His first name was pronounced ga-BOR, or as his fellow Hungarians would have said: GAH-bor. Since the Sz sound in Hungarian is like a plain S, his last name was pronounced SAH-bo. Not zuh-BOE. He was a unique individual - a true original.
He first became interested in guitar as a boy in his native Hungary.His first guitar hero was - Gene Autry! He developed a love for jazz hearing it as underground music on voice of America and BBC broadcasts. Unlike his counterparts in America, Gabor did not develop a jazz style based on the blues and the early jazz of Charlie Christian. He began playing European melodies. When he escaped to the US in 1957 he studied at the Berklee College of music in Boston and soon blended his original way of playing with the modal jazz styles then popular. He ended up with a style unlike any other guitarist.
He enjoyed playing in minor keys. He played in "guitaristic" keys that let him use open strings as "drones", alternating with fretted notes. He used feedback creatively often crouching in front of his amplifier to catch the feedback in the soundhole of his guitar and play improvised melodies while varying the pitch of the feedback.
I first met Gabor through a Hungarian born filmmaker named Gabor Kalman (who currently teaches in the Cinema department of USC and the Art Center College of Design). Szabo scored the music for a number of Kalman's films. The picture above was taken in 1970 at Gabor's lovely house on Cordell Drive in West Hollywood from which one could look out over all of Los Angeles.
In February of 1982 I was hosting one of the now defunct jazz shifts at radio station KCRW in Santa Monica. The day of my show Gabor Kalman called me with the shocking news he had just heard from someone in Hungary. That evening I had the sad duty of announcing the passing of my friend Gabor Szabo to Southern California.
Although most of Gabor's recordings are out of print there are a few key CDs still available.There is a website created and maintained by Doug Payne devoted to his life and work.Carlos Santana recently honored him as a key figure in his "Influences" video (DCI Music Video VHO 211).