b: March 8, 1936. d: February 26, 1982.
In setting out to establish a new musical identity, Szabo in early 1967 formed his first, and perhaps most influential working group.
In the quintet, fueled by the prodigiously talented and accomplished guitarist Jimmy Stewart, longtime Szabo friend and fellow Hungarian refugee Louis Kabok on bass, Hal Gordon on percussion and a variety of excellent stickmen in the drummer’s chair (Jim Keltner, Dick Berk, Johnny Rae, Marty Morell and others), the guitarist found his most preferred and ideal musical situation.
It was especially significant that Szabo found in the classically-trained Stewart a soloist, like Charles Lloyd in the past, with whom he could exchange ideas and trade fours. The two were ideally suited to one another; providing a beautiful contrast to each other’s gifts. Szabo’s new quintet was recorded live for Impulse! with The Sorcerer, one of Szabo’s most enduringly popular recordings.
Gabor Szabo’s quintet played many clubs and festivals during 1967; winning unanimous praise for its collective sensitivity, strong identity and the genuine and memorable excitement it created on stage.
The guitarist, in collaboration with producer Bob Thiele, also began participating in increasingly popular and rather forgettable recordings that featured more popular songs, singing groups and less of his signature guitar work: Wind Sky And Diamonds, Light My Fire (with Thiele) and the little-known Songs For Gentle People (with Steve Allen).
Living on Cordell Drive in Hollywood – where his neighbors included Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn – and recording and performing almost exclusively on the West Coast, Gabor Szabo joined with composer Gary McFarland (a New York City resident) and vibraphonist Cal Tjader (a San Francisco resident) to form the Skye Recording Co., Ltd.
Based in New York under the direction of their mutual manager, Norman Schwartz, the Skye Recordings label was founded as an independent resource for more contemporary jazz and emerging musicians – with musical intentions similar to its principals’ interests.
In addition to the 20-some recordings the company released over its brief three-year existence, Skye released some of Szabo’s finest recordings, including Bacchanal and Dreams (both 1968) and Gabor Szabo 1969, a fine collection of Szabo’s pop/rock interpretations.
During this period, Szabo also began experimenting with the use of feedback in his playing. He successfully achieved his goal of mimicking the drone of a sitar and tastefully extended his unique metallic sound into a broader, more experimental soundscape (which guitar synthesists like Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell would perfect some years later). Szabo would occasionally weave his feedback experiments into his recordings, but find most of his success with this playing during live performances.
By the end of 1969, Szabo was teamed with legendary singer Lena Horne for a classic performance in Lena & Gabor. The perennially popular and well-liked record proved to be an ideal showcase for Szabo, who is heard to be a gifted and most sensitive accompanist. For Lena Horne, it was an opportunity to reach a younger audience to with more contemporary material (by the Beatles, Michel Legrand, Burt Bachrach and Harry Nilsson).
While the two had performed on stage together in the past, this collection presented the first opportunity for record buyers to hear how special their collaboration was. The following year, the two reunited on Ms. Horne’s television special.
The record, despite its enormous popularity, proved to be one of the last issued by the financially-challenged Skye label. Szabo, Tjader and McFarland parted ways and Szabo, who had spent much of 1969 infrequently performing, was anxious to form a new band.