"The irrepressible
Jack Gibbons was back
at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
last Sunday...
 we cheered
him to the rafters."

Sunday Express


Reviews posted here are from London's Sunday Express Newspaper (August 2002), Musical Opinion (September 2002 and December 2000), the Oxford Times, England (July 2005 and 2004, November 2003, August 2002 and November 1999), the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, USA, (October 1999) and more.

A larger selection of review quotes can be found on the
Press Quotes page.

Oxford Times, Friday July 29th, 2005

Oxford, England, July 20th 2005

Nicola Lisle


Jack Gibbons opened his 18th summer season at the Holywell last week amid a mild outbreak of Gibbons-mania. The start of the concert was delayed by ten minutes as staff struggled to cope with the demand for seats, and a queue of hopeful non-ticketholders outside was clearly destined for disappointment. Gibbons’s loyalty to the venue that helped launch his career is touching, but his fan base has long since outgrown the Holywell’s modest capacity. Now, one feels, he could fill the Sheldonian several times over.

In a near-replica of last year’s opening concert, Gibbons offered a programme of Beethoven sonatas, interspersed with his own compositions and informed commentary. One of Gibbons’s most endearing traits is the way he can hammer out a piece such as the Pathetique with robust authority, then chat to the audience with boyish enthusiasm. His affinity with Beethoven is as great as his more celebrated affinity with Gershwin, and his stunning delivery of some of the most popular sonatas demonstrated an empathy with the composer’s moods and passions. Alongside the romantically-named Moonlight sonata and the dramatic Appassionata was the less famous Sonata in C major [Op.2 no.3] and the popular Fur Elise. All were imbued with Gibbons’ customary energy and joie de vivre, replicating Beethoven’s own virtuosic brilliance. As an encore, he gave the audience a taster of his forthcoming Chopin concerts (three in all, the first of which is this Sunday), before finally bowing out to a standing ovation.

Jack Gibbons’s piano series continues with evenings dedicated to Chopin and Gershwin, and a programme of Spanish music featuring composers such as Liszt, Rachmaninov, Brahms, Schubert, Scarlatti and Gibbons himself. The season ends with the traditional farewell piano party, in which audience members choose the second half of the programme on the night. But take my advice – book early!

Daily Mail, Sunday July 17th, 2005

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, July 10th 2005

David Mellor


Jack Gibbons’s Gershwin Recitals have been a popular annual event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for 16 years, but he says this one is the last. A shame because he offered a well filled hall some stunning playing that reasserted his credentials as the outstanding Gershwin pianist of our time.

Gibbons is a lifelong devotee who offers us not just the composer’s glorious melodies but also presents them as Gershwin himself played them. During his sadly all-too-brief career, Gershwin recorded most of his finest songs as spontaneous improvisations. They were never written down, so Gibbons has painstakingly created scores by transcribing the recordings; a labour of love that has taken many years.

But when he recreates them, it’s more than a tribute band show because he’s such a lively performer, with a strong technique and great musical imagination.

And he wisely larded this recital with some of his own compositions, plus a finger-wrenching piece of Alkan to prove he’s more than just a Gershwin player.

Gershwin was immersed in classical music from the start, bearing out Irving Berlin’s observation that ‘the rest of us were song writers, but George was always a composer’. His piano-playing, however, to the very end reflected his teen years as a Tin Pan Alley song plugger when, in order to make the tunes he was peddling more compelling, he would embellish and improvise, and he kept on doing that with his own infinitely better work later on.

Gibbons captures this unique style, with its blend of honky-tonk, stride and classic pianism, to perfection. To sample this wonderful stuff, do invest in his newly reissued four-CD set from the early Nineties, The Authentic George Gershwin on Sanctuary Classics.

Oxford Times, Friday July 23rd, 2004

Oxford, England, July 18th 2004

Nicola Lisle


Jack Gibbons was in sparkling form last Sunday, as he opened his 17th summer season with a programme of Beethoven's piano sonatas. A warm welcome greeted the arrival of Oxford's famous musical son as he returned to his former stomping ground. The Holywell was packed to capacity. For someone used to the Queen Elizabeth Hall and New York's Carnegie Hall, this venue must seem small indeed. But Gibbons has made no secret of the fact that it is one of his favourites, and with this level of support, who can blame him?

