Drummer Gerry Gibbs — headliner of this year’s Jazz’SAlive — returns to San Antonio | Music Stories and Interviews | San Antonio
In addition to its usual roster of out-of-town performers, this year’s Jazz’SAlive represents a homecoming for drummer and bandleader Gerry Gibbs, whose time in the city in the 2000s helped to shape its contemporary jazz scene.
The two-time Grammy nominee lived here from 2000 to 2005, performing weekly at Carmen’s tapas bar on the Calle. During this time he also helped shape the jazz format of Trinity University radio station KRTU, recorded a live album at local club Luna and booked gigs for legendary artists such as Larry Coryell, Ravi Coltrane and Sam Rivers.
Now, Gibbs and his sextet Thrasher People are set to take the main stage at Jazz’SAlive on Friday, September 23. The 7 p.m. performance will mark his first appearance at the free two-day festival since leaving Alamo City for New York.
While Gibbs still maintains his residence on the East Coast, he has once again put down roots in San Antonio, making it his primary residence. When the pandemic dried up his gig opportunities, he returned to the Lone Star State for what he thought was a temporary retirement.
“I hadn’t planned to stay, but I ended up finding the right group of musicians,” Gibbs said. “Turns out I was looking for something.”
That fine group of musicians was Thrasher People, made up of players from San Antonio and Austin, including vocalist Michelle Garibay-Carey, daughter of the late and legendary Chicano bluesman Randy Garibay. The band is recording a new album next year and plans to hit the road for extensive touring.
Also contributing to his decision to stay in South Africa, Gibbs is working with a Texas-based film producer on film scores, which – true to Hollywood form – he is unable to discuss in detail.
Like Garibay-Carey, Gibbs is also the offspring of an iconic musician. His father, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, is an influential jazz player whose career spanned the big band and bebop eras and beyond.
Indeed, young Gibbs’ Grammy-nominated 2021 album My Father’s Songs, is a tribute to the 97-year-old musician that includes collaborations with jazz heavyweights such as Ron Carter, Patrice Rushen and Kenny Barron. The release also includes the latest performance from the late keyboard virtuoso and fusion pioneer Chick Corea.
Upon its release, My Father’s Songs reached the top of the jazz charts, as did four of Gibbs’ other 13 albums for East Coast label Whaling City Sound.
It’s something the drummer hopes to repeat with Thrasher People’s next album. The set is not just a collection of sidemen committed to its star, but a group of collaborators with a passion for the long haul, he said.
While Garibay-Carey’s dynamic and soulful vocals provide an easy entry point for Thrasher People, the group is anything but a traditional vocal-jazz combo. The dense yet upbeat music ranges from bebop to fusion, R&B to avant-garde—sometimes within a single song. And it’s all powered by Gibbs’ propelling battery.
“When we play, you’ll hear anything from Charlie Parker to Weather Report to Louie Armstrong to Nirvana to Earth Wind & Fire,” Gibbs said.
Part of the musical appeal of Gibbs — including Thrasher People — is that for all the complexity he brings to the table, it’s not heavy listening. As a composer and bandleader, he understands how to be accessible without drifting into fluid jazz.
Part of that likely stems from Gibbs’ desire to play in a variety of jazz styles, KRTU music director Kory Cook said.
“Every time I talk to Gerry I learn something about him,” Cook added. “Whether it’s someone he’s played with over the years or another part of the jazz spectrum he’s explored.”
Members of Thrasher People share a similar artistic restlessness, Gibbs said. Most jazz fans appreciate a wide range of music and are eager to hear musicians explore outside of the genre. Additionally, the band’s R&B, hip-hop, and rock influences provide an on-ramp for listeners not deeply immersed in jazz.
“We play music that’s an extension of us,” Gibbs said. “We’re all from a generation where we’ve been exposed to just about everything in music, not just jazz or any genre. So I wanted to put myself in a position where I play with people who can say, ‘I want everyone in music to be in this group.'”
Other artists lined up for Jazz’SAlive this year include upbeat New York jazz collective Sammy Miller and the Congregation, Grammy-nominated Latin jazz ensemble Pedrito Martinez, and Austin-based soul purveyors Tomar and the FCs. A complete program is available online.
Jazz’SAlive, free (special packages available online), 5-11 p.m. Friday, September 23 and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, September 24, Travis Park, 301 E. Travis St., saparksfoundation.org/event /jazzsaliva.
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