Topaz Reunion with Special Guest Gabe Baltazar

Gabe Baltazar, Noel Okimoto, Benny Rietveld ©Sandy Tsukiyama

Gabe Baltazar on saxophone, Noel Okimoto on drums and Benny Rietveld on bass | Photo © Sandy Tsukiyama

Hawaii jazz legend Gabe Baltazar rarely performs in public these days. But he’ll be making a special guest appearance in a reunion show with the popular jazz fusion band known as Topaz tonight in Honolulu.

Topaz, which formed in 1976, featured Benny Rietveld on bass, Noel Okimoto on drums, Carl Wakeland on keyboards and Allen Won on saxophone.

Noel Okimoto, Benny Rietveld, Gabe Baltazar

Noel Okimoto, Benny Rietveld & Gabe Baltazar


Then in the late 70s, when Baltazar was putting together a group to play jazz at the Cavalier, three members of Topaz, Rietveld, Okimoto and Wakeland, ended up in his famous quartet.

Looking back, Baltazar, who’s mentored many musicians along the way, says back then it worked both ways. “They were just out of high school, and they were into fusion jazz. So we played a lot of bebop things like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker… And I learned from them, they brought in Chick Corea’s music… and today, they’re doing good.”

Okimoto, remained in Hawaii, and also played with Woody Herman for awhile.  The other members of Topaz move to the Mainland. Rietveld went on to work with Sheila E, Miles Davis and Carlos Santana, and has been his longtime musical director.






Benny Rietveld | © Erik Kabik

Tonight’s show marks the first time they’ll all be playing together in 36 years. For Topaz, it’s an opportunity to pay tribute to some of their mentors in Hawaii, including Gabe Baltazar.

The last time Gabe Baltazar performed in public was back in 2012, to celebrate the release of his autobiography “If It Swings, It’s Music.” In addition to recounting his amazing career, Baltazar shares stories about Topaz, and playing with his rhythm section at the Cavalier.

In fact, you can hear an audio clip of them playing live at the Cavalier in this NPR profile I produced on Baltazar  ‘If It Swings’: An Asian-American Jazzman’s Pioneering Career.

So you don’t want to miss a pretty cool reunion tonight and a great evening of jazz. It all starts at 7pm at Crossroads at Hawaiian Brian’s on 1680 Kapiolani Blvd. Admision is $20 general, $15 for seniors (65 & over), and kids under 12 are free.





‘If It Swings’: An Asian-American Jazzman’s Pioneering Career (NPR profile)

Santana’s bass player Benny Rietveld returns home to perform in Hawaii

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