When I first listened to Gabriel's "Kissed by the Sun" recording, I was impressed by the diversity he showed on his instrument. This was no one dimensional trumpet player. I could hear his hard bop edge. In fact, his straight-ahead side crept through, even when the production was smooth jazz and his soulfully influenced horn lines were punchy and unmistakably rooted in rhythm and blues. I thought to myself, this guy can play it all. Surprisingly, he even added flute as an instrument he mastered.
Earlier this month, when I interviewed the Vancouver, Canada-based musician, I began to better understand his background and to appreciate his musical accomplishments even more. Here is what he told me:
GABRIEL: "I grew up in a suburb called Wheat Ridge, Colorado." (a city a few miles outside of Denver). "It sounds like a rural area, but not really. I remember being around four and seeing the Macy Day Parade on TV. I remember these guys marching around with feathers in their hats, playing the trumpet, and I said to my mom, I want to play that! When we moved to the west side of Denver, the lady across the street taught piano. So I went and had some piano lessons with her, but there was something about the way my hands felt on the piano that just seemed awkward. At school they passed out those little Recorders, you know those plastic whistle things and that was a breeze for me. Something about the way my fingers moved on that instrument felt good. I finally pressed my mom into getting me a trumpet. So, I started playing when I was eight. At about ten or eleven, I used to have this little seven-transistor radio. My parents got it for me when it first came out. I listened to it under my covers in Denver. Do you know what the ionosphere is? It's the shell around the ozone layer and because I was in Denver, the radio waves bounced off the ionosphere at a much greater angle so in Denver I was able to hear New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston. I listened to all these jazz shows and heard Blue Mitchell, Clifford Brown, Richard Groove Holmes and those kind of guys. I listened to that stuff all the time. My mom used to come into the room and I'd have my little modified ear piece in my ear and I'd act like I was asleep.
"My first year of playing, I went into a community band for kids of all ages. I was probably the youngest guy. I was eight and the others were like twelve years old. It was a concert band and we actually recorded a little ten-song album. I think I still have it. It was similar to the Girl Scout cookie thing where you press up a bunch and they ask you to sell them to make money for the band. That was like my auspicious beginning at eight years old.
"In Junior High school, this sax player was our band director. He was a working guy. He actually got me to dissecting chords and stuff like that. I only had him one year and then we had someone else who I didn't have a good relationship with. So all my teachers were working musicians and I ended up being a working musician
"I started playing professionally when I was fourteen in Denver; playing for fashion shows and in restaurants and stuff like that. When I was still in high school I joined a band called 'Nitro'. All the guys were a lot older than I was. One day I was going to audition in an area that at that time was probably the roughest part of town called 'Five Point'; Soul Central, if you know what I mean. We used to play down there in these after hours clubs. I was really young."
Dee Dee: How did your parents feel about that?
GABRIEL: "Well, you know something? I never proved to them that I wasn't responsible. So they just let me do my thing as long as I didn't get into trouble. Anyway, I was playing with this band. That was the only time I was auditioning for a trumpet player job. It was my senior year of high school. In Five Point they used to play in an abandoned dry cleaners. It only opened up at night, after hours. So this guy is looking at me like, what's this little white guy doing down here, ya know? And he says, play the Star Spangled Banner. So I did and he said, ok, you're hired. Next thing I know, we're on the road doing kind of a Soul band thing. It was a mix of stuff. I had a few features. We played several places and in Colorado Springs and then we'd drive back and play the after hours gig. That was pretty much all there really was to do. There didn't seem to be much of a jazz scene at that time.
"I eventually came to Canada. I was looking at L.A. and I went and stayed there for a while. I just didn't like all that traffic and the packed freeways. I worked on the cruise ships for a while. Then I said, I'll go to Canada; I'll go to Vancouver 'cause that was supposed to be like the LA of Canada and Canada was supposed to be really cool. I arrived in Canada and started working my way up in the music system."
Dee Dee: You had graduated then, right?
GABRIEL: "Oh yeah - I had graduated from Jefferson High School. But we spent the last couple of years on the road."
Dee Dee: When you say 'we' you mean the group Nitro?
GABRIEL: "Yeah - the band Nitro. We played the Chitlin' Circuit and it was great. I enjoyed that and I got a really good education in not only R&B but the workings of a band on the road. That kind of stuck with me, 'cause I'm pretty much a bandleader these days. "
Dee Dee: Who were some of your inspirations like teacher-wise when you were in Colorado?
GABRIEL: "That's an interesting story too because my first private teacher when I was eight was a friend of my dad's, a fishing buddy and a bass player; Bob Monroney. I played with him for a while. The next teacher was a trombone player, and if you're familiar with the big band era there's a lead trumpet player called Ziggy Elman who's famous for 'And the Angels Sing' . His brother, Leo Elman, had a music store in Denver and I studied with him for a while."
