director of the school's steel drum band. He currently leads two steadily-gigging Seattle-area steel drum groups, "Yahboy!" and "Panduo," (the latter of which played at the New Year's 2000 Millennium Celebration in Hong Kong). 


In early 2004, Gibson set aside two full months for his self-described "pilgrimage" to Trinidad, West Indies. As a member of the Exodus Steel Orchestra, he observed from a rare inside perspective the entire process involved in bringing 120 players together to capture their second consecutive national title as Panorama champions. Gibson documented the entire process--rehearsals through finals competition--in his online photo journal, an extensive website that is now being used as an educational resource in various steel band programs throughout the United States.

Since 2004, he has remained active in the Trinidadian music scene as both composer and orchestrator, having done several works now for the National Sinfonia of Trinidad and National Steel  Orchestra. He also now is a Resource Member of the Board of Trustees of the Music Literacy Trust in Trinidad.

Gibson has released four CDs to date He has drawn the attention of steelpan aficionados as well as the jazz community for his unique approach of applying sophisticated jazz harmony to the infectious traditional forms and rhythms of the Caribbean.

His most recent major work was the completion of a 45-minute "cantata" for steel band and choir, "In the Shadows of the Forest," commissioned by the San Jacinto Community College steel band and choir. The work, which has an original libretto based on the folklore of Trinidad, debuted in March of 2010, and will be performed again in March 2011 in Seattle by the Choir of the Sound.

Steelpan legend Andy Narell calls Gary Gibson "one of the few people writing progressive music for the pan and sounding original."

Steelpan virtuoso Liam Teague says: "When I first heard Gary Gibson's music and playing, I was absolutely blown away! His compositions are highly creative, challenging, and by no means are they predictable. The steelpan world is blessed to have an ambassador like Mr. Gibson who, obviously, is doing his utmost to promote the Steelpan in a progressive direction."

And pan arranger/player/producer Tom Miller says: "I have been a big fan of Gary's music from the first note. His ability to weave very hip improvised lines through his equally hip compositions, all the while maintaining a beautiful tone and even touch on the pan, is truly remarkable. Gary has a unique and fresh voice for today's pan scene and his music will be revered for years to come."

Percussive Notes reviewer Terry O'Mahoney writes " Gibson's soloing is melodic and self-assured, and his compositions are sophisticated and totally enjoyable..."

Gary Gibson's debut CD, "My Two Cents," marked a turning point in the budding genre of progressive steelpan jazz. Speaking a language of harmonic depth not previously explored within the steelpan community in recorded music, he gained international attention as a new creative force in the jazz steelpan genre:

"There is just something immensely likable about 'My Two Cents'. It has a certain flair that sets it apart from other CDs of this type, and the blending of contemporary jazz approaches is most appealing...fresh, innovative sounds and excellent performances. Gary Gibson is a master of the steel drums & vibraphone and puts them to excellent use..." (Lee Prosser, Jazzreview.com)

Gibson's second recording project, "CounterMelodies," was released in December, 2002:

"...Gibson expands on the strengths of the first album, while at the same time breaking new ground. As a composer he is able to take on the traditions of Caribbean music and inject a sense of harmony that makes it all his own. There are plenty of memorable melodies and infectious rhythms to appeal to a broad range of listeners. Easy on the ears, while at the same time filled with challenge, CounterMelodies is a fine effort from an artist who deserves a broader audience." (Dave Binder, ejazznews.com)

Gibson's most recent recording, "Yahboy!", released in 2005, has raised eyebrows worldwide:

"Bless Gary Gibson...for taking a spirited, colorful approach to the jazz genre in "Yahboy!" Having been to the Caribbean numerous times, I am familiar with the indigenous sounds that Gibson has absorbed. His utilization of steel pans gives him his own individual take on it. You can feel the enthusiasm blowing from the speakers..." -Elizabeth Jacobsen, entertainment.inuk.com

"In all of my years as a music critic, I don't think I ever heard a jazz album that I could actually dance to. This is a seriously melodic record... The songs on this album are so catchy..." - Kyrby Raine, ink19.com

"...a most welcome addition to the pan CD family. The CD is a blast! It knocks your socks off. The engineering, pan playing, and musicianship are delightful. I like the chemistry of the musicians, they all seem to be enjoying each others' company. There's never a dull moment. If it isn't Gary blowing you away with his dexterity and blending of notes, there's Richard Warner on flute, or Steve Rice on keyboards, or Dean Schmidt on bass, or Mark Ivester on drums, filling in the spaces..." -Mr. Muzik, Trinidad Guardian

Gibson is active as both a clinician and performer. Recent appearances include Indiana University, Arizona State University, University of Florida, University of Southern Mississippi, Brigham Young University, University of Montana, Miami University of Ohio, Wichita State University, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Jacinto College and North Harris Community College (Houston), Morehead State University, University of Kentucky, University of Toledo, the Caribbean Music Festival "PANorama" Steelband competition (part of the Virginia Arts Festival), Kansas State University, Kent State University, and numerous high school steel band programs throughout the United States. He recently finished producing a recording of his arrangement of Mark Loquan's "Frenzy" with the Miami University of Ohio Steelband which will appear on the upcoming "Pan in Education II" CD.


ggwithmiami
Gary (far left) rehearses with the Miami University of Ohio Steel Drum Band for a series of concerts.

Booking information:Two Trees Music / SeaNote Productions
P.O. Box 1222
Edmonds, Washington
98020
ph. 425.776.8946
twotreesmusic@comcast.net