Gibbons' affinity with Beethoven's music is such that he transcends mere recital; rather, he becomes one with the composer, absorbing his moods and passions, and recreating his bravura technique. This was immediately apparent in the opening piece, the Pathetique, with its strident beginning and the contrasting lyricism of the second and third movements. The popular Moonlight Sonata followed, its famous Adagio movement quickly giving way to the more impassioned Allegretto and Presto agitato, the conflicting emotions effectively realised and well sustained. The second half opened with the beautifully romantic Sonata in E minor, written in 1814 and inspired by the impending wedding of Count Moritz Lichnowsky, to whom it was dedicated. The programme finished with the dramatic Appassionata sonata, which Gibbons imbued with his customary energy and virtuosity.

This was an exhilarating tribute to a great master, enlivened by Gibbons's authoritative and entertaining commentary, and earning a well-deserved standing ovation.

Oxford Times, Friday November 21st, 2003

Music by Jack Gibbons, Richard Strauss, Scarlatti, Mozart, etc.
with ANN MACKAY (soprano) and JACK GIBBONS (piano)
Oxford, England, November 12th 2003

Nicola Lisle


Jack Gibbons is renowned for his skills as a piano virtuoso. What is less well known, perhaps, is that he is also a composer of distinction, who was awarded a composition prize at the age of 14 by the late Sir Lennox Berkeley. Last week, at the Holywell Music Room, Gibbons realised a long-cherished ambition when he unveiled a selection of his songs and other short compositions, many of them written while recovering from his horrific car crash in 2001. These moving versions of poems by Christina Rossetti and Emily Bront undoubtedly reflect Gibbons's mood at the time, as he faced an uncertain future. Jack once said that song writing was not "a career thing, it's something I do for pleasure. If people happen to like what I write that's nice". He must have been pleased, then, with the reaction from the Holywell audience, who clearly enjoyed what they heard.

Soprano Ann Mackay was the perfect choice to showcase his work. Her stunning voice, sensitive interpretation and thoughtful phrasing were, quite simply, glorious. Every song was a tour de force, each imbued with a radiant glow.

In addition to the Gibbons songs, Mackay also performed a selection by Scarlatti, Arne, Mozart and Richard Strauss, before demonstrating her versatility with renditions of Cole Porter's The Physician and Flanders and Swann's A Word On My Ear. Unlike some recitalists, Mackay is an all-round performer; singer, actress and comedienne. A truly inspiring performance.

Jack Gibbons and Ann Mackay have established a wonderful professional rapport, both sharing the same levels of artistry, musicality and ability to engage the audience. Hopefully this empathy will be equally apparent on their current recording of Jack's songs, due for release in the near future.

For more information about the forthcoming CD, and other engagements, visit www.JackGibbons.com.


Sunday Express, August 4th, 2002

REVIEW OF JACK GIBBONS' SELL OUT COME BACK CONCERT at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, July 28th 2002

Michael Church applauds a gutsy Jack Gibbons

The irrepressible Jack Gibbons was back at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Sunday, after a long absence but still with his marvellous Gershwin show. He played not only Gershwin, but also composers the master admired, including Bach; he also played music by Gershwin's admirers, including Ravel and Rachmaninov. With a big, muscular sound, hurling fistfuls of notes in every direction, Gibbons was on top form.

After the interval he deconstructed a dazzling piece of stride, remarking as he did so that last year he'd broken his arm in 15 places. Then he dazzled some more and wound up playing a deliciously comic piece of Gershwinned Mozart. We cheered him to the rafters.

Offstage, this debonair young man admitted that his return had been a long haul. One morning last year, Gibbons was in a crash which reduced his car to half its length. But the collapsed lung, abdominal and facial injuries and broken feet were nothing compared with the damage to his left arm. His surgeon said he was within a millimetre of severing the main nerve to the hand, which would have ended his career.

