Mike Gibbs talks to Scarborough

Ahead of his 80th birthday tour in the autumn, which kicks off in Scarborough, writer and arranger Mike Gibbs talks to jazz festival director Mike Gordon

Renowned composer Mike Gibbs (pictured right) is to undertake a large ensemble tour in September to celebrate his 80th birthday. The first port of call is Scarborough Jazz Festival, which will be held at Scarborough Spa on 22 – 24 September 2017.

In the 1960s, Mike worked as a trombonist in Graham Collier’s band and John Dankworth’s orchestra. Since the mid-70s he has worked as an educator as well as a free-ance arranger, doing arrangements and orchestrations for major names such as Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Peter Gabriel among many others.

Festival director Mike Gordon asked to him about his career, the British jazz scene and the Hans Koller 17-piece big band.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD lists your skills as trombone, piano and bandleader. It also says: "...one of the most noted composer-arrangers of his era, which continues". How did it all begin?

"Take a book to answer that! My best subject at school was chemistry and it was expected I’d go into science. But my mother played the piano and encouraged me to take it up, which I did, but in our colonial culture of the time (Rhodesia mid 50s) music was more of a hobby. However my teacher turned me onto jazz - Louis Armstrong, then the moderns - Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers, Dave Brubeck - and on failing my second-year chemistry at university, and having discovered there was a school in America (Berklee) where one could study jazz - that became my target".

I know you have written music for radio, television and films and worked with film directors like Ken Russell, Stephen Poliakoff and Bill Forsyth. Do any productions stand out?

"Bill Forsyth’s Housekeeping is a beautiful film, and I loved doing that score - I still have fantasies of revamping the music - perhaps in a jazz vein. I also like the score I did for Poliakoff’s Close My Eyes, and the electronic score for John Woo’s Hardboiled".

You are bringing some fantastic jazz musicians to Scarborough. Can you tell me something about them and this project and what inspired it?

"Well, inspiration for the concert, obviously - is to celebrate my 80th - feels like it might be an achievement, of sorts. But the initial steps were taken by Hans Koller and Michael Janisch who set it going, and Michael is doing a vast amount of legwork to make it happen - including choosing and booking the musicians".

I know you have worked with orchestras across Europe. How do you rate the British jazz scene?

"Since I spent 11 years in the US (teaching at Berklee), and have now been in Spain for 10 years - I am way out of touch. It was when I met Hans Koller in the early 2000s that I began tentatively to get acquainted with what was happening in the UK - and I found it to be bristling with energy and a slew of fresh ideas and young virtuoso thinkers and players. The band Michael has assembled has some older, some newer players - so it will be a surprise to me on rehearsal day 1!!"

You and I are the same age this year. I’m always wondering what comes next, optimistically of course! What about you?

"This year so far, I have been constantly occupied with preparing music for these upcoming GIBBS@80 birthday bashes, some new music, lots of revisions and adaptions and for three separate bands (NDR Hamburg, UK, Berklee Concert Orchestra) - apart from that, I tend to not think much more than perhaps the rest of each week as it arrives".

I’m really looking forward to your visit to Scarborough. Have you been before? Don’t forget your swimming trunks!

"I don’t think I’ve been to Scarborough before - but I’ve been mistaken before about having been places or not! Swimming trunks - not likely - I manage on a dip a year here in Malaga - beach is four blocks away, and I only give in to the promptings of my grand-daughter (seven years)".

Mike Gibbs’ 80th Birthday Celebration with the Hans Koller 17-piece band takes place in the Scarborough Spa’s Grand Hall at 8.45 pm on Sunday 24 September.

The Scarborough Jazz Festival runs from 22 to 24 September 2017. Tickets are priced at £87 (Earlybird) and £92 (General Sale). Tickets are available from the Scarborough Jazz Festival website or the Scarborough Spa Box Office (01723 821888).

The lineup:

Clarinet Maestros (Ken Peplowski & Julian Stringle)
Clark Tracey’s Stan Tracey Legacy Band
Gilad Atzmon, Alan Barnes & The Lowest Common Denominator
Get The Blessing
Hexagonal playing McCoy and Mseleku
Issie Barratt’s Interchange
Janette Mason Trio
Jason Rebello Loire Funk All Stars featuring Gareth Lockrane
Mads Mathias Quartet
Mike Gibbs 80th Birthday Celebration with the Hans Koller 17-piece big band
New York Marching Band (James Lancaster)
Nicolas Meier Quintet
Nikki Iles & Stan Sultzman
Polly Gibbons Quartet
Seven Pieces of Silver
Wandering Monster
Compere: Alan Barnes

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