Gabor Szabo
b: March 8, 1936. d: February 26, 1982.

Self portrait (c. 1970s)1

Szabo joined Hamilton’s group, which now included the talented young tenor player and composer, Charles Lloyd. Hamilton actually did not like Szabo’s playing at first and fired the young guitarist – although Hamilton told me he doesn’t remember firing anybody from any of his groups.

Lloyd, too, left the group to work briefly with pianist Les McCann. Hamilton asked Lloyd back into the group; offering him the role as the group’s musical director. Lloyd accepted on condition that Hamilton bring Szabo back into the group. Hamilton agreed.

In December 1961, Hamilton solidified his new quintet with the trombone of George Bohannon (a role he often traded with Garnett Brown) and recorded a stirring soundtrack to a short industrial film, Litho.

Within weeks, the quintet began appearing in clubs, startling patrons with its utterly new and unique sound. Fronted by Lloyd’s passionate Coltrane-influenced fireworks, this unique quintet coupled a muscular trombone-tenor front-line with Szabo’s angularity melodic guitar (instead of piano) and the dexterity of young bassist Albert Stinson with Chico Hamilton’s picturesque percussion cues.

Hamilton’s truly was a dynamic sound heralding a new generation of jazz.

Hamilton’s quintet went to the studios in February 1962 and recorded the powerful Drumfusion for Columbia Records; a brilliant explosion of creative sound to ushering in Hamilton’s new musical innovations and clearly announcing the arrival of a new sound in jazz.

Later that year, the quintet recorded Passin’ Thru for Impulse, home of John Coltrane, and, perhaps one of the most significant jazz recordings of the early 60s. This record announced the group’s arrival and jazz listeners took note of the unique sound Hamilton’s group was creating.

Many of Lloyd’s compositions were quite memorable and worthy of repeated listens, and gained strength with each new Hamilton release. Here, too, people began to pay attention to the young guitarist who created the haunting elegance of “Lady Gabor.” Another outstanding quintet record was made in San Francisco in 1963 (A Different Journey) for Frank Sinatra’s new label, Reprise.

Alternating performances as a quartet (without trombone) and quintet, the group went on to record Man From Two Worlds, a collection of first-rate Charles Lloyd compositions, at the end of 1963.

Lloyd, seeking new musical horizons, left the Hamilton group for Cannonball Adderley’s quintet in early 1964. West Cost tenor player Jimmy Woods effectively replaced Lloyd, but the Hamilton group had a sturdy book of Lloyd compositions in its repertoire and in Szabo, a prominent young soloist who ascended rapidly to become the group’s star.

By 1964, the Hamilton group made appearances in New York and along the West Coast. In late 1964, the Hamilton group (without Woods) was in London backing Lena Horne at the Talk of the Town club and recording some striking music to Roman Polanski’s film, Repulsion.

Hamilton had performed behind Ms. Horne many times before, but this was the guitarist’s first collaboration with Ms. Horne — a musical relationship which would elaborate and deepen in the coming years. Shortly after returning to New York, Szabo had been voted by DownBeat critics as Talent Deserving Wider Recognition (tied, ironically, with fellow Hungarian guitarist Attila Zoller).

The Hamilton group went into the studios again to produce Chic Chico Chico, Hamilton’s showcase for Gabor Szabo’s unique playing and compositional skills.

  1. This self portrait of Gabor Szabo comes from brother John’s private collection. The sketch, as it appears here, was featured on page 163 of the first edition of Károly Libisch’s Feketére Festve (1993). It is also included on page 533 of the 2020 edition of the book. ↩︎