1960 – 1965

Gabor Szabo would later credit his performance at 1958’s Newport Jazz Festival with the International Jazz Band as one of the best things to happen to his career.

While there, he met Nesuhi Ertegun, later president of Atlantic Records, and drummer Chico Hamilton, who was at the time riding a high degree of jazz notoriety. Ertegun signed Szabo to the Atlantic label many years later in 1978, but after Szabo produced an album the label wasn’t very excited about (Femme Fatale), the two parted ways.

Hamilton, however, turned out to change Szabo’s life. After leaving Berklee, Szabo moved back to California, bringing with him his new wife, Alicia. He met Hamilton again in 1960 while both were in Los Angeles, and Hamilton indicated he was in search of a guitarist. Only too eager, Szabo auditioned. He was hired.

Chico Hamilton (late 1960): Charles Lloyd (as,ts,f); Gabor Szabo (g); poss. Nate Gershman (cello); poss. Bobby Hayes (b); Chico Hamilton (d).

Hamilton, however, could not assimilate Szabo’s more angular individuality with the group’s famed “chamber” sound. Frankly, Hamilton was unable to get used to the guitarist’s unique sound. Szabo was fired in late 1960 and, thoroughly discouraged, was forced to seek employment outside of music in property management. Charles Lloyd went on to record briefly with Les McCann. Shortly thereafter, Hamilton, sensing Lloyd’s musical gifts and an heir apparent to the unique Eric Dolphy, offered the reed player the opportunity to become the Hamilton group’s musical director. It was Lloyd who urged Hamilton to bring Szabo back to the group. Hamilton eventually relented and invited Szabo back in late 1961. Hamilton and Lloyd worked together to meld a fusion of younger, individually talented players and explore some of the new territory being mapped out by contemporaries, John Coltrane, Booker Ervin and former Hamilton star, Eric Dolphy. Gone were the trappings of Hamilton’s chamber experiments. Lloyd and Hamilton had a bolder, broader reach that demanded attention.

The Chico Hamilton Quintet (February 1962): Garnett Brown (tb); Charles Lloyd (f,ts); Gabor Szabo (g); Albert Stinson (b); Chico Hamilton (d).

This is the quintet which recorded Drumfusion. The “New Amazing Chico Hamilton Quintet” began club performances in early 1962. An early performance at the Jazz Gallery, New York, New York, also featuring the Harry “Sweets” Edison Quintet and Joe Williams is reviewed in the April 11, 1962, issue of Variety. The reviewer indicates “Chico Hamilton has junked his chamber music concept . . . (b)ut the new format gives it more freedom than the old concept allowed and the effect is strong.” The Variety writer also comments briefly on the talents of all involved, indicating “Gabor Szabo throws out some fine guitar sounds.” Later Szabo would say that even though Hamilton “let me go free,” the guitarist tried to forget his origins and eradicate his unique style to sound more like American guitarists. Eventually, though, he realized “those elements I’d wanted to get rid of…became assets to me; I found it gave me an individual sound. I realized that was the easiest way for me to communicate to people.”

Chico Hamilton Quintet(September 1962): George Bohannon (tb); Charles Lloyd (f,ts); Gabor Szabo (g); Albert Stinson (b); Chico Hamilton (d): see Transfusion.

Chico Hamilton Quartet(1963): Charles Lloyd (f,ts); Gabor Szabo (g); Albert Stinson (b); Chico Hamilton (d): see Man From Two Worlds.

Charles Lloyd left the Hamilton group in late 1963 to begin performing with the Cannonball Adderley Sextet. His contribution to the sextet resulted in one of Adderley’s stronger studio efforts of the period (Fiddler On The Roof). But it was evident that Lloyd yielded the individual authority he provided in Hamilton’s outfits to the Adderleys’ already deeply-planted soul. The Adderley experience, however, was only the inevitable transition Lloyd sought to a solo career. By the middle of 1964, Lloyd initiated the quartet recordings which came to be his solo recording debut, Discovery! (Columbia CL-2267/CS-9067, Sony (Jap)25DP-5317 [CD])

Chico Hamilton Quartet (January 1964): Jimmy Woods (as, ts, f); Gabor Szabo (g); Albert Stinson (b); Chico Hamilton (d).

Jimmy Woods was hired on January 10, 1964, to replace Charles Lloyd. An accomplished West Coast multi-reed player, Woods had already mastered Lloyd’s combination of fury and sensitivity yet brought an animation and drive all his own. Woods began his recording career playing alto on Joe Gordon’s outstanding record, Lookin’ Good (Contemporary S7597 and OJC 174). By the time he hooked up with the Hamilton group, he was frequently playing in Gerald Wilson’s aggregates and had released two accomplished, yet quickly forgotten solo albums, including a sextet set from 1963 (Conflict, Contemporary M3612) featuring heavyweights Harold Land, Carmell Jones, Andrew Hill, George Tucker and Elvin Jones. By the time Lloyd left the Hamilton group, though, Szabo ascended to become its star. Armed with a strong book of Lloyd compositions, Hamilton slowly began providing a forum for Szabo’s compositions and a showcase for Szabo’s remarkable performances. This allowed little room for Woods’ compositional abilities during his time with Hamilton. The new Hamilton quartet’s first performances were at the Troubador in Los Angeles with Brook Peters. According to a January 22, 1964, Variety review of the sparsely-attended January 15 performance, the quartet performed Lloyd compositions such as “Island Blues” (the band’s theme song) and “Voice in the Night.” Szabo’s “deep crouch” performance, which was gaining notoriety, was in evidence that evening.

Lena Horne with the Chico Hamilton Quartet (London: September-October 1964): Jimmy Woods (f,ts); Gabor Szabo (g); Albert Stinson (b); Chico Hamilton (d); Lena Horne (vcl).