Sándor Szabó

acoustic guitar artist, composer

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Hungarian Maqam
Hutton Laszlo
Kevin Kastning

Sándor Szabó - guitar artist, improviser, composer

Born in 1956 in Törökszentmiklós, Hungary, he started his studies with a private teacher of classical guitar. After trying different styles in the mid-seventies, he began to focus on jazz and improvisation. In the beginning of the eighties, he continued his studies as a guest student in Budapest at the Jazz Faculty of Béla Bartók Music Conservatory. At that time he already felt that he should approach improvisation not by one certain style, but rather by utilizing his sensitivity and openness, and making a synthesis of all the musical influences he had ever experienced. Immersing himself in Far Eastern music was an ideal breeding-ground to achieve this.
His career started in 1980. He was the first to play solo acoustic guitar music in Hungary. Since the acoustic guitar does not belong to the traditional Hungarian music culture, playing guitar and composing for it was not an acknowledged and respected art. That is why his playing techniques of different stringed instruments, his modern pieces, and deep spirituality earned him credits, though mainly abroad. His records have been released in England, Italy, USA, and Germany. His playing can be heard on the four SzaMaba trio albums and on his solo CDs released in Hungary.


In 1980, a talented drummer and percussion player joined Sándor to form the Sándor Szabó / Balázs Major duo. Within a few years, they performed in almost all the clubs and venues in Hungary. In 1988, the English Leo Records company released their first album.
In the eighties, Sándor Szabó often invited musicians from other countries to tour and record. Playing with Gilbert Isbin, the Belgian guitarist was one of the first significant collaborations. This period was hallmarked by a successful duo album released on the English label HWYL Records. In the early nineties, the duo was joined by Balazs Major, and the trio went on to record at the BRT Studio in Brussels. However, this album has never been released. Later, Sandor met Andreas Georgiou, a Greek guitarist, with whom he had a successful Hungarian concert tour. Unfortunately, there is no recording of this collaboration.
In the early nineties, Sándor met Massimo De Mattia, the Italian flutist. They performed several tours in Italy and in Hungary. Their collaboration can be heard on the first SzaMaBa album called Hypnos.
In the mid-eighties, Sándor Szabó co-founded two groups which played different styles of music. One trio featured another guitarist, group leader László Bagi and percussionist Balázs Major. The other was a guitar trio called Great-Plain Workshop featuring the afore mentioned László Bagi and András Bakondi. The Great-Plain Workshop can be heard in some tunes on the Sanctified Land and Anima albums. A year later, the guitarists joined forces with Balázs Major, and the two trios became a quartet. However, after two successful years, András Bakondi left the group. The remaining guitarists and percussionist named their trio SzaMaBa. By 1993, they had become one of the most successful groups in Hungary performing in almost every music festival in the country. Together with guest musicians, they produced three albums on the Tandem Records label. As the economical situation in Hungary was deteriorating in the 1990s, the culture began to suffer. The trio was receiving less and less invitations, and this was the reason why the SzaMaba trio finally broke up in 1996. However, a historic live recording of the trio was released by Pannon Jazz as recently as 2005. The period with the SzaMaBa trio was the most significant one in Sándor Szabó's artistic life. Since then he has proceeded with his solo career.

The travelling musician

Sándor's music has deeply changed since the SzaMaBa trio. It has become freer and more experimental, but at the same time more composed and structured. He tries to make use of the full potential of solo guitar playing. This can be heard on his three latest albums called Alexandria, the Gaia and Aries as well as on Dreams Within Dreams. The latter was released on Acoustic Music Records, the biggest acoustic guitar music publisher in the world. Owing to these recordings, Sándor Szabó is better known abroad than in his homeland. Since 1998 he has played on many international festivals and tours in Japan, Korea, USA, and almost everywhere in Europe. Apart from his solo concerts he often plays in different duo, trio and quartet formations with musicians like Bulgarian pianist Nikolay Ivanov; Hungarian percussionist Balazs Major; German bassist Ralf Gauck; Belgian guitarist Veronique Gillet; Michael Manring, Alex De Grassi, and many more.
During the last few years Sándor has started a new chapter in his career concentrating mainly on playing and recording with duos. The series of the duo albums began with Veronique Gillet, followed by a recording with Edoardo Bignozzi. The next duo series included three albums with Kevin Kastning, an American guitar player and composer. The recent duo with Michael Manring was released by Acoustic Music Records, while the latest recording is a solo/duo album with Roland Heidrich, a talented young Hungarian guitar player/composer. Sándor's recordings with Ralf Gauck, Claus Boesser Ferrari, Fernando Freitez, and Dean Magraw are waiting yet to be released.

The music researcher

In the last decade, Sándor Szabo has regularly collected music and written articles about the Far Eastern instrumental music to study its similarities, as well as historical and geographical connection with Hungarian folk music. As a result of this long-term research, he launched a new website devoted to the Modern Hungarian Maqam to recall and recreate a possible form of that ancient Hungarian classical instrumental music. The website offers some articles and essays about the history and structure of the Hungarian Maqam; as well as some musical samples.

