Best known for his relaxed, melodic improvisations, Stan Getz was one of the most celebrated jazz musicians of his time. He first broke into the public consciousness as “The Sound” during his tenure with the big bands in the 1940s; he became an important figure in the “cool” movement of the 1950s; and, in the 1960s, was the primary disseminator of bossa nova, a mixture of jazz and Brazilian samba rhythms. He remained a primary force in modern jazz throughout his life. As Joseph Hooper said of Getz in the New York Times Magazine, “Inarguably he is one of that ever-diminishing handful of geniuses who have shaped jazz since the 1940s, about half the music’s natural life.”
Getz practiced tenor sax and bassoon as a child, although he had only six months of lessons and never studied music theory or harmony. In order to contribute to the family finances, he quit school in the ninth grade to get work as a musician. Two years later, in 1942, he was given the chance to play with Jack Teagarden, the best jazz trombonist of his day. He then joined Stan Kenton’s big band, contributing to the hits “Eager Beaver” and “Tampico.” After stints with Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, in 1947, Getz found a spot in Woody Herman’s band as one of the original Four Brothers, the sax section that gave the band its unique sound. He established himself as a lyricist with his improvisational solo “Early Autumn,” which he recorded with Herman.
With his reputation established, Getz left Herman’s band in 1949 to front a quartet. Once the guitarist Jimmy Raney joined the group, the quintet solidified their following among be-bop fans. Jack Sohmer of Down Beat describes Getz’s versatility in a review of The Complete Recordings of the Stan Getz Quintet with Jimmy Raney: “Such tracks as The Song Is You’... and ‘Budo’ will immediately belie the notion that Getz was only comfortable with ballads and, somewhat later, lilting Latin melodies. On these selections, as well as many more throughout, Getz proves himself an early master of cookery, 52nd St.-style.” Getz collaborated with a number of jazz greats in this period, including Oscar Peterson, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bob Brookmeyer. His 1957 concert with J. J. Johnson resulted in one of his most highly acclaimed recordings, At the Opera House.
Getz’s cool style and his self-destructive desire to live on the edge made him a hero of the beat generation. As Hooper explained, “It was no accident that Getz rose to stardom in the ‘50s, the decade of Dean and Brando, of cool surfaces and passionate, roiled interiors.”
For the Record…
Born Stanley Getz, February 2,1927, in Philadelphia, PA; died of liver cancer, June 6, 1991; son of Alexander and Goldie Getz; married Monica Silfveskiold, 1956 (divorced, 1987); children: Steven, David, Beverly, Pamela, Nicholas.
Played with the big bands of Jack Teagarden, Stan Kenton, and Benny Goodman, 1942–47; played with Woody Herman’s original Four Brothers sax section, 1947–49; leader of various quartets, beginning in 1949; toured Europe and lived in Copenhagen, 1958–61; recorded Jazz Samba, 1962; signed with Columbia, c. 1970; returned to leading traditional jazz quartets, 1980s.
Awards: Grammy Award for best recording, 1962, for “Desafinado,” and 1964, for “The Girl from Ipanema”; National Academy of Recording Artists’ best record of the year for “The Girl from Ipanema,” 1964; ranked at the top of Metronome and Down Beat readers’ polls every year throughout the 1950s.
However, alcohol and drugs played an important part in the lives of jazz musicians at the time, and Getz’s life was no exception. His increasingly expensive addiction to heroin led to his attempt to steal narcotics from a Seattle drugstore in 1954. After his arrest and a six-month prison term, he jumped back into his musical career, resuming his pattern of frequent appearances and record dates, with his fame undiminished. He headlined for Norman Grantz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic in 1958 and toured with them in Europe. The same year he moved to Copenhagen, where he stayed until 1961.
When Getz returned to the United States, the “cool school” of jazz was out and John Coltrane’s aggressive tenor sax style was in. However, rather than cater to popular opinion, Getz continued to play in his own relaxed style. His self-knowledge paid off: His improvisations over Eddie Sauter’s compositions for strings on the album Focus received widespread praise from critics. It has been considered one of the only successful with-strings jazz albums ever produced.