Dee Dee's Note: (Harry Aaron Finkelman, better known by his stage name of Ziggy Elman, recorded 'And the Angels Sing' for RCA Victor on December 28, 1938 with his orchestra. He was an American trumpeter and band leader. Less than a week later, on January 2, 1939, Benny Goodman's Orchestra, with vocalist Martha Tilton and Elman again, recorded the same song for RCA Victor and that version was a big hit. But the Elman version is rarer. The song was also recorded by the Tommy Dorsey's band. )
GABRIEL: "Then there was a working trumpeter named Tony Streno. The first guy I studied with, Bob Monroney, has a son who's a very vital guitar player and composer today. His name is Brian Monroney. Brian has played with Tom Jones and Natalie Cole. Brian and I are the same age and he's had a pretty big career. (www.brianmonroney.com)
"Tony (Streno) was a good player and I guess he was a good teacher, but I remember spending a lot of my time with him while he answered the phone and booked gigs. He'd say, ok play that. Then he'd say wait a minute. I gotta answer this call. If I didn't necessarily learn the notes so much from him, I kind of got the workings of running a band . The conversations he had on the phone are kind of like the ones I have today; organizing players and schedules; that kind of stuff.
"So that was probably my last formal teacher. I got a really good idea of what I needed to learn. In hind sight, I probably should have gone to Berklee, but I was so busy gigging all the time that I just really got methodical about what I needed. I studied hard. I made sure I did all my exercises and at this time I started playing the flute too. So I was trying to be very methodical about learning both instruments and not skipping over the hard stuff …you know, that kind of thing. I was running five miles a day, 'cause you know a horn player needs their wind. I was just trying to be an over achiever. If I wasn't going to go to the university, I figured I better push myself.
"I have some influences that I still feel very connected to and those would be Blue Mitchell and Donald Byrd. A lot of people only know Donald Bird the trumpeter from his later stuff like 'Walking in Rhythm' and stuff like that when folks were trying to crossover and get contemporary when jazz was kind of faltering. I liked his earlier stuff. I've got an I-phone with 64 gigs of memory, so I wind up with all kinds of stuff. Even though I keep changing my music around, getting new material and listening to this and listening to that, but Byrd's stuff stays on my phone and has been on my phone for the last four years because it's something I always come back and listen to. He had the phrasing and kind of combined the lyrical quality of Chet Baker, some of the fiery qualities of Freddie Hubbard, and the bluesier qualities of Blue Mitchell. He just kind of had a little bit of everything going on. I did a tribute to him when he passed.
"When I moved to Canada, I hooked up with a band called 'The Powder Blues.' It was a bunch of Expats, all musicians from the United States, well, most of them were anyway. We had a really neat sort of jump-blues-band. It was really fun and we had a lot of energy on stage. We would draw a crowd like you wouldn't believe. We sold seventeen thousand records from the stage in six months. From that we got a record deal and then from that we had four number one hits. We had five albums come out and one of them went double Platinum, two went Platinum and one went gold in Canada and in Europe. We played Montreux and all those places in the European market. We tried to break into the US market and came down to L.A. and spent a month and a half touring every place, large and small; big shows and small shows. We just couldn't quite get the traction we wanted. But being in Canada helped me launch what I did because if I die tomorrow at least I know what it is to play in front of twenty thousand people and it's not on my bucket list anymore. Once you play for that many people, for every type of nervousness or stage fright you might have had, you get over it. Like once you've played on live TV, once you've done it" (typical of a horn player, he blows out a stream of air).
Phew…and we both laugh.
Gabriel Mark Hasselbach is a JUNO Award winning multi-instrumentalist with a firm grasp on contemporary and mainstream jazz idioms. He is a unique stylist on trumpet, flute, flugelhorn and more, with over fifteen CDs under his own name, and many more with numerous other artists as a player and/or producer, several of which have gone gold, platinum, and even double platinum.
You can catch Gabriel at Spaghettini Restaurant and Bar in Seal Beach, CA on Sunday, July 14th. Call for reservations. I expect it to be a sold out concert - www.spaghettini.com.
Gabriel Upcoming Dates:
July 12, 2013 Woody's, Palm Springs, CA (6:30 pm)
July 14, 2013 Spaghettini Restaurant & Bar, Seal Beach, CA (6:30 pm)
August 8, 2013 Concerts In The Park; 666 Burrard, Vancouver, BC (noon)
August 9, 2013 MEDA Event, Valleybrook Gardens, Abbotsford, BC (8 pm)
August 14, 2013 Jazz On The Ave All-Star Jam With Alexander Zonjic, Dearborn, MI (3 pm)
August 16, 2013 Bentall Plaza Concerts, 1055 Dunsmuir, Vancouver, BC (noon)
Read about Dee Dees accomplishments: