Béla Szakcsi Lakatos
Pianist, composer

Béla Szakcsi Lakatos started playing the piano at age nine dreaming that he would become a famous composer and an outstanding interpreter of classical music. However, while he attended the Béla Bartók Conservatory, he got acquainted with jazz, and this experience was profound enough to divert him from further classical studies.

The primary scene for jazz in Hungary in the 1950s and 1960s was in the world of entertainment and catering, and Hungary’s most accomplished jazz musicians played in this circle, among them Andor Kovács guitarist. Szakcsi appeared in Kovács’ band, but at in the mid-1960s he already debuted as a band leader – and was featured with this formation on the compilation entitled Anthology '67. His trio LDL shared first prize with another group at the competition organized by the Hungarian Radio, and in 1970 with Aladár Pege’s quartet he won 2nd prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which opened the gates for him to the international jazz scene as well.

He performed at the most prestigious festivals from Zurich to Warsaw, from Nuremberg to Belgrade, and from North America to Asia. One of his most important cooperative projects with internationally acclaimed musicians were the records he made together with percussion player George Jinda. Szakcsi contributed to eleven albums of George Jinda and Chieli Minucci’s Special EFX as a soloist and composer, and it was thanks to this collaboration that he had the chance to sign a record contract with the GRP record company in the mid-1980s, the result of which were the following albums: Sachi, 1988; Mystic Dreams, 1989; Eve of Chance, 1992; Straight Ahead, 1994.

Chick Corea has often expressed appreciation of Szakcsi's excellence as composer and performer, whose partners have included to the present day the like of Carmen Jones, Frank Zappa, Art Farmer, Mark Ledford, Dave Weckl, Omar Hakim, Terri Lyne Carrington, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Jay Leonhart, Gerald Veasley, Victor Bailey, Randy Roos, Attila Zoller, Rodney Holmes, David Sanchez, or Mike Richmond.
In the Hungarian jazz history Szakcsi has had a major share in popularizing fusion jazz first with the band Rákfogó, and then with Saturnus. From the beginning of the 1970s, he taught at the Jazz Piano Department of the Béla Bartók Conservatory, where, following the examples of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, he put great emphasis on blending jazz and classical music. In accordance with this concept he resumed examining the work of Bach, Bartók, Stravinsky, Schönberg, and Webern.

Simultaneously he also got engaged in collecting treasures of Gypsy folklore, and reinterpreting these pieces of music as stage works. His first Gypsy musical titled Red Caravan was first performed in 1975, which was followed by was followed by Once Upon a Time a Gypsy Girl, then Cartwheel. The Beast, his rock opera from 1989 written on commission of the Rock Theatre, covers the life story of Erzsébet Báthory, and on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the American continent the Hungarian State Opera House staged his 100-minute ballet entitled Cristoforo.

All those who have kept track of the career of Liszt Award-winning Szakcsi must have noticed that – in accordance with the directions of Leonard Bernstein, one of Szakcsi’s musical heroes – the pianist is at home in all genres of music. He has made recordings of Hungarian folk song arrangements with opera singer Ádám Horváth and folk singer Gyöngyi Écsi (My Flower My Flower, 1988), and piano pieces for four hands with György Vukán (Conversation for two pianos & orchestra, 1998; Das Duell I-II-III. - Vukán-Szakcsi in Gottingen, 1998; Conversation Plus 1999; Fourehand, 2000). While he continued to record jazz albums regularly (with Imre Kőszegi and Jackie Orszáczky: Journey in Time, 1998; with Bob Mintzer and Peter Berstein: On the Way Back Home, 2001), in the past ten years he has also immersed himself in the compositions of György Kurtág, and presently he is occupied with studying the works of György Ligeti, Péter Eötvös and Pierre Boulez as well. To create a common language out of hitherto separate musical genres - this is obviously Szakcsi's true vocation, and it is in this spirit that his improvisations with Lajos Kathy Horváth, going on for decades, came to be recorded for the first time on the album In one breath in 2002 (BMC CD 061).

He played W.A. Mozart's "Coronation" Piano Concerto (No. 26 in D Major, K. 537) with the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra (cond. Zsolt Hamar) in 2002, with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra (cond. Adam Medveczky), with the Kolozsvár Philharmonic Orchestra (cond. György Selmeczi) and with the Matáv Hungarian Symphony Orchestra (cond. András Ligeti) in 2004. The special about it is that in the part where Mozart specified the cadences and the artists are supposed to improvise, Szakcsi plays his own jazz improvisations.

Szakcsi's newest album was published in 2004 entitled Na Dara! (Don't be affraid). He tells the story about it:

"Some years ago I was at a party in New York. Several of us took turns at the piano. Some were amateurs, others professionals. When it was my turn, a guy came up and stood by the piano nodding appreciatively. He kept saying, “Great music man, great jazz.” He seemed to know that I was a Gypsy and asked me if I could play something Hungarian in the Gypsy style. I played him an instrumental piece by Laci Rácz. “Wow, this is fantastic” he said after I had finished. Then he asked me if I could turn that into jazz. It was a challenge, an intriguing thought that hasn’t left me. (...)

Don’t think me conceited, but I do think this album is unique. In a way it’s a new style. Call it ‘Gypsy jazz’, if you like. No one disputes that jazz comes from America, but some Americans are reluctant to admit that there’s such a thing as European jazz. However, all American musicians, be they black or white, make one exception and that is the late great Belgian Gypsy guitar player, Django Reinhardt. When they first heard him over there they recognised his music as jazz, although not quite the same as their own. Django hardly ever played the blues, yet his music had the texture and feeling of jazz. My music is, inevitably, more modern than that of Django and it comes from a different Gypsy tradition. What is very special about the Gypsy bands is the uncanny time-keeping combined with the freedom of playing rubato. Any jazzman who has ever heard a Gypsy band is always amazed by it. But that is the combination you will find on this album too."