In 1962, guitarist Charlie Byrd suggested to Getz that they collaborate on an album that would incorporate a new sound he had heard in Brazil. This sound, a combination of traditional folk samba rhythms with jazz improvisation, was called bossa nova, or new wave, by the Brazilians. Getz’s and Byrd’s collaboration, released in 1962 as Jazz Samba, became one of the most popular jazz albums ever recorded. It included the hits “Desafinado” (“Slightly Out of Tune”) and “Samba de Una Nota So” (“One Note Samba”), which were composed by the Brazilian pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Jazz Samba initiated a bossa nova craze in the United States, and many jazz and pop artists attempted to cash in on the enthusiasm with their own bossa nova recordings. Most were considered far inferior to Jazz Samba and Getz’s subsequent releases, Big Band Bossa Nova and Jazz Samba Encore, which were both artistic and commercial successes. By 1964, bossa nova had been overplayed and was falling out of favor with the public. However, Getz revived the form’s popularity with Getz/Gilberto, a collaboration with the Brazilian innovators of bossa nova, singer-guitarist Joâo Gilberto and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Because Gilberto sang only in Portuguese, his wife, Astrud Gilberto, sang a few of the pieces in English. Although she had never before sung professionally, her seductive rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema” combined perfectly with Getz’s wafting, lyrical sax playing, making this song phenomenally successful. It won the 1964 Grammy for best record, and the National Academy of Recording Artists voted Getz/Gilberto the best jazz album of the year.
After concentrating on bossa novas in the mid-’60s, Getz returned to playing more traditional modern jazz. Many talented musicians emerged from Getz’s groups, including Jack De Johnette, Steve Swallow, Tony Williams, and Chick Corea, whose famous “La Fiesta” first appeared on Getz’s Captain Marvel album. Getz also encouraged young composers. He was one of the first to recognize and use the talents of Eddie Sauter and Lalo Schifrin.
Although Getz made approximately 130 records throughout his career, he never applied that expertise in playing to composing. As he explained to Down Beats Josef Woodard, “I’m a sad-ass writer, a lazy writer. Everytime I did try to write something over the years, I’d get up the next morning and change it and the next morning change it again and the next... until I’d finally rip it up. It’s because I’m a player, and players play something different every time.”
Getz signed with Columbia in the 1970, and, according to Down Beat’s John McDonough, “felt subtle company pressures to ‘broaden his audience’ in the manner of Miles Davis.” Getz complied by experimenting with electronics and rock rhythms, particularly in his album Another World, but returned eventually to his traditional acoustic rhythm section. As he told Woodard, “For my taste, there’s really nothing in the whole world better than an acoustic rhythm section when it’s popping. It seems to vibrate inside your body. You seldom get it, but when you get it, that can be felt.... A lot of times, listening to electric music just feels like I’m taking shock treatments.”
Getz released several critically acclaimed jazz quartet albums in the 1980s, particularly Anniversary and The Stockholm Concert. Of Anniversary, Down Beat reporter Kevin Whitehead said, “His tone had deepened a little bit, but at 60 he was playing as elegantly as ever. If anything, his ballads... may be even richer and more beautiful.” The Stockholm Concerns considered equally resonant and Getz’s playing perhaps even more emotionally complex.
The last album Getz released before his death from liver cancer in 1991 was Apasionado, which included aspects of most of the major styles of Getz’s career: the melodic balladry, the Latin rhythms of his bossa nova days, even hints of the big band sound. He departed from the acoustic quartet format he had been using for the last several years in order to improvise over the synthesizer compositions of Eddie de Barrio. The album was received enthusiastically by jazz fans, reaching the top of the jazz charts. Although critics claimed that the album as a whole did not compete with his best, his improvised solos achieve the lyrical beauty, emotional depth, and spontaneity one would expect from a musician whose work has been enjoyed and admired for half a century.
The Soft Swing, Verve, 1957.
(With J. J. Johnson) At the Opera House, Verve, 1957.
(With Bob Brookmeyer) Stan Getz and Bob Brookmeyer,
Verve, 1961. Focus, Verve, 1962. Jazz Samba (includes “Desafinado” and “Samba de Una Nota So”), Verve, 1962.
Big Band Bossa Nova, Verve, 1962.
Jazz Samba Encore, Verve, 1963.
Getz/Gilberto (includes “The Girl from Ipanema”) Verve, 1964.
Au Go Go, Verve, 1964.
Getz/Gilberto No. 2, Verve, 1966.
Sweet Rain, Verve, 1967.
What the World Needs Now, Verve, 1968.
Didn’t We, Verve, 1969.
Dynasty, Verve, 1971.
Newport in New York 72, Cobble, 1972.
Captain Marvel, Columbia, 1975.
Another World, Columbia.
Pure Getz, Concord Jazz.
Classics: Stan Getz, Prestige.
The Stockholm Concert, Gazell, 1983.
Anniversary, EmArcy, 1987, reissued, Verve, 1993.
Apasionado, A & M, 1989.
The Complete Recordings of The Stan Getz Quintet with Jimmy Raney, Mosaic, 1991.
Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, LRC, 1992.
Spring Is Here, Concord Jazz, 1992.
(With Kenny Barron) People Time, Verve, 1992.
Essential, Polygram, 1992.
Best of the Verve Years, Vol. Ill, Verve, 1993.
