The Terry Gibbs Dream Band, which opens the Valley Cultural Center's 15th annual "Summer Concerts in the Park" season on Sunday, plays its jazz with fire and swing.
"I do everything hard," said Gibbs, jazz vibraphonist and leader of the 16-piece big band. "We're a West Coast band with New York fire. I go for the kill. I hit the audience first thing with exciting, upbeat songs and hook them."
Not many will dispute that Gibbs is one of the jazz world's leading vibes player, said Pearl Christlieb, the cultural center's artist director. "Terry's an astute musician who commands the highest respect from his fellow musicians. And his charts are wonderful."
The Dream Band, along with vocalist Bill Henderson, who sang with Count Basie, will play from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Warner Park in Woodland Hills.
What seemed like a gamble back in '59 has paid off for Gibbs and his cohorts. When the Dream Band got together, the West Coast style of jazz was dominated by the "cool," almost minimalist sound of trios and quartets such as Dave Brubeck's group. Gibbs' big band music was exactly the opposite, yet the band started receiving Downbeat and Playboy Jazz Club awards in the '60s and still tours year-round throughout the United States and Europe.
The Dream Band remains fresh because "the arrangements are timeless," said Gibbs, who has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman. Almost every one of the original band members--including Conti Candoli, Bill Holman, Med Flory, Pete Jolly, Buddy Clark and Mel Lewis--contributed to the band's musical arrangements as well as adding powerful solos. Gibbs has composed more than 300 songs as well. Some of the players for this concert include well-known names such as Candoli, Lou Levy, John Guerin, Flory, Lonnie Morgan, Pete Christlieb, Chuck Findley and Bobby Shoe.
"I may set the stage and tone, but there are about nine leaders in this band. We take our music seriously, but we sure do have fun too. And the percussionists can really come out, really show off their stuff," said Gibbs, 65, a resident of Sherman Oaks for the past 14 years.
"The Terry Gibbs Dream Band is a real force in local jazz history," said Pearl Christlieb, whose husband is a professional bassoonist and whose son plays saxophones for "The Tonight Show" band and will appear Sunday with the Dream Band.
Musical culture and history is exactly what the summer concerts encourage, said Marilyn Hawkins, Valley Cultural Center's executive director. "When the concerts began, the park was surrounded by cornfields. Attendance was about 300 people. Now, we've extended the concerts through mid-September and pull crowds of 6,000 people." Other events will feature ethnic groups from Hungarian to Mexican folk ensembles to classical, jazz and children's music programs.
"This is the best way people learn about jazz," Gibbs said. "You have to see it and hear it in person. Before you know it, you'll be tapping your feet."
The Terry Gibbs Dream Band, with vocalist Bill Henderson, will perform from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday. "Summer Concerts in the Park" are free.