“Up the Ladder and Over the Top” by Bob Alberti, 2003, 178 pages, $15, paperback, and “In One Ear and In the Other,” by Irv Greenbaum, 2000, 269 pages, $12.95, paperback
Two self-published musical autobiographies arrived on my desk in recent months, one by pianist/conductor Bob Alberti, and the other by recording engineer Irv Greenbaum.
Alberti’s memoir starts with his childhood in Brooklyn, and lists his first music job as a teenage pianist leading a jazz quintet in a Brooklyn restaurant. He worked summer jobs in the Catskills, played for a while with Charlie Spivak’s band, worked in New York night clubs, did club dates, and accompanied singers. Playing for singers led to conducting for them, and one of those conducting jobs, for Johnny Mathis, took him to Los Angeles. The job didn’t last long, but Alberti liked the L.A. area, and before long he left New York for good. His final gesture before he drove west was to chuck his club date accordion into the East River.
A thirteen-week gig in Las Vegas conducting for the DeCastro sisters turned into two years of backing up acts at the Sands with his quartet and conducting for Keely Smith. Finally back in L.A., he made the nightclub circuit, did a few conducting jobs, and then landed the piano chair with the ABC-TV show “Hollywood Palace.” The bandleader was Les Brown, who was later replaced by Mitch Ayers. Soon Alberti was in demand in the TV studios, playing and arranging for the King Family Hour, the Tom Jones show, the Milton Berle Comedy Hour, the Bob Hope series, the Dean Martin show, etc. Eventually he became one of the staff pianists with NBC-TV. He tells his life story in an engaging manner, with many anecdotes along the way.
Greenbaum’s face will be familiar to any New York musicians who recorded at Beltone Studios, where he was the chief engineer for many years. He also recorded at half a dozen other independent studios around town. Greenbaum had worked as a radio operator in the Signal Corps during World War II, and when he left the service in 1951, he applied for work at a New York State employment office. He told the clerk of his radio experience, and was asked, “Is that like, with knobs and dials and things?” When Greenbaum said yes, the clerk found him a job opening at Beltone, “with knobs and dials and things.” He was hired, even though he had no recording experience at all, and learned by doing. His book is filled with stories about the many artists he recorded during the ensuing forty-eight years, in a wide range of musical genres including jazz, Latin, pop, and even polka bands.
Self publishing is an option that many writers are experimenting with. These two authors have written and produced their own works, and are handling the distribution of them. Alberti’s book is available from Bob Alberti, 3 Royal Fortune Court, Hilton Head Island, SC 29926, or from Amazon.com. Greenbaum’s opus can be ordered from I. Greenbaum, 211 West 106th Street, NYC NY 10025. And both books can be found in the Local 802 library.
“Flashbacks: Eyewitness Accounts Of The Rock Revolution,” by Michael Lydon, Routledge, 2003, 252 pages, $17.95, paperback.
Michael Lydon, a singer-songwriter-guitar player who appears frequently in New York, was a chronicler of rock music and musicians in the 1960’s.
He began writing on the subject for the student newspaper at Yale. After graduating in 1965, he became a reporter for Newsweek, and was assigned to London, where absorbed the local music scene.
Lydon was moved by that magazine to San Francisco in 1967, just as life in the Haight-Ashbury was gaining national attention. He helped found Rolling Stone as the managing editor for its initial issues, and gained unique access to the musicians.
This book is a collection of Lydon’s interviews of major rock figures and on-the-spot reporting of major rock events in the 1960’s and 70’s.
He includes an early diatribe against the Beatles, a 1966 appreciation of them drawn from personal interviews in London, an eyewitness account of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, portraits of B.B. King, Pete Townsend, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, and accounts of his travels as a reporter with the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.
Lydon has an ear for the music and the dialogue, a good eye for interesting detail, and knows how to create the atmosphere of the musical encounters that he describes. A good collection, and a good read.
FROM BROOKLYN TO BIG BAND
“Good Vibes, A Life In Jazz,” by Terry Gibbs, with Cary Ginell. Scarecrow Press, 2003, 334 pages, hardcover.
I’m glad Terry decided to tell all his stories in one place. Many of them have been passed around the jazz world for years. I used a few of them in my own books. But not many people tell a story better than Terry. This book is delightful, and most welcome.
Born Julius Gubenko, Terry grew up in Brooklyn and found his way into jazz just as the bebop revolution was taking place.
With the encouragement and musical companionship of young talents like Tiny Kahn, Frank Socolow, Manny Albam, Al Cohn, Johnny Mandel and Chuck Wayne, Terry soon found his way onto the drums and the vibraphone, and into the New York music scene.
There was a detour in his career because of his required military service, but when he came home on furloughs, Tiny Kahn took him to 52nd Street and made sure that Terry heard musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Oscar Pettiford. What he heard there propelled him toward a life of playing bebop.
His nickname, “Terry,” was given him by his friends, because he tried to emulate a boxer named Terry Young. He was given his new surname when he landed a job through MCA, and found himself billed as “Terry Gibbs.” An MCA agent told him that “Gubenko” was too long. Terry writes, “I went home and told my mother, and she was bugged. ‘What Terry Gibbs? Who’s gonna know it’s mine son?’ Later on, when I went with Benny Goodman, she wanted the whole family to change their name to Gibbs.”
Terry worked with many other jazz luminaries besides Goodman: Tommy Dorsey, Allen Eager, Chubby Jackson, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich. And he has good stories about all of them. As he made a name for himself, he began working with his own small groups, making the jazz club circuit around the country.
He eventually settled in California, where he continued to work with small groups, but also started what came to be known as the Dream Band. He sort of backed into the big band format. He planned to do a big band record, but wanted more rehearsal time than the recording contract provided, so he found a club gig for the band which became so popular that he just stayed with it.
In the 1960’s Terry began a career in television as bandleader on the Regis Philbin show. He went on to do a show called “Operation: Entertainment” on ABC, and then the Steve Allen Comedy Hour. He also did some conducting for Allen in Las Vegas.
Since 1980, Terry has been doing college clinics using the Dream Band library, and has also been working a lot with clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. He seems to have the same amount of energy at 79 that he had in 1953 when he was 29. (I was his bass player for a few months that year.)
This book is filled with well-told anecdotes, has a 16-page photo collection at the center and a discography at the end.