Although he plays several instruments, the trumpet remains Gabriel Mark Hasselbach’s first love and his first choice. (photo from Gabriel Mark Hasselbach)
Music is a dazzling mistress. Once Gabriel Mark Hasselbach fell in love with it, he could never let it go. His music brought him from Denver, Colo., to Vancouver, where his jazz performances have been in high demand for many years.
“When I grew up in Denver, they had a new school education system. They allowed good students, and I had 4.0 average, to choose classes. I devoted almost all my junior and senior years to the art and music classes,” Hasselbach told the Independent.
He started playing professionally in his teens. “I’ve been an opportunist, in the best sense of the word, all my life,” he said. “When I recognize an opportunity, I follow it. When I was 14, I wanted to perform, so I went to the local restaurants and ski resorts and fashion shows and asked, Do you need a musician? Maybe on certain days, when the business is slow? And I offered to play.”
Gifted in multiple creative disciplines, he had a choice of several careers paths in high school. “At some point, I contemplated making ceramic sculptures as a career,” he said. “I liked it, but ceramics take time. You give it all, and then it cracks in the oven. Unlike ceramics, music is immediate.”
By graduation, he was sure he wanted to be a musician. “I hit the road when I turned 18,” he recalled. “I answered an ad for an audition for a band. It was in a bad, dangerous part of town, but I went there anyway and I got the job, with the soul band Nitro. All the other players were 10 or 15 years my senior.”
He played with that band and toured the Midwest with them for awhile. He also got a recording his first year.
When Hasselbach returned to Denver, he worked a few non-music jobs, but his calling wouldn’t allow him a long respite. In the 1970s, he came to Canada as a musician, and here he stayed.
“I brought my bicycle, my trumpet and a stack of music books,” he said. “That’s how I learned. I never went to a conservatory, but I read the books, I practised a lot and I performed a lot, alone and with the others. I think, this way, I kept my musical self, my uniqueness as a musician.”
In his early years, he was known in Vancouver by his middle name, Mark. “I changed my performer’s name to my full name, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, in 1992,” he said. “Gabriel is my first name, and Gabriel was the original angel with a horn – it fit.”
Time and again, his creativity pushed him to explore other avenues besides music. “I used to write for several music magazines,” he said. “I also wrote a wine column for awhile.”
Predominantly, though, he remained a jazz musician, and he was among the original members of the jazz/pop/blues band Powder Blues, which was founded in 1978 in Gastown. “I toured the world with this band,” said Hasselbach. “We played often in Canada and the U.S. We garnered several multiplatinum record awards and the JUNO Awards. I was with the band for five years.”
But he wanted to play and record on his own, so he left the band and made his first solo recording in the early 1980s. By this time, he had more than a dozen albums to his name and multiple awards, including JUNOs and Smooth Jazz Awards. He’s had numerous top 15 and higher Billboard hits and he represented the Vancouver jazz scene at the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
Since settling in Canada, Hasselbach has performed with many renowned national and international musicians. From 1996 to 1999, he hired Michael Bublé to sing with his band. When Bublé achieved stardom, Hasselbach worked for him as his music director from 1999 to 2003. Hasselbach also has performed or recorded with Nikki Yanofsky, Jim Byrnes and many others.
Although he plays several instruments, including trumpet, flute, flugelhorn and trombone, trumpet remains his first love and his first choice. He also writes music. Most of the pieces he performs and records are his original compositions.
In the early 1980s, Hasselbach added a new kind of gig to his repertoire. He began performing at Jewish events.
“I’m an honorary Jew,” he joked. “I was first hired to play at a Jewish wedding by a Jewish man who knew me from my restaurant playing. The word spread, and many others invited me. By now, I know all the music pieces required at a Jewish wedding. I know all the procedures and ceremonies. I’m the go-to guy and bandleader for many organizers of Jewish events and rabbis in Vancouver and Winnipeg, have been for years.”
In addition to his active schedule as a lounge musician and at Jewish events, he frequently plays at high-level corporate bashes. “I performed for Bill Gates twice, once in his home. He likes jazz,” Hasselbach said proudly. “I played for the president of Singapore at his birthday gala in Singapore, at the Montreux Jazz Fest, Switzerland, and the North Sea Jazz Fest in Netherlands. I played for the international APEC congress and for the world ice-skating convention.”
The impressive list will continue to expand this year.
“I’m going to perform at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans and St. Lucia Jazz Fest,” he said. “I’m also going to have a week of concerts in Tel Aviv in 2018.”
But Vancouver is home. He performs here regularly, most Saturdays and Sundays. For upcoming shows and more about Hasselbach, visit gabrieljazz.com. His corporate and wedding website is sassabrass.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].