1974 – 1981

(Date unknown, c. early 70s)

Interbrass with Gabor Szabo (Budapest: August 12 and 19, 1974): Károly Neumayer (tp); Peter Kantor, Tamás Grünwald (ts); János Másik (el-p); Gabor Szabo (g): Alajos Németh (el-b); Nikosz Pogonatosz (d); István Dely, László Dely (cga); Tamas Berki (vcl).

Csaba Deseö (Budapest: August 12 and 19, 1974): János Réti (p); Gabor Szabo (g); Sándor Vajda (b); Balázs Berkes (b or per); Peter Thoms (d); Csaba Deseö (vln).

Gabor Szabo (Budapest: August 1974): János Másik (el-p); Gabor Szabo (g); Aladár Pege (b, el-b); Imre Köszegi (d,per); István Dely (cga); Kati Kovács (vcl): see Gabor Szabo In Budapest

Gabor Szabo Quartet (Donte’s; Hollywood, California: November 1974): Gabor Szabo (g); Richard Thompson (p), John Smith (b) and Bobby Morin (d).

Leonard Feather reviews a post-Hungarian Szabo performance at Donte’s (during the weekend of 11/8-11/10) for the November 23, 1974, issue of Melody Maker (and in the November 15, 1974, Los Angles Times under the headline “Gabor Szabo Quartet Borders On Boredom”). Szabo’s quartet includes Richard Thompson (p), John Smith (b) and Bobby Morin (d). Feather calls the performance monotonous and accuses Szabo of failing “to live up to the standards of which he has shown himself capable in earlier years.” Songs performed included “Rambler,” the show’s opener, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye,” “Mizrab” and Szabo’s “perennial and charming blues theme” (“Comin’ Back”). Feather’s disappointment seemed assuaged by news that Szabo was reportedly rehearsing an octet (sic – septet).

The Perfect Circle (November 1974): Gabor Szabo, Jimmy Stewart (g); Richard Thompson (p), Louis Kabok (b) John Smith or Wolfgang Melz (el-b); Bobby Morin (d); Mayuto [Mailto Correa] (per).

Melody Maker reported on November 23, 1974, that Szabo was forming a new “orchestra” featuring current associates performing with him at Donte’s club – Richard Thompson (p), John Smith (b) and Bobby Morin (d) – as well as three members of his former groups, Louis Kabok (b), Jimmy Stewart (g) and Mayuto [Mailto Correa] (perc). This group came to be known as the Perfect Circle in honor of what Szabo considered the evolution in his music. In a Guitar Player article, Szabo declared that his Hungarian trip “renewed my awareness of my Hungarian Gypsy heritage.” As a result, “I want to merge elements of both my acoustic and electric styles with a return to my musical roots.” Reportedly, the group’s style ranged from light classical touches to blatantly heavy rock.

Since Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz in the 70s lists the Perfect Circle among Szabo’s accomplishments, it was often mentioned in later literature featuring Szabo (especially various obituaries). But with the exception of several performances, the Perfect Circle was a short-lived, unsuccessful union. “It was never really a happy marriage,” remembers keyboardist Richard Thompson. “It was one of those things that sounded like a good idea on paper and in practice it never really did crystallize the way (Gabor) wanted it to. It just never got off the ground.” Subsequently, the Perfect Circle yielded no recordings; but can be heard (ever so briefly) on the soundtrack to the unreleased Gabor Szabo documentary, Rising.

Gabor Szabo Quartet (The Banque; Seattle, Washington: 1975): Gabor Szabo (g); Richard Thompson (el-p,p); Wolfgang Melz (el-b); Michael Van Eps (d): see Live At The Banque.

Gabor Szabo Quartet (Summer 1976): George Cables (p,el-p); Gabor Szabo (g); Tony Dumas (el-b); Sherman Ferguson (d).

Szabo’s quartet – an excellent aggregate including topflight musicians George Cables (el-p), Tony Dumas (el-b) and Sherman Ferguson (d) – performs at the Bottom Line in New York City (Variety, 8/8/76) and the Roxy in Los Angeles (Billboard, 9/4/76). At the Roxy, where Warren Zevon was the opening act, songs from the Nightflight album were featured (including “Concorde (Nightflight)”) as well as “Time” and “Macho.”

Gabor Szabo Quartet (Donte’s; North Hollywood, California: October 29-30, 1976): Gabor Szabo (g); Joanne Grauer (p,el-p); Tony Dumas (b); Sherman Ferguson (d): see Live At Donte’s

Gabor Szabo Quartet (North Vancouver, B.C: November 18, 1976): Gabor Szabo (g); George Cables (p): Tony Dumas (b); Carl Burnette (d): see Live At The Old Roller Rink.

