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John Gilbreath: Within Earshot

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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JG: I began to feel like my work was over here and my life was way over there and I wanted to bring them into alignment with each other. My mother was a child of the depression and once told me, "You don't do what you want to do; you do what you have to do." So she instilled in me a work ethic and at 62, I still have to get a handle on this because I have four jobs and just took on another one. But I'm not a victim, I'm a volunteer. I would rather be busy and engaged as that's where my creative juice is. I'm not good with a blank canvas but when I can come into a situation of preexisting conditions, I can come up with a pretty good idea of what needs to be done. That's where my creativity is and it's something that took me a while to realize.

LP: I believe that you also have a hobby in stone sculpturing.

JG: Yes, I do some stone sculpturing and I have been doing this for about 10 or 12 years. When confronted with a stone, there is not an unlimited amount of things that you can do. There is the mass itself, the texture, the size, and the condition of the stone. And it's the condition that determines what you can do. The task is to bring out its beauty and to work it in a way that works for both of you. But there is a paradox. It's loud and messy and when you done with it, its sits still and is really quiet for a long time. With a concert, you do it and it's gone.

Within the construction industry, your labor is concrete and you can drive by the accomplished work. It's palpable and you can get satisfaction and it's the same way with stone. But there can also be a frustration because they don't always turn out beautiful and it's the same with concerts. You can get a clinker in there every now and then and there is really nothing that you can do about it because that's just the way it goes. They're ephemeral. When they are gone they are gone unless they live on in someone else's memory.

You and I were just talking about that Fred Anderson concert in 2001 that turned out to be so marvelous. And it's not until you come in and say, "Boy, that concert is still one of my favorites," that I get the opportunity to feel satisfaction from it.

LP: Not too many kids are listening to Duke Ellington at the age of 11.

JG: You know, I went crazy for that stuff and it was the drummers that lit my fire. It literally opened the door to music for me. My mother and aunt had a prison exchange program with their kids [laughter]. So my brother and I would spend summers with my aunt in the country and when her sons went to the university, they would stay at our house in the city. We were all poor so they couldn't afford housing to attend school. As a result, it was my older cousin who started to bring over Duke Ellington records along with Dave Brubeck and the music of that time.

And the key to that doorway for me was a Duke Ellington record called Festival Session, which had two drummers—Jimmy Johnson and Sam Woodyard. There was a tune on there called "Idium 59," a version of "Perdido" and a three-part invention called "Dual Fuel," which used both of the drummers. They each took their own solo and then traded 2's and 4's and Ellington's joy with the music was so apparent. When listening to that recording now, I realize that there were only about 12 people in the audience clapping [laughter]. Still, when I heard that as a kid, I thought, "Wow, listen to all of those people" and I would get so excited by that.

LP: So this was a point when you knew that jazz was something special to you?

JG: Yes and the lyrics to all of those Louie Prima records from that time are still rattling around in my head and I can't tell you exactly why. Sometimes when we are at a crossroads in life, we are very aware and sometimes we are not. We're just not. And it's not until later on that we can look back and say, "Whoa, I was at a point that was important to me." But who knows what's going to stick. Country and Western music sticks with some people and sometimes it's classical and sometimes there isn't any music at all. But for me, even when the music was on in the background, I was paying attention and was present with it.

LP: Were there many kids in your neighborhood listening to jazz at that time?

JG: No, none at all. I used to hide it. When I was in High School, the Beatles came along and I was listening to that but I was also listening to jazz and would try and find some solidarity. I eventually had a couple of friends that were interested in jazz but there wasn't that much interesting going on in rock, as far as the rhythms were concerned. It was just pretty much 2's and 4's.


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