His life hung in the balance and for a while he couldn't speak but he did write to his surgeon promising a concert, which he duly gave from a wheelchair on his 40th birthday, to raise funds for the Radcliffe Hospital's critical care unit.

Convalescing, he composed classical songs - songs about loss and regret to be performed in America later this year. He had a relapse and a large part of his intestines was removed.

The X-rays of his face and arm now show an intricate tracery of rods, plates and pins and the reconstruction of his muscular abilities has been slow. At first, he found it impossible to tell his fingers what to do because the link between brain and hands had been disrupted. His hearing had also been impaired. "Oddly," he says, "that worried me more than my other injuries."

He returned to the stage in a wheelchair, from which he played his own arrangements of Bach and Chopin for his right hand. And, finally, last November he made his return to New York's Carnegie Hall to huge cheers.

How has the experience changed his attitude to music? "I value it much more." He is no longer concerned about what the critics say or about the future. "I've realised anything can happen. I've also become a fan of the NHS." Going by last Sunday, it must have done him good to realise how many fans he has, too. The night would have been gruelling for anyone, but for a man who has been so mangled, it was miraculous.



Musical Opinion (London), September, 2002

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, July 28th 2002

Robert Matthew-Walker


It was reassuring to see and hear that Jack Gibbons has recovered from the horrendous motor accident last year which almost killed him, and in which, he told us, he broke his left arm in 15 places.

There are few pianists today who can fill the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but Jack Gibbons is certainly one of them as his recital on 28 July demonstrated. The programme, billed as A Gershwin Party, was built around the famous parties which Gershwin attended in Europe and the USA, during which he needed no persuading to entertain fellow-guests with piano improvisations. Entertainment was the key for Jack Gibbons’ recital, which ranged from Bach to Fats Waller, along the way taking in music by people who knew Gershwin. Thus the items presented were a mixed bag, introduced by Gibbons with complaisant ease to his sophisticated audience. His unique style of playing has lost none of its power and communicative qualities.

Oxford Times, Friday March 8th, 2002

in aid of the Critical Care Facility, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford
Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, March 2nd 2002

Nicola Lisle


A year ago, Jack Gibbons was fighting for his life in the John Radcliffe's Intensive Care Unit, following a horrific car crash in which he sustained multiple injuries. For a while, it seemed as though the career of one of this country's finest concert pianists was over.

Thankfully, he made a complete recovery, as he superbly demonstrated at the Sheldonian Theatre on Saturday with a virtuosic display of immense skill and artistry. The occasion marked Jack's 40th birthday, but was also a tribute to the care and dedication of the hospital staff involved in his recovery. Proceeds from the evening were donated to the John Radcliffe Critical Care Initiative.

Gibbons has lost none of the extraordinary technique that won him international acclaim early in his career. A packed auditorium was treated to a diverse range of music, from the lyrical charm of Chopin and J.S. Bach, and the haunting, evocative La Cathedrale Engloutie, by Debussy, to the exuberance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 and the popular piano rolls of Scott Joplin. The programme ended with a selection of Gibbons's authentic reconstructions of the original piano improvisations by George Gershwin, with whom he is most famously associated.

All this was interspersed with amusing anecdotes - did you know, for instance, that Scarlatti grew so fat he was eventually unable to cope with the technical demands of his own music? Or that Liszt once pretended to faint in performance to avoid having to complete a difficult tarantella? Neither did I until Saturday night. It was this relaxed, informal style of presentation that makes an evening with Jack Gibbons so entertaining.

After two encores, he was presented with a piano-shaped cake, as a spontaneous rendition of Happy Birthday was sung by an appreciative and adoring audience.