Opus De Bop, Savoy, reissued, 1993.
The Artistry of Stan Getz Vol. II, Verve, 1993.
Jazz Masters 8, Verve, 1994.
Feather, Leonard, The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties,
Horizon Press, 1966. Feather, Leonard, and Ira Gitler, The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies, Horizon Press, 1976.
Lyons, Len, and Don Perlo, Jazz Portraits: The Lives and Music of the Jazz Masters, Morrow, 1989.
Down Beat, June 1990; July 1990; January 1991 ; September 1991.
New York Times Magazine, June 9, 1991.
Rolling Stone, August 8, 1991.
—Susan Windisch Brown
Of the great instrumental soloists who emerged from the revolution in jazz styles that grew in the years after World War II, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (1927–1991) was perhaps the greatest sheer melodist, the most avid pursuer of pure beauty and emotion.
Getz in his youth was an admirer of Lester Young, the great saxophonist whose singing melodic lines did much to emancipate the jazz soloist from the procession of chords that underpinned the tune. Coming of age during the evolution of the dense, difficult new music known as bebop, he forged a quieter but no less intense style of his own that commanded the admiration of legions of jazz fans for decades. In the 1960s Getz helped introduce a new Brazilian-inflected variety of jazz that put him in the top reaches of the sales charts, where he remained one of the top musicians in the jazz genre until his death in 1991.
Reproduced Big-Band Sounds on Harmonica
Stanley Getz was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 2, 1927. The birth was a difficult one, during which one of Getz's ears was almost completely torn off by a surgical instrument and had to be reattached. His parents, descended from Jewish immigrants, were never very prosperous; his father, Al, was a low-level printshop employee, and was an alcohol abuser who often drifted from job to job. The family moved to the New York borough of the Bronx when Stan was six. The young Getz had obvious musical talent, but his parents could not afford to buy him an instrument. He got hold of a harmonica and quickly learned to use it to mimic complex jazz arrangements like Benny Goodman's "King Porter Stomp," and he played the bass in classical compositions in a school orchestra. Finally, as a belated 13th birthday present, his parents gave him a battered alto saxophone.
He quickly learned the other saxophones and took lessons on the more difficult bassoon, and his high school teacher recommended him for a scholarship to the educational apex of classical music, the Juilliard School. But Getz was already hooked on the popular big band jazz of the time. Practicing his saxophone for up to eight hours a day, he was encouraged by his parents, who saw his growing skills as a source of extra money for the family. Soon Getz was frequenting jazz band rehearsals, and when he was 15 he seized the chance to fill a chair left absent by a member of trombonist Jack Teagarden's band. He was hired the same day by Teagarden at a salary of $70 a week and told to show up the next morning at Penn Station (a New York railroad terminus) with a tuxedo, toothbrush, and spare shirt.
At first Getz found work because older players were mostly away in the United States Army, but soon his solid skills and quick-study ways got him noticed by bandleaders. In 1944 Getz signed on with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and one of the veteran musicians in that high profile group talked him into trying heroin on the band's tour bus. Within a few weeks Getz was hooked. But he was young, making good money, and always on the road. Associates noticed that Getz's normally cheerful personality darkened while he was in need of a fix, and saxophonist Zoot Sims, in an interview quoted by Getz biographer Donald L. Maggin, once commented that "Stan's a nice bunch of guys!" But for some years his addiction did not interfere regularly with his playing.
Getz did stints with two more of the best bands in the jazz business, those of Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, in the mid-1940s. Still in his teens, he listened avidly as saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and a group of other players centered in New York's Minton's nightclub worked out the radical new bebop style in the last years of World War II. Bebop drastically widened the harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary of jazz, challenging players to produce rapid, jagged lines that extended the implications of the underlying chords. Getz, mostly by paying close attention to what avant-garde musicians were doing, mastered the new style in a matter of months.
Influenced by Lester Young
The main influence on Getz, however, was the style of swing tenor saxophonist Lester Young, a performer whose relaxed, lyrical style offered a contrast to those of saxophone players who cultivated the instrument's potential for rough sounds and sharp attacks. Getz worked at updating Young's sound with the speed and harmonic experimentation of bebop, creating a new and highly appealing style—lyrical, elegant, and yielding to no one in sheer dexterity. In 1947 Getz joined the incarnation of Woody Herman's Thundering Herd big band known as the Second Herd, honing his skills as part of the band's formidable "Four Brothers" quartet of saxophones (the others were Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff). The year before he had married jazz singer Beverly Byrne, and the pair, though troubled in their relationship, raised three children.
