Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival (1979)
Gabor Szabo Quartet

  1. (Gypsy Jam)
  2. (Samba Jam)
  3. Breezin’ (Bobby Womack) 
  4. Straight No Chaser (Thelonious Monk)

Gabor Szabo – guitar
Joe Beck – electric guitar (except 3)
Mike Richmond – bass
Dannie Richmond – drums

Prob. produced by Norman Schwartz
Prob. engineered by David Richards

Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland on July 16, 1979

(private tape)

Producer Norman Schwartz (1928-95) was the general manager of the Skye Recordings label founded by Gabor Szabo, Gary McFarland and Cal Tjader. After the demise of the label in the early seventies, Szabo left to record for the Blue Thumb label and later the CTI and Mercury labels. Schwartz went on to produce records for the Buddah and RCA labels – but he continued to help manage Szabo’s career.

In 1978, Schwartz formed the Gryphon label, allowing him to reissue several of the earlier Syke records (including Szabo’s Dreams, 1969 and Lena and Gabor) while bringing out an impressive roster of recording artists including Phil Woods, Michel Legrand, Mel Tormé, Don Sebesky, Bob Brookmeyer and others.

Schwartz booked many of his Gryphon artists for the July 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival. Gabor Szabo was among those artists, although he was contracted to Atlantic Records at the time of these performances.

In an inspired match-up that recalls the last-minute pairing of pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival (which resulted in both artists’ best-known record, Swiss Movement), Szabo was paired with fellow guitarist and Gryphon artist Joe Beck.

Neither had ever worked together before, though Beck often worked with former Szabo partner Gary McFarland and both Szabo and Beck were CTI recording artists at the same time.

But their shared set was recorded – with the likely intention of issuing the recording on Gryphon. The label did issue a set from the concerts called In Concert/Montreux ’79 (1980), with performances by Joe Beck, Bob Brookmeyer, Jon Faddis, Richard Davis and The Inner Galaxy Orchestra. But the Szabo / Beck set was never issued.

This is possibly due to problems with Atlantic Records, which dropped Szabo shortly after his recordings for Femme Fatale, or the unfortunate demise of Gryphon shortly after the Montreux recordings.

Gryphon chronicled several dozen lovely recordings that were probably not what the market was looking for in the early eighties. But shortly before his death, Schwartz licensed a number of the Skye and Gryphon titles to DCC Jazz Classics, issuing several titles not-previously issued…but, unfortunately, not the Szabo/Beck recording.

Maybe one day this music will be heard. In the mean time, here is a little bit about the music:

A more or less spontaneous jam begins the set with a bowed bass, Beck’s brewing rock lines and Szabo’s hints of “A Thousand Times.” It’s soon resolved as one of the “gypsy” flavored frameworks intended to allow for easy blowing.

Beck is, quite surprisingly, an ideal partner; actively sparring with Szabo the way Jimmy Stewart once did but interjecting a welcome meaty rock edge to the proceedings.

Folding into a bossa nova, loosely reminiscent of Jobim’s “Dreamer,” Beck’s virtuosity becomes even clearer. He can meld the pretty playfulness of George Benson and Szabo’s gypsy jocularity with the steely funk of his best CTI recordings. Again, Szabo thrives in the freer environment; filled with spontaneity and a chance for gaming interaction. Szabo’s increased fervor in the presence of another guitarist is striking.

Szabo then introduces Bobby Womack’s “Breezin'” as a song he co-wrote and proceeds to deliver a thrilling version — even without Beck’s underscoring. He keeps it simple, playing off Mike Richmond’s excellent, jumpy bass work, and turns in a spunky, animated rendition.

In a surprising turn, Szabo whips off an effervescent “Straight No Chaser” with all the charm of a truant schoolboy who, without much effort, captures honors at the end of the year. His playing catches all the sharp angles of Monk’s playful tune and he weaves through the maze of the composer’s universe like an astronaut who knows every brilliant corner.

Szabo sort of resembles Wes Montgomery when he covers a jazz tune like this: preserving the song’s uniqueness while transcending the soloist’s originality. One bristles at the thought of an original like Szabo exploring a book of tunes as well known and complex as those by Thelonious Monk.