Gabriel Ruiz Hiroshi (Gabe) Baltazar Jr. (1929-2022)
Gabe was an internationally acclaimed jazz musician (alto saxophone and woodwind doubler). His mother, Chiyoko Haraga, born in Hawaiʻi, was the daughter of Japanese immigrant plantation workers who came to Hawaiʻi in 1900. His father, Gabriel Baltazar Sr. was born in Manila and came to Hawaiʻi as a musician in 1906.
I interviewed Gabe in 1987 for a Rice & Roses episode: Music from Filipino Camp. Gabe began playing professionally at age 14. He talked story about his early days learning his craft playing in “taxi-dance” halls, where lonely Filipino plantation workers could pay to dance with women and earn some respite from their solitary existence.
Gabe’s talent would take him from Hawaiʻi dance halls to perform with some of the Jazz greats, like Gene Fuller, Dizzy Gillespie, and James Moody. He spent almost 5 years as lead alto sax player with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He was also a regular at the NBC studios, playing in studio bands for shows by Pat Boone, Johnny Carson, The Smothers Brothers, and Phyllis Diller. Following his illustrious career on the United States Continent, he returned to Hawaiʻi as assistant director of the Royal Hawaiian Band and also continued to perform and mentor local musicians. For details on Gabe’s life and career, see the autobiography: If it Swings its Music, written by Theo Garneau, University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2012. Each month we bring you stories from our Rice & Roses video archive. Preservation and digitization of the collection has been made possible by a generous donation from Frank Moy and Marcia Mau. Mahalo Nui Loa, Chris Conybeare, Executive Producer