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If It Swings, It's Music
296pp. May 2012
If It Swings, It's Music: The Autobiography of Hawaii's Gabe Baltazar Jr.
Author: Baltazar Jr., Gabe; Garneau, Theo;
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 worldwide acclaim as a jazz artist. 

At a young age Gabe was encouraged by his father, an accomplished musician, to take up the clarinet and saxophone. As a teenager during World War II, Gabe performed with the Royal Hawaiian Band but spent his weekends playing in swing bands. After establishing himself in the West Coast jazz scene, in 1960 he rose to prominence as lead alto saxophonist of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Following a four-year stint with Kenton, Gabe worked as a valued studio musician, recording with Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson, and James Moody, among others. In 1969 he returned to Honolulu and went on to become Hawaiʻi’s premier jazz artist, a role he admirably fulfilled for over forty years. At 82, Gabe remains active in jazz education and still performs regularly.

Gabe’s 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.

12 illus.

A Latitude 20 Book
“The Baltazar tale is a personal and musical history exuding charm, wisdom, and wit throughout a hero’s journey in sound.” —Honolulu Weekly (7–13 November 2012)

“Open it on almost any page and it will be difficult to stop reading. Written in conversational style with assistance from music fan Theo Garneau, Baltazar’s book will appeal to several distinct audiences, including jazz fans and longtime Baltazar admirers. His stories of life here in the ’30s and ’40s will fascinate anyone with an interest in what things were like ‘back in the day,’ while another section of the book shares an insiders’ look at the national jazz scene of the ’50s and ’60s.” —Honolulu Pulse (6 July 2012; read the full review: http://tinyurl.com/7b72szl)

“Gabe Baltazar is a living example of the rare Asian American jazz musician who enjoyed a national and international career, one that took place during an important transitional period when jazz was being transformed from a popular idiom into a bona fide tradition. His story provides insight into a real working jazz musician’s life with all its headaches, victories, defeats, and joys.” —Kevin Fellezs, Columbia University

“Told in Gabe’s own down-to-earth, inimitable voice, this is the first book-length autobiography of a Hawai‘i jazz artist. In relating his story, Gabe also documents a largely ignored chapter in the history of Hawaiian music that includes the popularity of big band jazz, the kama‘āina musicians that scene fostered, and their role in Mainland jazz.” —Jim Tranquada, Occidental College
Author: Baltazar Jr., Gabe; Garneau, Theo;
Gabriel Ruiz Hiroshi Baltazar Jr. rose to national and international acclaim as the alto saxophone soloist for the Stan Kenton Orchestra from 1960 to 1963. A fertile period for the Kenton orchestra, the group recorded over a dozen albums and won two Grammy Awards for jazz. From 1964 to 1969, Baltazar worked and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Oliver Nelson, and others. During this period he was also a regular in the Los Angeles recording studios, where as a fluid multi-instrumentalist he filmed with Pat Boone, Phyllis Diller, and Glen Campbell and many others. Baltazar returned to Hawai‘i in 1969 to work as assistant director for the City and County of Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian Band, a post he held until 1985. From 1969 until 2009, however, Baltazar maintained an active agenda as a jazz artist, recording many albums as leader and sideman. Throughout this period, he returned often to the West Coast and occasionally to Europe. Born in Hilo, Hawai‘i, in 1929, Baltazar is the most influential figure in jazz in the history of Hawai‘i. 

Theo Garneau holds a PhD in English and master’s degrees in French and English from the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa, where he teaches English. He has a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York, Potsdam, and works professionally as a classical and jazz guitarist. He has published in various venues on jazz, translation, biography, and music in fiction. 
Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 (PDF).

Chapter 1. Early Years 
Chapter 2. Music Becomes a Profession, Gabe a Pro
Chapter 3. Blowing Alto in the City of the Angels
Chapter 4. 1961—An Incredible Year 
Chapter 5. Scrambling ’64–’65
Chapter 6. Back Home 
Chapter 7. Retire? Hah! 
Outtakes: Gabe on Music, Playing, Practicing, and Stan Kenton

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Works Consulted