1967 – 1969

This is the most consistent – and, perhaps, most memorable – period in Gabor Szabo’s musical evolution. The guitarist formed a working quintet, steadied by bassist Louis Kabok and percussionist Hal Gordon and significantly fueled by the multifaceted talents of guitarist Jimmy Stewart.

The quintet format became Szabo’s preferred and most ideal situation — whether in performance or in the studio. Coincidentally, the associations listed here were often recorded in the studio as well — which is unusual throughout much of Szabo’s career. Of the listings below, the drummer is usually the only change to personnel.

Gabor Szabo Quartet (early 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Al Stinson (b); Jim Keltner (d).

In setting out to establish a new musical identity, Szabo in early 1967 not only formed one of his more innovative and influential working groups, he forged one of the most positive and powerful musical alliances of his career. The addition of prodigiously talented and accomplished guitarist Jimmy Stewart (born James Otto Stewart, September 8, 1937) to Szabo’s group was to have a profoundly successful effect on Szabo.

“I met Gabor at the Hungry I,” says Stewart, a San Francisco native who spent much of his teenage years playing at the Bay area night spot. “But it was Gene DiNovi, Lena Horne’s longtime pianist, who suggested to both Gabor and I that we should play together. Later Gene set up a meeting for me and Gabor in Sparks, Nevada. I was a musical director at the time. Even though I’d already played with people like Earl “Fatha” Hines, I didn’t have anything to bring him to say, ‘here’s what I can do.’ But from the very beginning we seemed to hit it off. After two songs he asked me to be in the band. He said that he couldn’t offer me the money I was making. But I didn’t care about that.”

Stewart and Szabo had an immediate chemistry, as if of one mind and evident in the first notes they played together. “At the first rehearsal,” Stewart explains, “we had Jimmy Keltner, Albert Stinson, me and Gabor. I’ll never forget one of the songs we played was ‘Tarantula’ from the Chico days. That’s quite a number. I had to learn to play it on the spot. It was crazy. Leonard Feather was there. He went nuts. I could play off Gabor so well, I didn’t have to think about it. It was just like falling off a log with me.” The new quartet performed only several shows at Shelly’s Manne Hole in Los Angeles before bassist Albert Stinson departed. Stinson eventually went on to play in Larry Coryell’s group. He died in his sleep at age 24 while on tour with Coryell in 1969.

Gabor Szabo Quartet (early 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Jim Keltner (d).

Stinson was replaced by Louis Kabok, a classically-trained bassist and former Szabo musical associate in Hungary and in Szabo’s first American group, the Three Strings. “That was one heck of a band,” recalls Stewart. “I always thought of it as a true gypsy band. The three of us, Gabor, Louis and I, could sit down and create a song on the spot. We were known for it. Gabor could do it instinctively. There was such an area for invention. The core and the seeds would spring between the three of us. It was just like Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France. We could do anything; pop, rock, even a Bartok concerto, Kodaly, Kodi. This was the music they heard in Europe; the way we’ve always heard pop music here. With that tremendous background and my classical and jazz training I could fit right in there. Sometimes we’d be with Louis’ time. Sometimes we’d be in Gabor’s time. Others it was mine. We could think of things in terms of form and we could really make the audience understand it. I got used to it…the surprise and the invention.”

Gabor Szabo Quintet (March 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart(g); Louis Kabok (b); Jim Keltner (d); Hal Gordon (per).

Hal Gordon was added on percussion and in March 1967 the group began appearing at West Coast clubs like the Trident in Sausalito and Marty’s and the Manne Hole in Los Angeles. Even while Szabo evinced a preference for string-based jazz groupings early on, this particular unit — buoyed by Jimmy Stewart’s chameleon-like abilities to mimic, offer counterpoint or comp with great sensitivity — established a strong identity for Szabo and created a genuine and memorable excitement on stage. In reviewing a Trident performance the following year, critic John L. Wasserman pointed out that the band was unusual in “(f)irst, its instrumentation — strings and percussion only. Second, it is the only group that comes to mind which uses both an electric and an acoustic guitar. Last, it has a very contemporary sound which is neither avant-garde or heavily rock-influenced.”

But it was quite clearly Stewart who gave Szabo’s unique voice a new personality. “The quintet features Szabo’s own minor-key tone poems but also plays rich ballads and some wonderful Brazilian things,” wrote Phillip Ellwood, in a review of one of the first Trident performances, adding that the difference here was the invention and interplay between the two guitarists. “The two of them work beautifully as a team, swapping the lead line and occasionally providing the performance’s high points with magnificent duet improvisations.” Stewart’s classical chord structures and tremendously fluid runs found ideal counterpoint in Szabo’s amplified single-lined jabs and feedback frolics. As a result, Szabo was accorded with the highest regard he was to achieve during his career.

