Philly percussionist, Leonard Doc Gibbs (1948-2021) was the heart beat of Philadelphia.
Whether you go back to the mid 70s of funky soul-jazz, his affiliation with local saxophonist Grover Washington Jr, and clubs such as the Bijou Café and Just Jazz, or look at the latter-day catalogues of King Britt and his Sylk 130, Ursula Rucker, Barbara Montgomery, Mark Knox, Kindred the Family Soul – even Labelle’s final reunion record, 2008’s “Back to Now” – Doc Gibbs was the physical and emotional through line, the drumming, percussion playing heartbeat of Philadelphia.
Doc was also the friendliest face, and the smartest person in the room – any room – when it came to all manner of music (not just jazz, but African traditional music as well in connection with his Yoruba religious connection) and its overall healing qualities. That includes the formation of his Drums for Peace workshop program dedicated to keeping kids off the mean streets and into a world of sound, sensation and self-empowerment. Ask Erykah Badu with whom he recorded or Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, George Benson and Wyclef Jean with whom he toured. Ask celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse with whom Gibbs served as music director and bandleader for 11 years on the Food Network’s Emeril Live!
Doc passed away last week, with the word traveling slowly from his home in Salem, Oregon. It’s one of those deaths in a community such as Philly’s jazz world that hits hard, and reverberates. If you hung with him, or he played for or with you, you’re still feeling it. Lagasse wrote about Gibbs on his Instagram along with posting a tribute video. “He brought the funk to kick it up a few notches every single show. He was an incredible percussionist and musician and an even more incredible human being.”
While Doc gave his all, drumming hard for everyone that he played with on album, concert and ceremony, the one thing that he didn’t do enough of was record his own material. Gibbs recorded and released a steamy funk-jazz album with the Picante ensemble in 2002, “Servin’ It Up! Hot!!!” You can find it currently on Amazon, where – I promise you – ten years from now, people are going to call this a lost classic of its time. The Doc is serving it up hot, and I suggest you get on it quickly.