Sunday 24 June 2007

Three things I have learned from Gabor Szabo

Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó (b.1936 d.1982) left Budapest to study jazz at Berklee College (1958-60). His break came in the States when he plyaed with Chico Hamilton's influential band, following in the footsteps of guitarist such as Jim Hall. I first head this band on the soundtrack of Roman Polanski's obsession, a study in schizophrenia starring a young Catherine Deneuve. It took me a few years to find out that Gábor was the guitarist and quite a few more years to track down some Gábor recordings.

Doug Payne has a great site dedicated to Gábor who is an underrated but influential guitarist - GÁBOR SZABÓ ICONOCLASM. His sound is pigeon-holed as Sixties Jazz and Pop exotica. His biggest acolyte was Carlos Santana who, if it hadn't been from Gábor, may have remained a run-of-the-mill blues/rock guitarist.

Here's Gabor and band performing Breezin', the original version of the massive hit for George Benson.

And the three things I have learned from Gabor:

1. The drone
Like many of his jazz and pop contemporaries, Gábor was heavily influenced by Indian music. In his playing he used a drone (an open string picked whilst playing a melody on another string). Just as the single-note the bass pedal gives John Coltrane's a soulful undercurrent on tunes like My Favorite Things, Gábor's use of the drone sometimes suggests a meditative "Om". I think Gábor probably used a variety of tunings on his guitar because it always surprises me the way he manages to consistently slip in these trade-mark drones - on very melodic tunes as well as modal vamps. Playing in keys like Bb and F are not much good for drones, but I use them whenever I play in E, A, D etc.

2. Feedback
Gábor used control feedback to play melodies. There's a great example of this on his version of Theme from the Valley of the Dolls. I often end tunes with feedback and then fade. Rarely find the opportunity to play whole melodies though.

3. The hypnotic groove
Albums with titles like The Sourcerer and Spellbinder, suggest this quality in Gábor's playing. Breezin' is a great example of this hypnotic groove. Gábor's eyes are closed, he's swaying about and he's gone to another place. I remember a guy saying about 3+1, "I love your music. It sends me somewhere else. I don't know where it is, but I like it!"

No comments: