Famous Kiwi jazz drummer Frank Gibson Jr is still keeping the beat after nearly 70 years
Kiwi drum legend Frank Gibson Jr has been wowing crowds for nearly 70 years. He’s played with the best in the business, and there’s not much he hasn’t seen, as David Skipwith reports.
As for the first concerts, playing at Auckland Town Hall is a very good achievement. Especially for an 8 year old child.
This is where drummer protege Frank Gibson Jr made his debut, in 1954. He recalls his keepers worried that the big opportunity would win out over him, but after walking past the large crowd – at the alongside his father and musical mentor, Frank Senior – the little drummer impressed everyone, keeping both his composure and the beat, to start what would become a life in music.
“I was playing zero and cross behind the scenes because they thought it would make me forget what I was going to do,” says Gibson.
“They all thought I would be really nervous, but I just remember going out with daddy and doing this drum duo that we had come up with, and I wasn’t nervous at all.”
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Now 75 years old, Gibson Jr is considered one of New Zealand’s greatest drummers and most respected jazz pioneers.
His reputation as New Zealand’s go-to drummer has led him to perform here and abroad with some of the best in the business; from Leo Sayer, Dusty Springfield, Dione Warwick, The Temptations, Four Tops, Diana Krall, Rick Wakeman to Milt Jackson, Ronnie Scott, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Byrd and many more.
“It took me all over the world which has been wonderful,” he says of his colorful life behind the kit.
“The first thing, of course, is that I was able to make a living from it. “
It’s hard to list all of Gibson Jr’s accomplishments, but when it comes to New Zealand jazz, there isn’t much that he hasn’t seen or done.
His recorded heritage is equally extensive, with over 500 recordings – including over 250 albums – and on over 250 radio programs across the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand, while his time in the UK has seen him perform on countless TV shows and specials.
But it all started when he was still in school.
Three years after wowing audiences for the first time at Town Hall, Gibson Jr was riding the first wave of rock and roll, performing with teenage band The Juvenolians when he was just 11 years old. years. At 18, he was playing professionally, making a good living, filling bars, clubs, restaurants and venues around Auckland and beyond.
With that kind of musical pedigree, he was never intended for normal daytime work.
“I left high school and started working in a bank. I played concerts every night and couldn’t stay awake at work, ”he says.
“I had another day job at Lewis Eady’s [music store] for a while, but I was still playing almost every night.
“I was just too tired. You enter at 1 or 2 in the morning and you have to get up at 8 in the morning. I couldn’t do that.
Better opportunities to play live and earn a regular job brought him to Australia in the late 60s, but it was in the UK until the late 70s that he capitalized on his talent. and his growing reputation as a world-class player.
“London was amazing, really. There was so much work – if you could play,” says Gibson Jr.
“We worked six, seven nights a week and worked in the studio two or three times a week, or every day.
“This is the only time I have been able to save money.
After three years away, Gibson Jr was back in New Zealand – “I was able to come back and put a down payment on an apartment” – and add to his growing legacy in the local music industry.
He formed the first Kiwi jazz / rock group, Dr Tree, which won the Rock Record of the Year award in 1976, and the first jazz / funk group, Space Case, while his name is also associated with many local jazz recordings.
One of his most publicized appearances on these coasts was during the opening ceremony of the 1990 Commonwealth Games at Mt Smart Stadium, where he played It’s time, that summer’s sports anthem, written by Ray Columbus & The Invaders bassist Billy Kristian and sung by Chris Thompson.
The normally confident Gibson Jr admits it was a rare occasion where he felt nerves before the gig.
“It was like being almost terrified,” recalls Gibson Jr.
“I don’t know how many people were there – it was probably the biggest audience I’ve ever played for.”
Beyond the 90s Gibson Jr maintained a busy schedule, and Auckland’s jazz community will fondly remember his weekend residency slots played at the old London Bar. He also passed on the things he had learned over the years, teaching some of New Zealand’s top drummers including Michael Franklin Browne of Pluto, Paul Roper of The Mint Chicks, Paul Russell (Supergroove, Bic Runga, Che Fu) and Ricky Ball (Hello Sailor), to name a few.
And after spending five years in Perth in the late ’90s as a full-time lecturer teaching music at Edith Cowan University, Gibson Jr added a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) from the University of Otago to his resume in 2017.
These days, Gibson Jr continues to exert his influence on the local scene, most recently as part of the Auckland-based Newbop Quintet, which appeared last week at the Wellington Jazz Festival, ahead of their next show at the Tuning Fork in Auckland. in June. 15.
“It’s bebop / hard bop music from the 50s and 60s, but it’s still played around the world today,” he says of the group exploring styles of jazz created by greats like Miles. Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.
He formed the Newbop Quintet in 2019 and cautions that the group – a collection of New Zealand’s finest jazz musicians – crosses the line between structured play and improvised play.
“It’s an interesting group, with a lot of good people,” he explains.
“And it’s a fun group to play. You never know what’s going to happen that day. That’s the wonderful thing about playing improvised music – you learn the tunes, but the improvisations happen in the moment. “