It was in mid-June of 1969 when I first met Gabe Baltazar at the grounds of the Philippine Consulate General at Pali Highway, Oahu, when (as Deputy Director of the world renown Royal Hawaiian Band) he was conducting its performances. I also met his father Mang Gabriel (Sir Gabriel) who hailed from Pasig, province of Rizal. Mang Gabriel then was playing clarinet with the band. Legend tells us that he came to Hawaii with a group of traveling entertainers circa 1910, but instead of returning to the Philippines, he preferred to remain in Hawaii. After sometime, he married a Japanese lady. Gabe was born in Hilo, an idyllic town in Hawaii, the biggest island of the Hawaiian chain. Gabe is one of three siblings; the others that I know are Norman, a trumpet player and school teacher, who also played with the Kenton band, and Ronald who is a member of the Royal Hawaiian Band..
Gabe can be mistaken for a Japanese, but in reality he is Filipino in more ways than one. He loves his Dad and is proud of him by acknowleging the tutelage his Dad gave him. He has many anecdotes about his Dad as were expressed in his interview at KHPR. You can frequently find him in Filipino restaurants eating pakbet or adobo, with the company of Filipinos. I also had some eating sprees with him.
Our friendship began when I composed a piece for his jazz band which I called G-A-B-E, every letter of which represents the consecutive notes that make up the motif of the melody. He loved the piece so much that he included it in his recording with Stan Kenton, featuring him along with my arrangement of "A Time for Love" by Johnny Mandel, among others.
Many fond memories were shared between us. His quartet did the world premiere of my "Concerto for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra" with the Honolulu Symphony. I also had the privilege of arranging his pieces (including his lovely tune - a bossa-nova he called "Lightly and Politely") for many of his performances with the Honolulu Symphony. We were both interviewed at the public radio KHPR. He introduced me to Stan Getz who later performed my concerto. He wanted me to provide him with more pieces for his recordings, but sad to say, he passed away shortly after that while being an Artist in Residence at Stanford University.
Back to Gabe, if anybody asked him for an arranger, he referred him or her to me. What a friendship.
Sometime in the early 1980s, Gabe wanted to come to the Philippines to see his father's home town. I therefore wrote a proposal to the President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Dr. Lucrecia R. Kasilag, for Gabe's quartet to be sent to Manila for the performance of my concerto and for him to conduct a series of jazz clinics. Unfortunately, the proposal died a natural death!
Gabe was the lead alto sax man of Stan Kenton for 4 years. After many years of absence when Gabe stayed in Honolulu, Stan featured him in an LP album produced under Creative World label. It is entitled Stan Kenton Presents GABE BALTAZAR. In that album, Stan Kenton wrote a tribute to Gabe saying, in part, "Gabe was a joy to me all the years he was a member of my band. He is a master of his instrument, a great guy and a great artist." And, if I may add, "Gabe is a gem."
His greatness is reflected in his humility. He has played and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Don Ellis, Cannonball Adderly and other lumenariess. Yet, he can jam with all types of players, good or bad, and still enjoy what he does. I even had some occasions to play with him, and found him to be a good communicator, a patient and tolerant human being. What a guy!
We in Pinoy jazz are proud to claim Gabe as one of our great Filipino artists in our Jazz Society. Gabe, with all his goodness, never answers letters. We can only hope that someday he will see this in the web site.
Angel Matias Peņa, January 25, 2005
Valenzuela City, Philippines