b: March 8, 1936. d: February 26, 1982.
Gábor István Szabó was born in Budapest, Hungary, on March 8, 1936. He developed an interest in guitar after seeing a Roy Rogers movie in 1949. When he was 14, he received a guitar from his father for Christmas. It was a poorly made instrument. But with the guitar, the teenager was offered one free lesson.
He proceeded to teach himself to play by devising his own fingering system; one that accounted for the difficulty of the instrument’s imprecision. Around this time, the young Szabó developed an interest in jazz by listening to Willis Conover‘s radio programs on the Voice of America. Hearing the likes of Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow on these programs, Szabo tried to emulate his American heroes in his own playing.
Soon thereafter, Szabó began playing with local groups in dinner clubs; and, whenever he could, would attempt to play jazz. He even participated in several recording sessions, including one under the leadership of Myrna Bell [Irma Hosó] before leaving Hungary on the eve of the anti-Communist uprising in November 1956.
The twenty-year-old Szabó made his way one evening over the Hungarian border into Austria, accompanied by his girlfriend and first love, Éva, and a friend, Tibor Gyimesi (who eventually became an architect in Los Angeles).
Szabó’s only possession that evening was the guitar he had received for Christmas years before. Eventually, Szabo and his family made their way to the United States and settled in San Bernadino, California.
After an unsuccessful attempt to make a career in music with his own group, the Three Strings – including fellow Hungarian émigré Lajos (later Louis) Kabok – in Los Angeles, the young guitarist worked as a janitor for a while.
His intent was to save money to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston. In 1958 he was accepted and left for Boston.