Terry Gibbs on Benny Goodman


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"[In 1950, when I was in Benny Goodman's Sextet], Benny used to bug me every time I would start to play my jazz choruses. He would let me play for about eight bars, and if I started swinging, he'd immediately pick up his clarinet and join me in playing. But first he'd put his cigarette down on the edge of my vibes and then start playing with me.

“The fist time I saw him do that, I stopped him and said, 'Hey, Benny, this is no toy. These are my own vibes. Please take your cigarette off of there.' He said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, Pops.' It came time for me to play again, and when it started to swing, he put his cigarette back on my vibes so he could join me again. This time I pushed it off and it fell on the floor.

“He must have done that about 20 times. When he stopped playing, he always looked for the cigarette on the vibes, saw that it wasn't there, and lit another cigarette, never realizing that the first one was on the floor. By the end of the rehearsal, there must have been 200 cigarettes on the floor. He kept putting them out and I kept pushing them off...

“On one of our days off from the show, I had Art Blakey, Teddy Kotick and Billy Triglia over to my funky apartment for a jam session. While we were jamming, the phone rang. It was Benny. 'Hey Gubenko, what's happening?' Benny loved my last name Gubenko. 'Hey Gubenko, what are you doing?' I said, 'I'm having a jam session.' He said, 'Where?' He's calling me at my house and he asks me where. 'Where? At my house!' He said, 'I'll come over, sit in and jam with you.' I said great, gave him the address and hung up. I thought, he's not going to come over to my house and jam with us. Not Benny Goodman.

“About an hour and a half later, we saw a cab pull up in front of the apartment house and Benny stepped out. He came in and I introduced him to everybody. We talked for a little while. Everyone was in awe of him. I think they were all calling him Mr. Goodman, and even though I introduced them by their names, he still called everybody 'Pops.'

“While we were jamming I could see that he didn't like Art Blakey at all. Art was too hard of a swinger, too savage a drummer for him. Benny loved the Louie Bellson [pictured] kind of drummer. Louis had a very clean style of playing. Everything Art did was raw and roaring. Art Blakey could swing you right off the stage, but he wasn't Benny's type of a drummer.

“After they all left, Benny said to me, 'Say, Gubenko, that drummer. Do you really like that drummer?' I said, 'Yeah, he plays very         good.' Then he looked around a my funky apartment with that foggy look, saw all the holes in the wall and said, 'Say Gubenko, you ought to get yourself a new apartment.' I said, 'You know, I'm looking for one, Benny.' He said, 'I may have something for you.' I didn't pay any attention to what he said.

We did about two or three more shows, and two weeks went by. I was back home one day, sitting around, and I got a call. It was Benny. 'Hey, Gubenko, I think I have an apartment for you.' I said, 'Really?' I wasn't really looking for one, I said. 'What does it look like?' He said, 'It's five rooms.' Here I was, living lin a place where I wasn't sure I even had a bathroom. 'Five rooms? What's it going to cost me?' He said, “Oh, only $500 a month.' I said, 'You idiot, you're only paying me $75 dollars a week!' Benny said, 'I am?' and he hung up on me."

—Terry Gibbs in Good Vibes: A Life in Jazz (The Scarecrow Press). It's available here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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