In 1968, inspired by a performance by the U.S. Navy Steel band at a parade in his birthplace of Wichita, Kansas, eight-year-old Gary Gibson sacrificed his rusty old round metal “Sno-flake” sled in order to hammer out his own four-note steel drum. Thirty-five years later, he would take a two-month hiatus from his busy schedule as a Seattle-based jazz musician to live in Trinidad, West Indies, the birthplace of the steelpan, and become a national champion as a member of the 120-player strong “Exodus Steel Orchestra” in the 2004 Panorama competition. His most recent award from Trinidad came as the 1st prize winner in two out of three categories of the 2008 “Symphony and Steel” orchestral composition contest.
Gary began seriously playing the steelpan as a college music student in 1979. A drummer, vibraphonist, and keyboardist since the age of five, he holds a Master’s degree in Music Performance from Wichita State University. As a graduate student there, he led his own 16-piece pan group, the “Pan America Steel Orchestra.” The group recorded “Inland Evolution” in 1985, a collection of Gibson’s original, experimental works for steelpan ensemble.
Gibson has released five CDs to date. He has drawn the attention of steelpan aficionados as well as the jazz community for his unique approach of applying sophisticated jazz harmony to the infectious traditional forms and rhythms of the Caribbean.
In early 2004, Gibson set aside two full months for his self-described “pilgrimage” to Trinidad, West Indies. As a member of the Exodus Steel Orchestra, he observed from a rare inside perspective the entire process involved in bringing 120 players together to capture their second consecutive national title as Panorama champions. Gibson documented the entire process–rehearsals through finals competition–in his online photo journal, an extensive website that is now being used as an educational resource in various steel band programs throughout the United States.
Since 2004, he has remained active in the Trinidadian music scene as both composer and orchestrator, having done several works now for the National Sinfonia of Trinidad and National Steel Orchestra. He also now is a Resource Member of the Board of Trustees of the Music Literacy Trust in Trinidad.
As a composer of progressive music for the steel pan, Gibson is known for incorporating the steel pan into more conventional musical environments, including orchestral and choral environments. His most recent major work was the completion of a 45-minute “cantata” for steel band and choir, “In the Shadows of the Forest,” commissioned by the San Jacinto Community College steel band and choir. The work, which has an original libretto based on the folklore of Trinidad, debuted in March of 2010 and will be performed again in March 2011 in Seattle by the Choir of the Sound.
Gibson is active as both a clinician and performer. Appearances have included Northern Illinois University, Indiana University, Arizona State University, University of Florida, Miami University of Ohio, University of Southern Mississippi, Brigham Young University, University of Montana, Miami University of Ohio, Wichita State University, University of Texas at San Antonio, Lone Star College, North Harris Community College and San Jacinto Community College (Houston), Morehead State University, University of Kentucky, University of Toledo, the Caribbean Music Festival “PANorama” Steelband competition (part of the Virginia Arts Festival), Kansas State University, Kent State University, Great Lakes Steelpan Festival, and numerous high school steel band programs throughout the United States.
Comments about Gary:
Steelpan legend Andy Narell calls Gary Gibson “one of the few people writing progressive music for the pan and sounding original.”
Steelpan virtuoso Liam Teague says: “When I first heard Gary Gibson’s music and playing, I was absolutely blown away! His compositions are highly creative, challenging, and by no means are they predictable. The steelpan world is blessed to have an ambassador like Mr. Gibson who, obviously, is doing his utmost to promote the Steelpan in a progressive direction.”
And pan arranger/player/producer Tom Miller says: “I have been a big fan of Gary’s music from the first note. His ability to weave very hip improvised lines through his equally hip compositions, all the while maintaining a beautiful tone and even touch on the pan, is truly remarkable. Gary has a unique and fresh voice for today’s pan scene and his music will be revered for years to come.”
Percussive Notes reviewer Terry O’Mahoney writes ” Gibson’s soloing is melodic and self-assured, and his compositions are sophisticated and totally enjoyable…”
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