George Benson (Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, New York: May 1977): George Benson (g) prob. acc. by Ronnie Foster (key,synth); Jorge Dalto (p,key); Phil Upchurch (g); Stanley Banks (el-b); Harvey Mason (d); Ralph MacDonald (perc) featuring guests Gabor Szabo, Bucky Pizzarelli, Les Paul (g).

Ira Gitler reports in Jazz Magazine that “chart-busting George Benson” performed a four-concert series in May 1977. During the first evening, a “guitar bash” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he performed several of his vocal hits with his group (featuring Jorge Dalto) and then combined with Gabor Szabo to perform “Breezin’.” Gitler indicates Szabo then “played a number on his own, a minor-key Latinate on which he was cut by Dalto.” Benson later performed with Bucky Pizzarelli and Les Paul. All four guitarists then performed “Undecided” and “C Jam Blues,” wherein, according to Gitler, “Benson’s long-lined ideas and effortless swing outdistanced everyone.”

Gabor Szabo Quartet (1977): Bobby Lyle (key); Gabor Szabo (g); Nat Phillips (el-b); Bruce Carter (d): see Carlos Santana: Influences

This quartet was part of the group of musicians who recorded the Faces album with Szabo. This quartet was also featured on the April 1977 Club Date program and may, perhaps, be one of the Szabo groups performing charity concerts for Narconon, a narcotics rehabilitation division of L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology.

Gabor Szabo (Budapest; January 1978): János Másik (el-p); István Lerch (key?); Gabor Szabo, Gyula Babos (g); Endre Siipos (el-b); Imre Köszegi (d); János Solti (perc): see Gabor Szabo In Budapest Again.

Later in his life, Szabo came to equate his homeland with refuge from the storm of addictions to drugs and alcohol. Most likely, he was also escaping the oppressive demands of the Church of Scientology, too. During the second of his three journeys to Budapest since leaving in 1956, Szabo performed with area musicians and filmed a second Hungarian television special.

Gabor Szabo Quartet (California; late 1978): Richard Thompson (key); Gabor Szabo (g); Greg Lee (b); Bob Morin (d).

Szabo’s personal concerns seemed to forsake further progress to his musical career. After years of maintaining an on-and-off relationship, he and Alicia were finally divorced in 1978. She returned with their son, Blaise, to the Boston area and he remained in the Los Angeles area. Perhaps scarred by the abuses he suffered while affiliated with Scientology (“they’re turning me into a zombie,” he’d tell friends), he’d become more reserved, guarded and private than ever before. He now lavished full attention on just one woman, Marianne Almassey; a bewitching, recently divorced Hungarian beauty. Marianne provided Gabor with the refuge he seemed to attempt finding in heroin and alcohol and the stability and recovery he struggled toward in Scientology. The two shared a complex relationship together that wasn’t without its own troubles. But Gabor was devoted to Marianne. He saw few friends and performed far less frequently than he had throughout his career. Richard Thompson was, however, able to coax Szabo back into playing more regularly again. The L.A. trio he maintained with Bob Morin on drums now included Greg Lee, a talented young bassist who ably endured comparison to Wolfgang Melz, his predecessor. This group seemed to help Gabor discover new stills of energy, enthusiasm and creativity. Together, they accepted the challenge of tapping the limits of each other’s talents. There was no reliance on formula, no patented licks for support and flirtations with pop music were curtailed in favor of true soul searching innate of new worlds of invention.

Gabor Szabo Quartet (Montreux, Switzerland; July 16, 1979): Gabor Szabo (g); Joe Beck (el-g); Mike Richmond (b); Dannie Richmond (d): see Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival

George Wein All Stars (George Wein Festival; Alexandra Place; London, England: July 17, 1979): Dizzy Gillespie (tp); Stan Getz (ts); B.B. King, Gabor Szabo (g); prob George Wein (p); Milt Jackson (vib) plus others unknown.

Szabo performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, B.B. King and Stan Getz as part of an all-star group headlining the George Wein Festival at London’s Alexandra Palace on July 17, 1979. “Being on the George Wein festivals was very good because, in a way, it gave me a chance to do something I didn’t do in about twelve years,” Szabo stated at the time. “Since 1967 I’ve been leading my own groups, and I never really had a chance to dig into the good old roots a bit, and to play and jam with people like Dizzy and Milt. And with Stan Getz, who I like very much; we have a sort of a mutual affinity for each other. After a while, leading your own group, you fall into just doing the things you want to do–originals usually. The first couple of nights, frankly, I had a hard time remembering all the tunes that we used to jam on before, but after a while it really started to work very nicely.”