At Marty’s, a newly-opened club in Los Angeles that seated 400 and offered excellent acoustics, the Szabo quintet was caught and reviewed for the April 9, 1967, DownBeat. Featured songs included “Autumn Leaves,” “Spellbinder,” “Comin’ Back” and Szabo’s extended single-string solo on “What is This Thing Called Love?”.

Gabor Szabo Quintet (Shelly’s Manne Hole; Los Angeles: 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart(g); Louis Kabok (b); Dick Berk (d); Hal Gordon (per).

The quintet was caught at one of its first performances (with Dick Berk in the drummer’s chair) at Shelly’s Manne Hole by Leonard Feather. In his Los Angeles Times column Feather aptly noted “the unusual instrumentation of this group has established an identity that strongly reflects Szabo’s personality — the rhapsodic gypsy musical background of his native Hungary and the diversity of other disciplines he has picked up along the way.” While clearly impressed with the band’s performance and Szabo’s multiple fusions, Feather worried that Szabo “has all but renounced the straighter, head-swinging sounds that once inspired him.” Still, critics – including Feather – seemed dazzled and audiences were bewitched.

Gabor Szabo Quintet (May 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart(g); Louis Kabok (b); Johnny Rae (d); Hal Gordon (per).

Los Angeles Jazz Festival at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion (May 12, 13 and 14, 1967): Over three days in May 1967, Gary McFarland was featured in several aggregates (May 12: Gary McFarland conducts the Los Angeles Jazz Festival Orchestra – featuring Ray Brown, May 13: Gary McFarland conducts the Los Angeles Jazz Festival Orchestra – featuring Bob Brookmeyer and May 14: Gary McFarland conducts the Los Angeles Jazz Festival Orchestra – featuring Clark Terry & Zoot Sims) performing “JAZZ at UCLA”. On the afternoon of May 14, it is said that there was a performance of Gary McFarland’s Raga Jazz Ensemble – Featuring Gabor Szabo. The event also featured Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and one of John Coltrane and his New Group’s last performances. The concerts were produced by “Monterey’s Jimmy Lyons”.

Gabor Szabo Quintet (June 20-25, 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Chuck Christian (d); Hal Gordon (perc).

During what was referred to as “Opening the Fillmore: Summer Sonics,” this was the quintet wherein Szabo (second billed) – and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (as opening act) – preceded the Jefferson Airplane at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore Auditorium. According to guitarist Jimmy Stewart, Jefferson Airplane had to cancel a few of these dates and Janis Joplin filled in. Bill Graham briefly refers to this presentation in his 1992 book, Bill Graham Presents: My Life Inside Rock and Out. Jefferson Airplane biographer Jeff Tamarkin also mentions this week of concerts in his 2003 book Got A Revolution! (pp 141-142).

Gabor Szabo Quintet (Newport Jazz Festival: July 1, 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Bill Goodwin Jr. (d); Hal Gordon (perc): see Five Faces Of Jazz. Szabo’s performance at this concert is available at Wolfgang’s to stream.

Gabor Szabo Quintet (July 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Marty Morell (d); Hal Gordon (perc).

The Szabo quintet (presumably with Marty Morell on drums) performs at the White House night club in Minneapolis on July 27, 1967. According to the August 2 issue of Variety, the group lacked showmanship, offering a 20-minute presentation of “monotonous and colorless” material “unrelieved by anything resembling a change of pace.”

Gabor Szabo Quintet (September 7, 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Bill Goodwin Jr. (d); Hal Gordon (perc).

Alan Heineman hails Szabo’s “unspectacular” quintet in performance at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago (DownBeat, September 7, 1967). Features include “Quiet Nights,” “Witchcraft” and “Mizrab.”

Gabor Szabo Quintet (Monterey Jazz Festival; Monterey, California: September 17, 1967): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Bill Goodwin (d); Hal Gordon (perc): see More Sorcery.

Gabor Szabo Sextet (Shelly’s Manne Hole, Los Angeles: January, 1968): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Pete Candoli, Conte Candoli (tp); Louis Kabok (b); Jim Keltner (d); Hal Gordon (perc). see Live At Shelly’s Manne Hole.

Gabor Szabo Quintet (early 1968): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Tommy Lawrence (d); Hal Gordon (perc).

A headline boasting “Szabo’s unique sound” began John L. Wasserman’s review of an early-1968 performance of the Szabo quintet at Sausilito’s Trident club. The quintet, featuring Szabo, Stewart, Kabok, Gordon and drummer Tommy Lawrence, was noted primarily for its covers of “Witchcraft,” “My Foolish Heart,” “Manha de Carnival” and “Paint it Black.”

“The sound,” Wasserman wrote, “is a light, mellifluous, rolling one; basically jazz with influences from Brazil, Cuba, the East and Karlheinz Stockhausen(!).” Adding praise for the percussionists and Kabok’s adroit musicality, Wasserman noted that “the main show is Szabo and Stewart…it is greatly satisfying to listen to the two of them. The improvised question-answer, or statement-argument, or point-counterpoint – whatever it is called — is beautifully done.”