Musical Opinion (London), December, 2000

Jack Gibbons (piano)
City of Oxford Orchestra conducted by Levon Parikian
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, July 9th 2000

Margaret Davies



The pianist Jack Gibbons has devoted a major part of his career to the music of George Gershwin and in particular to performing it as written by the composer, rid of the so-called improvements inflicted on it by publishing editors and the liberties taken by many performers. In 1990 Gibbons gave his first all-Gershwin concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall which has happily become an annual event. On 9 July he and an enthusiastic audience celebrated the Tenth Anniversary, joined by the City of Oxford Orchestra conducted by Levon Parikian.

The programme featured some of the music for which Gershwin is best known and loved, including three of the major concert works that established his place as a serious composer, interspersed with the solo piano improvisations that Jack Gibbons has made his speciality. Conductor and soloist were united in the sparkle and vivacity they infused into the Concerto in F, performed in Gershwin's original orchestration, restored by Gibbons.

Individual wind players seized the solo opportunities which Gershwin's music offers them, both in the Concerto and An American in Paris, which was also performed in the original orchestration and for which the City of Oxford Orchestra produced a powerfully authentic American Showband sound.

Gibbons' dedication to recreating George Gershwin's authentic orchestral sound is based on copies of the composer's own manuscript scores of his concert works which the pianist has collected and on his all-embracing collection of recordings made by Gershwin himself and by contemporary musicians.

The solo piano improvisations to which Gibbons brings such flair as well as his outstanding virtuosity, are recreations of Gershwin's own performances. This music was never published or even written down and Jack Gibbons has transcribed it note-for-note from the recordings of improvisations such as Gershwin might have played at parties. In his selection Gibbons included Fascinating Rhythm, a hauntingly unsentimental version of The Man I Love, I Got Rhythm, of which there was plenty in this performance, Someone To Watch Over Me, and an elaborate improvisation on Shall We Dance. Less familiar was Somebody from Somewhere, a song from the film Delicious, a charming piece in the style of a musical box.

In contrast to the dazzling piano improvisations, the orchestral strings played an early piece entitled Lullaby, written before Gershwin's career took off; a gentle melody completely divorced from the glitter of the Show tunes. The concert ended with a pulse-raising performance of the Rhapsody in Blue in which the pianist shared the honours with the Orchestra's Clarinet, Trumpet and Trombone Principals.

Gibbons played one encore, Vladimir Horowitz's arrangement of The Stars and Stripes, a fiendishly difficult version that would have entangled the fingers of a less prodigiously gifted performer.

Croydon Advertiser, Wednesday November 1st, 2000

Fairfield Halls, Croydon, October 31st 2000

Howard Thomas


This quite exceptional event was not merely a recital of George Gershwin's songs on the piano, but Jack Gibbons' performances of his transcriptions of Gershwin's song improvisations, which have been painstakingly taken down from the composer's own performances on piano rolls, 78rpm records, films and radio broadcasts.

The very nature of improvisations is that they would not be likely to be played exactly the same twice, so if an odd octave note were unnoticed or some other minor note missed through the quality of the recording, it would still be as close to what Gershwin intended as is humanly possible.

Gibbons has done an almost unbelievably clever and painstaking job here. They are not good because they reflect some era which now seems golden, rather they have lasted only because the like of Someone To Watch Over Me, 'S Wonderful, The Man I Love, Funny Face and many more are such perfectly constructed songs of exceptional musical quality.

Amazingly, considering that Gershwin had little talent as a singer, his piano versions still have the strength to make people want to hum along with them, as this concert revealed.

The final item was a reconstruction of Rhapsody in Blue, involving all the piano solo and the orchestral parts as well. Gibbons' technical wizardry was bewildering. Yet with all his flamboyance, he played subtly, with great taste and respect for the composer.

The encore wasn't by Gershwin, rather another of Gibbons' transcriptions, but of a somewhat wild Vladimir Horowitz performance of Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever.

I was sitting where I could watch his hands, and, for the life of me, I don't know how Gibbons produced all the notes, but he did, with an energy calculated to exhaust the audience along with him.

Who could ask for anything more than this?

