Gabor Szabo Obituaries

Much can be learned about an artist through an obituary. One is apt to discover less about the individual than the culture in which – or for which – he or she contributed. Astute readers may even gather more detail about the obituary’s writer (or the publisher) as well.

While Gabor Szabo was eulogized by several well-known writers – like Leonard Feather, an early and avid supporter – only the British Jazz Journal’s J. Nethercott seemed to honor Gabor Szabo’s memory with a tribute to his art.

In collecting the following obituaries, a beneficial understanding of Gabor Szabo and his music may become apparent. The entire content of each obituary, where available, is provided (and, in some cases, translated) with inaccurate or incorrect references noted. Obituaries are listed chronologically.

Variety; March 17, 1982, p. 173

Gabor Szabo, age unreported, Hungarian-born guitarist, a Freedom Fighter who learned jazz by listening to the Voice of America before fleeing his country in 1956, died Feb. 26 in Budapest.

His brother, John Szabo, of Texas said the guitarist, known for his blend of ethnic melodies and American Jazz, had been hospitalized in December for liver and kidney problems. Szabo had gone to Hungary in July to produce a record album.

Initially finding it difficult to break into the U.S. jazz scene, Szabo formed his own group in the mid-1960s and produced albums that included “Spellbinder,” “Jazz Raga” and “Sorcerer.” In 1965 he did the score for Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion.”

Among his later performances was a command performance at the London Palladium, a concert in Carnegie Hall and, in 1974, a TV special filmed in his native Hungary.

In the late 1970s he joined the Church of Scientology, performing charity concerts for a Scientology-sponsored drug rehabilitation program and also signed to be repped by Vanguard Artists International, which was head by Scientology.

In February, 1980 he filed a $21,000,000-lawsuit against both parties, accusing them of misappropriating his money and mismanagement of his career. The suit was dropped a year later.

Critics have said Szabo’s style favored a melodic approach rather than the chordal manner of most guitarists, noting that his virtuosity seemed to turn his guitar into a sitar, mandolin or even two guitars playing at the same time.

In addition to his brother, Szabo is survived by a son.

Billboard; March 20, 1982, p. 70

Deaths: Gabor Szabo, 45, guitarist, of liver and kidney ailments Feb. 26 in Budapest. Born in Hungary, and inspired by U.S. “Voice of America” broadcasts, he came to the U.S. in the late 1950s and after several years, established himself as one of the most gifted guitar players. He made numerous records. Szabo returned to Hungary last July and was producing albums when he became ill in December. He is survived by a son, Blaise, and a brother, John Szabo, who resides in Texas.

Melody Maker; March 27, 1982, p.42

Cadence; April 1982, p. 62

Gabor Szabo died Feb. 26, in Budapest of liver and kidney ailments. He was 45.

Orkester Journalen; April 1982, p. 4
by Leonard Feather (translated from Swedish)

In Memoriam: Gabor Szabo — March 8, 1936-February 26, 1982

Gabor Szabo, who fled to America in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution, died on the 26th of February in a hospital in Budapest, according to his brother, John Szabo, who lives in Texas. The death occurred a week before his 46th birthday. He had been hospitalized since December 1981 with liver and kidney ailments.

Szabo, who played at Newport with the International Band in 1958 and later moved to San Bernadino, California, found it very difficult to get a job as a musician so he found himself working in property management for an entire year. He first became known when he joined the Chico Hamilton quintet in 1961. After playing with the Hamilton group for four years and for a time with Gary McFarland and later with Charles Lloyd, in 1966 he formed the first of many groups under his own name. He lived in Los Angeles after 1970.

Szabo was a gifted composer and wrote the score for Roman Polanski’s film “Compulsion” [sic]. His best known LP-albums were, among others, “Spellbinder,” “The Sorcerer” and the well-known album he produced with Lena Horne.

Szabo joined the Church of Scientology in the late 1970s and organized charity concerts for Narconon (one of the Church of Scientology’s units, a rehabilitation group). He later wrote for one of the church-directed talented agencies, but became disillusioned. In 1980 he joined in a suit for $21 million charging the church and the agencies with abuse of their financial responsibilities. The suit failed to survive arbitration. Later that year he announced his retirement. Szabo returned to Budapest early last summer to produce an album. He had planned to return to the USA this summer.

