Sándor Szabó

acoustic guitar artist, composer

Interwiev with Sandor Szabofor the Flagpol Magazine/Athens/Georgia/USA

1. What first made you want to play the guitar and how did you end up playing the 8-string and 16-string guitar?

In my age of nine the guitar was the first instrument I could see first in live. In the radio stations the Shadows, Ventures and other instrumental bands were on, so the audible association for the guitar was this. If you turned the radio on you could hear these bands so bit by bit I was completely poisened with the Guitar. Using multiple strings guitar (8-16 strings) came later after I saw Egberto Gismonty to play in live. My first thought was that that was my instrument. I wanted to expand the sonic possibility of the acoustic guitar so I started to think in 16 string.

2. Why did you study classical guitar and classical music as a young man instead of popular and folk music?

I first studied classical guitar but parallel I also watched how the older guys playing rock and roll. Some years later when I already owned the handling capability of a classical guitar I switched to electric guitar but for only a couple of years. Then Jimmi Hendrix devastated my mind and I tried to play very hard music. Some years later I began to miss the chords and melody from the rock, so I returned to acoustic guitar again.

3. What drew you into improvisational/jazz music?

In the middle of the '70 when I heard the Mahavishnu it was obvious that the improvisation is the way I should follow. Anyway I loved playing guitar all the time and everywhere one day I noticed that I can play things by myself without thinking on what to play. I could improvise well by the time I discovered the jazz at all. I listened and a bit studied some jazz styles but the so called jazz was a little old fashioned to me, so I started to listen and follow the most modern and avantgarde approaches in music.

4. Is there a Hungarian tradition in jazz that's evident in your music?

As or tradition the jazz and the guitar itself do not belong to the Hungarian music culture. But of cousre we have jazz players who could make a fusion between the Hungarian folk culture and jazz. My style origins from the instrumental guitar music from the '60 but you can hear rock and jazz as well as folk and even far eastern elements in it. As I am getting old the Hungarian folk culture will be more and more important for me. I am also a Bartok freak, and I constantly use Bartók's harmony system in my compositions. As for jazz, the jazz is not a style for me, it is a way of performing. Jazz can be anywhere in the world. If I can open my soul to release the music from my heart and I can play that it is jazz. The most important is to have this special mental and much rather basical spiritual ability to do this. I am not really interested in specific so called jazz styles. So as much as I can be considered an improvisator I can be considered a jazz musician but not any specific style.

5. Tell us about the music the SzaMaba trio made.

This trio was one of the first groups in my homeland which created a new way of performing in the '80s. Two guitars and percussions and often some other invited musicians created this chamber enseble. We could play very freely without making the illusion that we were a free band. We worked out different methods of structuring and controlling our improvisations, so the whole thing sounded as if it was composed.

6. How did playing with Gilbert Isbin and others in Europe influence your playing style and approach to music?

When I met Gilbert Isbin first I was very much in the free form improvisation. Gilbert was very experienced in this world and we could brilliantly play together. We made some nice recordings together some of the got very good reviews from prominent magazines.

7. How would you describe your solo work now - what does it sound like and what does it resemble?

After the SzaMaBa era I wanted to be a little alone, to go deeper and to understand all the things working in my soul concerning the guitar and the music. I wanted to synthetize all the things I made so far in a very unique way only on a simple piece of guitar. Then I discovered, that this is a very large and deep ocean and I started to study what things are happening on guitar in the world. It was about 1996 when Peter Finger /the leader and owner of the german Acoustic Music Records company/ called me that he knows about me and he definetly wanted a solo album from me to introduce me to the fingerstyle world of the guitar. I was very happy and I made my very first real solo album called Alexandria. This was folowed by the Gaia And Aries then the Dreams Within Dreams. Recently I also released two solo albums on my own label Tandem Records in Hungary the Nearness Of Earth and the Soul Of The Tree.
In my solo works I wanted to play all that I ever heard and studied on guitar. The Acoustic Music Reccords is such a company which gives me enough freedom to create something honest. That is why my albums are not bestsellers as other fingerstyle albums but this world of the guitar music is very fertilising and familiar to me. I feel well in this big family. My solo albums are very different comparing them to each other. As for the sound the 16 string guitars create such an orchestral deepness and complex texture that any other guitars can not.
It is very inconvinient to say what other guitar music is that resembles to my music or vica versa. I mostly listen to other guitar players just to have an image what happens in the guitar world. I much rather try to avoid others sound and style. It is not really difficault to me because I have a lot of ideas and somehow the whole thing is working by itself. I do not need to seek sounds and tipical elements to create an own style. It is there and the only task is to play and compose. However I consiously use harmonic elements from Bartók's music mostly chords and the harmony system itself.

8. When did you first travel to the United States and what was that like for you?

Two years ago to California. I played at the Strings Club at the Bay area of San Francisco. My friend Teja Gerken who is the gear editor of the Acoustic Guitar Magazine invited me, he was the host of that evening. My impression was very good. I met a lot of great american guitar players and guitar makers and a lot of nice people. As I judged the American audience was very sensitive and they received my music very warmly.

9. is there a specific "mood" or "spirituality" to your music nowadays?

Absolutely. Music is another level of reality which has a appearance in our physical world. I could say that the music is a very strong part and another aspect of the Universe. Just ask yourself that what the aim of the Universe is with the music? It cannot be a random and accidental thing. So I consider the music as part of the nature such as we human being, plants or anymals. It is a level of existence. I want to discover this audable world. I try to have a very open minded and global attitude for this. I do not refuse any elements of the music. The C major chord is so equal as the as the F charp Bartók's Alpha chord. I use all these extremes in my music. Without the simply C major you cannot get the meaning of the atonal alha chord. Like yin and jang. One cannot exist without the other part. I consiously use this in my music. Music is the WAY for me in my spiritual development process.

10. Is it fair to categorize your music as "world music" or "Hungarian" or is it something else entirely?

It is not even necessary. Just listen and let it to wash you through. 15 years ago world music was a nice word to describe something new and valuable approach. Now as the showbusiness concorded this field the meaning changed and now I am not so proud on this meaning because it got a fashionable and commers sense and lost the value. My music is absolutely Hungarian, so much the more I live here and I am very deeply influenced original Hungarian folk and classical music. The way, I mean the pronanciation of my music is very new and kind of international. Modern solo guitar music from Hungary. That is it.

11. What do you want audiences to hear in your set in Athens?

I do not know exactly yet. This session with the band of Erik Hinds seems so promising and exciting to me, so I let the things happen. However I prepared some nice very tipical things to play in Athens on my 16 string guitar.

12. What do most you want to accomplish as a musician?

Getting deeper into the heart of music especially in the field called guitar music. I am also known here as an experimental electric guitar player. I am very much in loops and putting music into a surround soundscape. One day I want to combine the acoustic and electric approaches into one unit. I do not have specific goal to reach. I do not believe in so called success. What does it mean? Not the goal which matters but the way how I got to it. Taking part in this beautifull acoustic-wise reality that is the most important. I do not want to have bigger succes as this.


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