The composing guitar player

The works and the spiritual heritage of Béla Hamvas, the great Hungarian writer, have had a deep influence on Sándor Szabo's thinking. Sándor's favourite focus is on mystical intuition, and he believes that creation by intuition and meditation is an important level of world perception. This is why he considers improvisation as the deepest form of creation. All his compositions are based on improvisation. In his music, he blends western classical forms with the meditative mood of eastern music, and blends Hungarian folk music elements with the improvisational technique he has inherited from jazz. The atmosphere of his concerts is intimate and personal. He approaches each concert with a sense of mission. The hidden depths of the world can brought to light by intuition. His music is an acoustic project of this invisible yet perceivable world. In his musical texture, the ancient and the modern appear as one. His ideal is a complex musicality feeding on ancient sources beyond all time, the message hidden in the common nature of sound and silence. He seeks eternal passages between the precipices of different cultures, the mid East-European ways of thinking in particular, the here and now, and between the final decline of materialistic mentality and the emerging new spiritual values.

The experimenter

Sándor has been searching for new possibilities and technologies to create the 'perfect' guitar. Inspired by an innovatory theory of Michael Kasha, a well-known scientist, he has discovered a new way to build acoustic guitars. Departing from "the Kasha system" he conceives his guitars himself. Szabo's custom made instruments are born in collaboration with a talented, brilliant Hungarian luthier, Tihamer Romanek. Among these masterpieces is a twin neck 24-string koboz created specially for the Hungarian Maqam. Examples of this instrument can be heard at the www.hunmaqam.hu website. A very special treasure in the Romanek-Szabó's custom collection is an acoustic guitar designed by the American Steve Klein, who is considered to be one of the greatest guitar builders.
In his concerts Szabo uses many kinds of acoustic guitars. Beside the differently tuned and stringed 16-string guitars, he uses an 8-string fretless guitar. Its sound is somewhere between the Indian sarod and the arabic ud. He also performs and records on 6- and 8-string classical guitars. Recently he has started playing on 6-string baritone guitars.
Apart from his acoustic projects, Sándor Szabó composes and plays contemporary experimental music. He has introduced a whole new guitar sound which he calls AmbiMorph. In the last few years, Szabó has conducted far reaching experiments to use the electric guitar sound in a radically different way. His original concept called Multishift can develop new interesting electric guitar sounds based on psychokinetic hearing. For achieving this, he uses his special algorithms created in the latest generation of digital effects.
In 2002, he was a member of the Georgian Contemporary Unit, an avant-garde ensemble combining unique and highly trained experimental improvising musicians from Atlanta and Athens, Georgia in the USA. Its line up was Erik Hinds on harpeggione, Blake Helton on drums, Colin Bragg on electric and acoustic guitars, Kyle Dawkins on classical guitar, Brian Smith on classical guitar, Sandor Szabo on acoustic guitars; more information can be found at: www.solponticello.com.
One of the most important projects in the past few years was Fractal Strings, a multimedia concert where the visuals were based on fractals, and the music was performed live in a six-channel surround sound field. The musicians were Michael Manring on bass, Claus Boesser Ferrari on guitar, Balazs Major on drums and percussion, and Sándor Szabó on AmbiMorph guitar, guzheng, and 24-string koboz. The visuals were created by László Megyeri.

The sound engineer

Apart from playing guitar, composing music, and travelling to play concerts around the world, Sándor has created an impeccably equipped high-end recording studio. In the last 15 years, he has learned how to capture the best possible acoustic guitar sound. In addition to his own music recorded in his studio, he also hosts musicians from abroad. Several of the albums Sandor Szabo has crafted as a sound engineer, e.g. the recordings for Acoustic Music Records, can be considered as a reference point of recorded acoustic guitar sound. Beside the recordings and mastering work, sound restoration work is also done in his studio.

The organizer

Since 2002, Sandor is one of the organizers of the International Acoustic Guitar Festivals which is actually a tour of 10-12 concerts in various cities in Hungary. It is held every year for two weeks in May.

"If you hear the Hungarian guitarist Sándor Szabó for the first time, you will think that you are discovering the guitar completely anew during every listening minute. You will be fascinated as you discover that Szabó does not simply let us have a glimpse of foreign tonal worlds and cultures through some tiny windows. Instead, he draws us into his own musical macrocosmos in a gentle but all the more compelling manner. And there is truly much to be discovered here: inspiration from the Near East and Far East, a new awareness of his own Hungarian traditions of folk music, classical concepts of form, as well as much, much space for the free flow of thoughts and ideas- improvisation. Not only is Szabó's musical vocabulary unusual: in addition to the 'conventional' guitar, the Hungarian also plays instruments with 8, 13, even 16 strings and frequently relies on custom-made designs with special 'Eastern' sound. Szabó succeeds in something that is a rare feat in music: he astonishes the listener, he is the seducer who every listener with a slight penchant for what is special is only all too willing to follow."

1997 Winter Catalog, Acoustic Music Records

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