Cal Tjader and Gabor Szabo (San Diego; 1968): Gabor Szabo (g); Cal Tjader (vib); Hal Gordon, Armando Peraza (per).

Performing with Cal Tjader, Szabo is pictured (among a collage of historic Tjader performances) playing with Armando Peraza and Hal Gordon in San Diego, 1968, on the inner sleeve of Tjader’s third Skye recording, Cal Tjader Plugs In (Skye SK10 [1969], DCC JAZZ DJZ622 [CD] [1995]). Szabo does not, however, perform on the album nor does any recording of the two leaders with their primary percussionists seem to exist. It is also interesting to note that Szabo, Tjader and Gary McFarland – the three principal partners in the musician-owned Skye Recordings label – are not known to have ever performed together as part of a trio or larger aggregate.

Gabor Szabo Sextet (June 1968): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); John Clauder (d); Lynn Blessing (vib); Hal Gordon (perc).

Gabor Szabo Quintet (Museum of Modern Art: August 1, 1968): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); unknown (d); Hal Gordon (perc).

The Gabor Szabo Quintet performs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on August 1, 1968, as part of the summer’s “Jazz in the Garden” series which also featured the Jimmy McGriff Trio and the Clark Terry Quintet.

Gabor Szabo Quintet (September 1968): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Louis Kabok (b); Dick Bert (d); Hal Gordon (perc).

Gabor Szabo Quartet (October 1968): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Dick Bert (d); Hal Gordon (perc).

Jimmy Stewart left Szabo’s group in late 1968 to debut a quartet of his own at Donte’s Guitar Night in Los Angeles. He went on to become a highly sought-after studio musician (especially for singers like Andy Williams, Barbara Streisand, Ray Charles). He later performed with Rod McKuen, taught guitar, initiated a long-running and highly-regarded column for Guitar Player magazine and composed works such as Concertina for Electric Guitar and Orchestra, 12 Hommages for Classic Guitar, works for string quartets and a sonata for solo violin. In addition to occasional recordings (Fireflower, a 1977 release on Catalyst 7621), Stewart went on to successfully publish more than 20 books. These include Wes Montgomery Guitar Method, Evolution of Jazz Guitar, Guitar for Songwriters, Ear Training for Guitarists, Sight Reading for Guitarists, Contemporary Rhythm Playing and Chord Melody.

Stewart continued to perform occasionally with Szabo in 1969 and throughout the seventies. The two officially reunited in 1974 for the short-lived Perfect Circle project, but they performed together on record only once more (“Estate” from 1977’s Faces). Stewart, later staged a tribute concert for Szabo after the Hungarian guitarist’s death in 1982. Stewart’s 1986 album release, The Touch (Blackhawk BKH-50301-D), featured a significant composition called “Gypsy ’86,” loosely based on Szabo’s “Gypsy ’66,” a hypothetical musical meeting of Szabo with Carlos Santana.

Gabor Szabo Quartet (El Matador, San Francisco; February 4, 1969): Gabor Szabo, Francois Vaz (g), Louis Kabok (b) and Al Cecchi (d).

The April 17, 1969, DownBeat reported that Szabo was beaten, stabbed and robbed of $300.00 by three men as he was walking to his hotel after performing at San Francisco’s El Matador club during the early morning hours of February 4. Despite being stabbed repeatedly in the chest, Szabo was treated for wounds and resumed work the following night at the El Matador. Most likely drug related, the incident forced the guitarist to cancel the remainder of his El Matador concerts. Szabo returned home to Los Angeles, but his group — Francois Vaz (g), Louis Kabok (b) and Al Cecchi (d) — finished out the engagement.

Charles Lloyd Quartet / Gabor Szabo Quintet / Fourth Way (Berkeley Community Theater, Oakland, California: February 8, 1969).

Gabor Szabo (Jazz By The Bay: International Sports Arena, San Diego, California: August 1969): Gary Barone (tp); John Gross (ts); Mike Wofford (key); Gabor Szabo (g); Dave Parlatto (b); Shelly Manne (d).

Harvey Siders reported in the September 4, 1969, issue of DownBeat that “Shelly Manne’s new group caught fire immediately. Shelly is justifiably proud of his quintet (Gary Barone, trumpet; John Gross, tenor; Wofford, and Dave Parlatto subbing for bassist John Heard). They keep him young with their exciting excursions into the land of free. They stayed on to back Gabor Szabo, who proved a great crowd-pleaser with Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” predictably followed by his favorite ballad, “My Foolish Heart.” Strangely, with poor acoustics bugging everyone, Gabor’s feedback gimmickry never sounded better. It cut through the combo with the persistence and body of a French Horn.”

Gabor Szabo/Jimmy Stewart (October 1969): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); unknown b, d and poss. perc.