Gabe Baltazar, November 1, 1929 – June 12, 2022
Goodbye to Gabe
Gabe was first and foremost a jazz musician who played with the best. He was respected and loved by so many of his legendary buddies from the Kenton band and his Hollywood recording studio days. A true humble genius, he was world-class, but didn’t expect to be treated as such. R.I.P., Hiroshi.
— Byron Yasui, bass and ukulele virtuoso, composer, Professor Emeritus of Music
Today, I say goodbye to my first musical mentor, Gabe Baltazar. The guy who taught me so much by virtue of putting up with a young punk who knew nothing about jazz bass playing, swing, or feel!
We played mainstream jazz for literally years, such was the culture of Hawai’i at the time. First at Katso’s (in Kapalama, by the old Gem store, in the Hawaii Hochi building). Then, came a three-year run at the Cavalier on Kapiolani, where we hosted people like Count Basie, Richie Cole, Barney Kessel, Dave Liebman, and lots of others. And, for a while at his own club in Waikiki, “Gabe’s” in the Mitsukoshi Bldg.!
Luckily, my rhythm section mate was Noel Okimoto, who already was insanely good at it, and others in the band were the brilliant Doug MacDonald on guitar and another young lion on piano, Carl Wakeland.
What a time it was, what a lot of fun, a lot of cool horns (even an F sax!), a ton of fiery virtuosity from the man himself, and much learning and growing lessons I still use to this day.
Mahalo nui loa to “da luna of the group,” Gabe. Safe travels till we meet again.
— Benny Rietveld, bassist and musical director, Santana
As great as Gabe was as a musician, he was a kind and humble person. Though when presented with a challenge, he had the ability to rise to meet it. I remember the Cavalier in 1979, Gabe hosted Richie Cole. Richie was the young, hot, bebop alto player. I could see it in their eyes when they heard each other play…the game was on. What followed was the most intense, incredible music I had ever heard, much less been a part of. Gabe’s greatness was on full display.
— Noel Okimoto, drummer, vibist, composer
Gabe, Junior the family would call him, has always been an inspiration, as I studied the clarinet in high school and played professionally. He will always be in my heart and mind forever. Not only as a loving big brother, but a fantastic musician that put the Baltazar name up high as a shining star in heaven.
— Ron Baltazar, saxophonist, reeds
I first heard the name Gabe Baltazar when I was 11 years old. My first saxophone teacher, Ray Suhl, mentioned Gabe to me and said he was not only one of the greatest jazz saxophonists in Hawai’i, but also the world. My teacher wasn’t exaggerating.
When I moved to New York City in 1978 and players out there found out I was from Hawai’i, many asked, “Do you know Gabe Baltazar?” I had taken it for granted that Gabe was a major player, but when the NYC players mentioned him, I really took note.
I could say with confidence that Gabe was a major influence on me and my career.
I had heard Gabe as I grew up in Honolulu during the 70s. I got to see and hear him in many different venues over the years. But it was one gig he had that stood out and changed the course of my life.
Gabe’s gig at the Cavalier Restaurant in Honolulu was revelatory. He would have numerous members of the woodwind family up on the piano and was always talking to the audience about them, their personalities, and quirks. Then, he would play the living hell out of them.
He inspired me to become a woodwind doubler, a jazz player, and a session musician.
I am not delusional and have no illusions about being as great as Gabe. But he put out that possibility not only for me, but for all of us young players in Hawai’i.
It was by his example that he showed us how to be.
A lesson with Gabe meant you got called up on stage and had to play with him. He kindly let you solo first. LOL!
I know that life has its course for all of us and I believe it’s better to come to terms with it, especially as we age.
But even at that, it’s still hard to accept that Gabe is no longer with us.
Gabe was a bridge to the beginnings of bebop and studio recording and jam sessions with the legends of jazz. Bird, Dizzy, Coltrane, Dolphy, Kenton. These are just a few of the names I associate with Gabe. You got that energy and felt those experiences through his unbelievable sound. All those experiences summed up when Gabe put air through his horn.
Gabe would want us to keep blowing, keep swinging because he knew it brought joy to the world and made it, even for a brief moment, a much better place.
Aloha O’e Gabe.
Till we meet again.
— Allen Won, saxophonist, flautist, clarinetist
From the Summer 2022 issue, Ke Ola O Na Mele