Oxford Times, Friday November 19th, 1999, Arts Page


Chris Gray


It was the evening of the 11th day of the 11th month and therefore A Time to Remember  (as the concert's title put it) for every member of last Thursday's capacity audience at the Sheldonian. A time to rejoice, too, in the power of music to soothe the soul in times of war and peace, and to marvel at the gifts - honed by years of practice - of those who bring it to us.

Tonight our heartfelt thanks were owed to the pianist Jack Gibbons, Oxford born and bred, and now the world's leading exponent of the keyboard music of George Gershwin. For him, the occasion brought another reason to remember, being 21 years since he delighted an Oxford audience, aged 16, with his first concert performance of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto.

This great composition from the dawn of the century, though often sad in tone, possesses a tremendous sense of optimism for what lies ahead. This came over loud and clear as Jack returned to the work in his maturity with all the vigour and sound technique - not to mention the histrionics - it demands.

His joy at the task in hand was evident as he continued with an impromptu performance of the same composer's Prelude in G minor   and, after the interval, turned to the work of another piano genius, Gershwin. Solo piano pieces (I Got Rhythm, Swanee) were another addition to the programme, flanking the centrepiece, Rhapsody in Blue. This received an electrifying performance from the soloist and the 55-strong orchestra, under Levon Parikian, which had already excelled in works as different as Glinka's fiery overture from Ruslan and Ludmilla and Samuel Barber's languorous Adagio for Strings.

Before leaving, Jack told us of a delightful question put to him three days earlier by a precocious eight-year old girl in the audience for his Gershwin masterclass at New York's Lincoln Centre: "Where do you see your career going from here, Mr Gibbons?"

Ever upwards, I fancy.

Worcester MA Telegram and Gazette, Saturday October 30, 1999

Tuckerman Hall, Worcester Mass. USA, October 29th 1999

Kevin Gabriel


Jack Gibbons is not simply a pianist, he is a magician whose playing brings back to life another era. Gibbons' all-Gershwin tribute to Fred Astaire last night combined scintillating piano playing with authentic interpretations in a performance that brought his audience to its feet,

The concert, performed before a packed house at Tuckerman Hall, was part of this year's Worcester Music Festival and was sponsored by Music Worcester

The performance largely consisted of music that Gershwin never wrote. Gibbons reconstructed most of this music from Gershwin's recorded performances or extrapolated it from film scores. So we got a different George Gershwin than usually springs to mind: a composer who could write virtuoso music. The wide leaps in the left hand and the intricate filigree and thick clusters of notes in the left hand would prove a challenge for any artist.

Gibbons reveled in these pianistic hurdles. His right hand danced effortlessly around the keyboard, generating a brilliant, shimmering tone at the top of the piano. With his left hand, Gibbons belted out thunderous accompaniments and negotiated acrobatic jumps.

Gibbons' arrangements of some of well-known songs that made up much of the program were not played as display pieces, however. Gibbons' light, airy performance had a teasing elegance that belied its difficulty.

The performance of Gershwin's more extended concert works, such as "Variations on I Got Rhythm" or "Rhapsody in Blue," had similar virtues. But there was a Lisztian component that loomed large in the pianist's interpretive approach. Gibbons is clearly no technical slouch.

"Rhapsody" was played in a finger-twisting arrangement that combined the solo piano part with an orchestral reduction. It was less colorful and less grand than the usual piano-and-orchestra version. But the virtuoso effects were a feast for piano cranks.

Gibbons eschewed heavy-handed playing throughout. There was no relentless marching through the music. The pianist's lagging left hand ensured that there was plenty of rhythmic flexibility to the line.

There was no banging at the keyboard, either. Gibbons kept the scale of his performances small. These were performances intended for an intimate setting more than the large concert hall. One was reminded of the statement of the pianist Earl Wild that Gershwin had "nightclub fingers" and that he played more for the enjoyment of those immediately around him than for a large audience. Gibbons echoed this sentiment when he reported to the audience that much of Gershwin's pianistic reputation rested on his performances at New York City high-society parties.

Gibbons' enthusiasm was evident from the start and made all the more clear in his interesting and at times humorous commentary. They gave the performances a stamp of authority that made the evening memorable. 

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