Mike Gibbs – Jazz composer, conductor, arranger and producer as well as a trombonist and keyboardist and recipient of a 2017 Gold Badge Award – shares five of his favourite pieces of music, featured in The Works #53.
1. Claude Debussy – Sonata for Flute, Viola, Harp
This has been a favourite piece of mine for eons – I no longer remember when I first heard it. The first 6 bars leave me gasping. They contain so much music – compositionally, harmonically, orchestrationally, structurally, emotionally. I often have to start listening from the beginning again after the opening.
Fairly recently, I learnt that this piece was Jimmy Guiffre’s inspiration for his famous trios, which I always loved. It’s also a fabulous ‘How to Write for Harp’ manual!
2. Gil Evans and Miles Davis – Miles Ahead / Porgy & Bess / Sketches of Spain
These three form a major suite in my experience – and so are lumped together as one. First time I heard this famous Gil/Miles collaboration on Miles Ahead, I knew my life would never be the same – and it hasn’t.
It was the biggest leap forward in my education, and has been a constant yardstick ever since. I immediately wanted to do what Gil did, and that has motivated me for years.
3. Bunk Johnson and his New Orleans Band: When the Saints Go Marching In
I first heard this in my teens while I was still in Zimbabwe, and listening nightly to Willis Conover on Voice of America.
Something happened, I heard in it all the optimism and joy, happiness and warmth, against all the odds that was the African experience in the racially divided society that formed my existence, and I knew then that my life would be in jazz. It was a decision I didn’t have to ponder – there was no other choice.
4. Aretha Franklin: You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman
This performance from Kennedy Centre Honors 2015 is one of the most stunning musical experiences I’ve ever watched. From the first note I’m engaged, and taken to the ending on a wave of ecstasy – the groove, the elasticity of the time, culminating with the bursting reaction from the audience. Achieving a reaction like that has become a sort of aspiration of mine, though the striving is more the point than the achieving.
5. Herbert von Karajan featuring Jessye Norman: Richard Wagner’s Liebestod
This extraordinary music is devastatingly masterful. I would hope never to understand it, so as not to diminish my sense of awe. This performance is especially poignant as it’s von Karajan’s last – his movements seemed minimal and pained. Jessye Norman has the most exquisite vocal machinery, which seems to belong to this piece.
There are two Duke Ellington & Paul Gonsalves duets too that have to squeeze into this list of 5 somehow…and, of course, all of Coltrane!
Listen to the Spotify playlist below: