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David Gibson: Propelling The Story Forward

Dan Bilawsky By

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It's late morning on Sunday, January 17, 2016—a wintry New York day that will later see snow—and much of Brooklyn seems to be in a state of hibernation or hiding. There are few signs of life on the streets, but there's no shortage of action in the basement of the former Public School 9 Annex. That's where the studio known as Acoustic Recording is situated, and that's where trombonist David Gibson has come to record what will be his fourth date for the Posi-Tone imprint and his seventh leader effort in total. As the session nears its start, Gibson is taking care of business: He's warming up, looking over some parts, and chatting amiably with his band mates to keep the mood light. In short, he's doing what any good leader will do to pave the way for success in such a situation.

Over the course of the first several hours of recording, Gibson demonstrates again and again that leadership is a fluid concept with no absolutes. There's knowing where to begin and how to get everybody into the zone, something that he addresses through Dr. Billy Taylor's churchy "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free"; there's having the flexibility and willingness to make adjustments when things aren't going according to plan, demonstrated with some on-the-fly structural tweaks to bassist Alex Claffy's "AJ"; there's a willingness to simply let the music flow when everything feels just right, exhibited during a metrically-morphing Gibson number dubbed "The Axe Grinder"; and there's an awareness and openness to the thoughts of the other stakeholders in the room. By the time the band breaks for lunch, five songs are in the can—the three aforementioned numbers, a beautifully arranged "Here Comes The Sun," and an appealing take on trombonist Curtis Fuller's "The Court"—and all is right with the recording process.

The same qualities exhibited during the first half of that session seem to also come to the fore in Gibson's other musical goings-on. Whether fronting his own band in live settings, serving as Musical Director for the George Gee Swing Orchestra, putting his skills to good use in pianist Orrin Evans' Captain Black Big Band, sharing his hard-earned knowledge on his blog and in higher education settings, or serving in a strictly supportive role, Gibson remains the consummate professional—knowledgeable, malleable, organized, friendly, and fixed on the task at hand. In short, the David Gibson of 2016 is a pillar in his musical community and a man who could be said to have the world on a string. But that didn't just happen for him. It's something he willed over the course of his development, a non-stop expedition with the occasional bump in the road and a consistently upward trajectory. He's the embodiment of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's quote that "accomplishment(s) will prove to be a journey, not a destination."

In a musical sense, Gibson's journey began during his elementary school years in Mound, Minnesota. That's when he first connected with the trombone, and that's where the initial seeds for his future successes were planted. Gibson showed great promise during his first two years playing the instrument there, but his enthusiasm waned after the family moved to Oklahoma. There, students didn't start playing instruments until the 7th grade, so the budding David Gibson found himself surrounded by neophytes who were two years behind him in their instrumental studies. He was ready to throw in the towel by the conclusion of his middle school years, and had the high school jazz band director not sent him a lifeline, he may very well have done just that. As Gibson recalls, "we received a telephone call from the jazz ensemble director at the high school who had heard of me and wanted to recruit me to be a part of the jazz ensemble. He said to my mom, 'look, just have him come to one rehearsal. If he doesn't like it after one rehearsal, he doesn't have to come anymore.'"

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