Gabe Baltazar, Jr.

Hawai’i Council for the Humanities Pavilion
Sunday May 6, 2:00 pm
Performing in the Jazz panel with Benny Chong and Byron Yasui

Title of latest book: If It Swings, It’s Music: The Autobiography of Hawaii’s Gabe Baltazar Jr. (by Theo Garneau)

Genre: Autobiography; Music
University of Hawai‘i Press; June 2012
Paperback; $24.99; 296 pages; illustrated
Hardcover; $59.00; [pages unknown]
**Not yet in print; available for preorder on Amazon

The book: Hawai‘i’s legendary jazz musician Gabe Baltazar Jr. has thrilled audiences since the late 1940s with his powerful and passionate playing. In this, the first book on his life and career, Gabe takes readers through the highs, lows, and in-betweens on the long road to becoming one of the very few Asian Americans who has achieved national and international acclaim as a jazz artist.

Gabe is one of a legion of Hawai‘i musicians who migrated to the Mainland after the war, yet his is the only detailed, firsthand account of that experience. As the quintessential musician’s musician, his reminiscences of working as a valued sideman and studio musician in the years when big bands were disappearing and studio orchestras were being replaced by synthesizers comprise a singular account of jazz in the last half of the twentieth century. His memorable encounters with some of the greatest names in jazz and popular entertainment will delight music fans, while readers of Hawai‘i and Asian-American life-writing will find in this work a fond record of days past told with humor and heart

Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Gabriel “Gabe” Baltazar Jr. is recognized as one of the world’s great alto saxophone players. Born in 1929 to a Japanese mother and Filipino father, Gabe was largely raised by his maternal grandparents, but at a young age his father, an accomplished musician, encouraged his son to take up the clarinet and saxophone. As a teenager during World War II, Gabe performed with the Royal Hawaiian Band and played weekend dances with Filipino swing bands. By the mid-1950s, he had established himself in the West Coast jazz scene, and in 1960 he became the lead alto saxophonist of the influential Stan Kenton Orchestra. He also collaborated with other talented musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Cannonball Adderly, Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, James Moody and the Saxophone Stars, and the Oliver Nelson Orchestra, among others. His recorded version of “Stairway to the Stars” is considered by many critics to be the definitive interpretation of that jazz standard. Baltazar has performed with Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis, Don Ho, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Martin Denny. In 1969 he returned to Honolulu as assistant director for the Royal Hawaiian Band while taking center stage as Hawaiʻi’s premier jazz artist, a role he admirably fulfilled for over forty years. He also served as Royal Hawaiian Band deputy director for 17 years. At 83, Gabe remains active in jazz education and continued to perform at home and abroad until 2010.

Theo Garneau received his PhD in December 2009 from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, where he teaches English. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music performance from the State University of New York, Potsdam, and master’s degrees in English and in French literature from the University of Hawai‘i. He has published in translation, music in fiction, jazz studies, and biography.


After five years of research and writing, Theo Garneau recently completed his doctoral dissertation, a full-length autobiography of Hawai‘i’s legendary jazz musician Gabe Baltazar, Jr. In this Brown Bag Biography presentation, Theo will share some high notes from his work: photographs and readings from the autobiography; musical milestones from Gabe’s career; and excerpts and anecdotes from interviews he conducted with lifelong friends and musical colleagues of Gabe.

Part 1 of a 4 part interview with Legendary Hawaii Musician and one of the world’s great alto saxophone players, Gabe Baltazar, moderated by James Harber, Host/Producer of
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4


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