Gabor Szabo Quartet (California; c. 1980): Gabor Szabo (g); Richard Thompson (p); Greg Lee (b); Bob Morin (d): see Rehearsal.

Although Leonard Feather reported that Szabo had announced his retirement in late 1980, the guitarist was actually playing some of the most creative and challenging music of his career at this time. “The group was probably the best I have ever played with in terms of real interaction and the sparks transmitted between the players,” recalled Bob Morin to me. “Even I would be amazed at the end of a set. Our reception in clubs was tremendous, quite unlike the formula stuff Gabor had been playing (albeit very well) for years. It was the best damn band.”

Szabo/Garay/Dandó (Budapest: 1981): Gabor Szabo (g); Attila Garay (p) and Péter Dandó (el-b): see Gabor Szabo In Budapest Again.

Friends knew of Gabor Szabo’s desire to once again return to Hungary. Perhaps the discovery of his newfound energy inspired a communion with his musical roots. In the month before he left, he stayed with Richard and Maggie Thompson, where he prepared to make the journey. Richard discussed going to Hungary with Gabor, but in July 1981, the guitarist journeyed to Budapest accompanied only by Marianne. Once there, he got together with several old pals – Attila Garay (p) and Peter Dando (el-b) – and occasionally performed in Budapest.

Szabo accomplished his real goal for traveling back to Hungary by securing a release of Femme Fatale, the 1979 American recording that ultimately became his final recorded release.

When the Thompsons telephoned Hungary on Christmas Day 1981 to wish Gabor and Marianne the joys of the holiday, Marianne indicated that Gabor had been ailing in a Budapest hospital for the better part of the month. While another hospital visit didn’t seem unusual to the Thompsons, they were concerned that his stay seemed so extended.

Shortly thereafter, Gabor sent the Thompsons a copy of Femme Fatale, picturing the contrast of Marianne’s beauty with Gabor’s sad, ravaged weariness. On the inside sleeve he wrote:

Dearest Richard and Maggie,

Although this letter is being written in the hospital, but fortunately under much better conditions than about two weeks ago, Marianne told me about your great concern and (I) want to thank you both for being such great friends. I promise no more Xmas’s will be spoiled by me. I feel this was my last warning. Not counting this last episode, in general we are having a great time although homesickness for the good old U.S. of A. sticks up it’s head quite often. So not to worry please. We shall return! When I get out we will try to call you so that I can hear your voices too. Please don’t worry about me. In closing I sincerely wish all three of you a very happy new year. We are all thinking and talking about you every day. Love, Gabor

P.S. My handwriting is writing is still somewhat shaky, so excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!

His plans were to return to the United States with Marianne after his health improved. According to Richard Thompson, there were plans to record a Christmas album. On February 26, 1982, however, Gabor Szabo succumbed to the liver and kidney ailments he suffered and died in the hospital. He was buried in Budapest.

Gabor Szabo Tribute (Donte’s; North Hollywood, California: August 1982): coll pers inc Joe Farrell (reeds); Richard Thompson, David Benoit (key), Jimmy Stewart, Al Viola, John Pisano, Oscar Castro-Neves (g); Louis Kabok (b), Dick Berk, Bobby Morin (d); Dave Pike (vib); Jerry Steinholz (per)

Donte’s, a club in Hollywood where Szabo was a regular, staged a salute to Szabo in August 1982. Club owner, Carey Leverette, recruited guitarist Jimmy Stewart to assemble a band of musicians who had worked with Szabo. The band included Richard Thompson and David Benoit (key), Louis Kabok (b), Bobby Morin (d), and Jerry Steinholz (per). Performances included songs affiliated with Szabo’s career such as “Mizrab,” “Spellbinder,” “Breezin’,” “Gypsy 66” and “A Thousand Times” from his last released album. Other guests during the evening included a guitar duo of John Pisano and Oscar Castro-Neves; vibraphonist Dave Pike; drummer Dick Berk; reedman Joe Farrell and guitarist Al Viola. The performance is reviewed in the September 1982 issue of DownBeat. Stewart’s performance of “Breezin'” at this event can be heard on his 1997 CD, Memorablia (J-Bird 6 1746 80079-2 [CD]).