Jazz Podium; April 1982, p. 36
(translated from German)

On March 1st [sic], Gabor Szabo died in his native country in Budapest at the age of 45. Szabo emigrated from Hungary to the U.S. in 1956, studied at Berklee College of Music, Boston, from 1957-1959, and worked after that with Toshiko Akiyoshi, Chico Hamilton, Charles Lloyd, Gary McFarland and Cal Tjader. Additionally, he performed with groups of his own, one of which named “Perfect Circle” because it contained elements of chamber music, jazz and rock. Szabo became also known as a composer; he wrote, for instance, several movie soundtracks, among others for Roman Polanski’s “Disgust” [sic]. During the last years, only little was heard of Szabo internationally because he was participating more strongly in musical life in Hungary and, as a result, released the record “Femme Fatale” there recently.

Jazz Magazine; May 1982, p. 21
(translated from French)

FLASHES: Gabor Szabo died on February 26th in Budapest. He was hospitalized last December with continuing liver and kidney problems. A virtuoso guitarist, born in Hungary 45 years ago, he emigrated to the United States and played with Chico Hamilton, Gary McFarland, Charles Lloyd . . .

Coda; June 1, 1992, p. 39

DownBeat; June 1982, p. 13
by Herb Wong

Final Bar: Gabor Szabo, Hungarian guitarist, died in Budapest Feb. 26 of liver and kidney ailments. He was 45. Szabo came to the U.S. in the late ’50s and recorded extensively during the ’60s and ’70s with Charles Lloyd, Lena Horne and as a leader. He shared the db (DownBeat) Critics Poll TDWR (Talent Deserving Wider Recognition) award in ’64 with Attila Zoller. Szabo had returned to his native land last July and was producing albums when he first became ill.

Guitar Player; July 1982
by Lucienne O’Connor

In Memoriam: Probably best known for his uncanny ability to blend jazz with Eastern, rock and blues influences, Gabor Szabo passed away on February 26, 1982, in his native Budapest, Hungary. During the ’60s he gained prominence in drummer Chico Hamilton’s quartet, winning the DownBeat Best New Jazz Guitarist award [sic] jointly with Atilla [sic] Zoller in 1964. More recently, Gabor had been working in LA, recording solo LPs as well as playing on numerous sessions and TV spots. Guitar Player articles on Szabo can be found in the following issues: Oct. and Dec. ’69, Feb. ’71, and Jul. ’75.

Jazz Journal; December 1982, p. 7
by J. Nethercott

Gabor Szabo: Guitarist, Gabor Szabo, who died in Budapest earlier this year, aged 45, was entirely self taught from the age of 14, when he got his first guitar for Christmas. The only belonging he carried out of Hungary when he fled the country after the revolution in 1956 was his guitar. In America he went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he met Chico Hamilton in 1958. Later he joined Hamilton’s group, Charles Lloyd’s group etc. Then he formed his own group. In the sixties, he lived and played mostly on the West Coast. He recorded many albums for Impulse (‘Gypsy 66’, ‘Simpatico’, ‘Spellbinder’, ‘Jazz Raga’, ‘The Sorcerer’, ‘Wind, Sky and Diamond’, ‘Light My Fire’, ‘More Sorcery’). Also The Skye Label (‘Bacchanal’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Gabor Szabo 69’, etc) and later with many more record labels. His last album was made for Peptih [sic] International Records in Hollywood with Chick Corea and has yet to be released, In the early seventies, he gave guitar workshop classes at various American Colleges.

About himself he said: ‘Music is a very personal thing — you want to sound different. I came a little bit the other way around, I didn’t want to sound different, but I happened to sound different, now I don’t want to change.’

A completely unorthodox musician, his qualities were his beautiful sound, unique use of space, the ability to play complete melodies with feedback, and the compassionate feeling that runs through all his work. This for me made him the most original and compelling guitarist playing today and along with Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendryx and Derek Bailey one of the musicians in the history of that instrument whose voice has not been heard before.