Legendary alto saxophonist Baltazar narrates his journey, including gigs with of the top names in jazz.

Culture / Gabe Baltazar’s story is also the story of music in Hawaii and of jazz as it morphed from Big Band to Bop and beyond. He speaks the language of jazz, describing the “cats” he gigged beside with a touch of humor and irony, and no shortage of honesty. His viewpoint is from the stage, and from the backstage dressing rooms, hotels, and coin laundries along the road.

Born and raised in Hawaii, Baltazar moved to LA for school in the 1950s and developed a name in the music scene, earning him a seat in Stan Kenton’s band. The Swinging Sixties were just beginning, jazz was moving toward smaller ensembles, and Kenton, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie had the last touring Big Bands. Baltazar had entered the major leagues, and played on with the A list of jazz in tours, concerts, and sessions, until returning in 1969 to join the Royal Hawaiian Band while gigging his way to iconic status in Hawaii jazz.

Co-author Garneau is a magician, somehow editing and shaping the book invisibly. Garneau arrived in Hawaii in 1987, a young musician lucky enough to get hired to play for Gabe over the next 11 years. Along the way, he earned his PhD in English and became a professor at Manoa. He began writing an academic bio, with years of meticulous background research and 26 interviews with Gabe. As he wrote, he realized nobody could tell the story as well as Baltazar himself. Over months and years, he lovingly crafted the many interviews into this single, seamless narrative in Baltazar’s own voice.

The Baltazar tale is a personal and musical history exuding charm, wisdom, and wit throughout a hero’s journey in sound.

If it swings, it’s music, The autobiography of Hawaii’s Gabe Baltazar Gabe Baltazar with Theo Garneau

Universty of Hawaii Press, 2012

Hardcover $59 or paperback $24.99, 296 pages