Getz severed his ties with the Herman band in 1949 and 1950, partly because he was disturbed by the grind of the road, and partly by a specific incident in which a railroad brakeman had been decapitated by a train on which he was riding. He began performing and recording, mostly in New York, with small groups. The timing was perfect, as so-called "cool jazz" began to supplant bebop and audiences flocked to the charismatic young saxophonist whom many called romantic. Getz resisted the identification with cool jazz, saying in a 1950 interview quoted by Maggin that "I'm not trying to shove any style or sound down people's throats. It's fun swingin' and getting 'hot' for a change instead of trying to be cool. I don't want to become stagnant. I can be a real stompin' tenor man." Getz had a major jazz hit with "Early Autumn" in 1949, and in the early 1950s he and trumpeter (and cool jazz pioneer) Miles Davis were arguably the most popular jazz musicians in the United States. Numerous Stan Getz Quintet LPs appeared on a variety of jazz labels and inaugurated a run of more than 130 albums Getz would make over the course of his career.
Getz's heroin addiction caused a major interruption to his jazz career in 1954. After several skirmishes with the law, he tried to ease himself off the drug with the equally dangerous combination of alcohol and barbiturates, but in February he found himself in Seattle, Washington, desperate for heroin and with no ready source of the drug. He entered a drugstore near his hotel and made a clumsy attempt to rob it (no weapon was involved, only a pointed finger under his coat), demanding morphine, a chemical relative of heroin. He was arrested and jailed in southern California, where he had faced earlier charges, for six months. Soon after this episode Getz stopped taking morphine for good, although he began to abuse alcohol.
Immediately after his divorce from Beverly Byrne in 1956, Getz married Swedish-born Monica Silfverskiold; with her he had two more children. Partly to escape Getz's legal problems, the pair lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the late 1950s, but wherever he was, Getz recorded prolifically, mostly for the Verve label started in 1956 by the indefatigable jazz promoter Norman Granz. In 1957 alone Getz released six albums, all with star collaborators, and he nurtured the careers of young players in Scandinavia's vigorous jazz scene.
Spearheaded Bossa Nova Craze
By the early 1960s Getz had been on top of the jazz world for more than a decade, and fashions were inevitably changing; the extreme playing of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, pushing at the edges of established jazz procedures, attracted the attention of jazz audiences and writers. But Getz found a new and congenial stylistic home for his smooth playing, first with a widely hailed recording with string orchestra called Focus in 1962, and then later that year with a then-little-known Brazilian style called bossa nova. Getz teamed with guitarist Charlie Byrd for the Jazz Samba album, and "Desafinado" ("Out of Tune") and "Samba de una Nota So" (translated as "One-Note Samba"), both written by Brazilian jazz composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, became major hits. Jazz Samba rose to the top spot on Billboard's album sales chart, the first jazz LP to do so.
An international bossa nova craze quickly ignited, and Getz gave it a second wind in 1964 with the Getz/Gilberto LP, recorded (as was Jazz Samba) for Verve. Getz teamed with Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto and his wife, Astrud, on the hit single "The Girl from Ipanema." The combination of Getz's saxophone and Astrud Gilberto's plain, deadpan voice proved irresistible, and Getz/Gilberto outsold Jazz Samba. It missed the top spot on the Billboard chart only because it appeared simultaneously with the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Getz remained financially comfortable for the rest of his life as a result of these recordings, and though he eventually tired of playing his big bossa nova hits, he established the Brazilian influence as a permanent part of the jazz vocabulary—one of his most significant accomplishments.
The jazz-rock fusion trends of the 1970s were not really congenial ones for Getz, although he did experiment with the use of electronic instruments from time to time. Recording for the Columbia label he assembled a series of bands that contained the future stars of jazz; one of these was pianist Chick Corea, whose composition "La Fiesta" appeared on Getz's Captain Marvel LP of 1975. Getz had a solid core of admirers, many of them in Europe, who contin-ued to support his straight-ahead acoustic jazz concerts and recordings.
Getz's personal life continued to trouble him in the 1980s; a combination of alcohol abuse and depression over the years had left him prone to sprees of rage, and his marriage to Monica dissolved in 1987 in an acrimonious divorce proceeding that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. No matter what demons might beset him, however, Getz was recognized over his entire career for delivering performances of consistently high quality. Getz recorded for the Verve, Concord Jazz, A&M, and Polygram labels, often joining with pianist Kenny Barron and remaining one of the best-selling performers in jazz. His 1987 releases Serenity and Anniversary were critically acclaimed, and 1989's Apasionado returned the saxophonist to a Brazilian zone of influence. In his last years, Getz finally achieved total sobriety.
Looking toward a third marriage and new musical projects near the end of the 1980s, Getz was diagnosed with liver cancer. He kept performing, and the disease remained stable for several years. One of the most beautiful vocal collaborations of his entire career was You Gotta Pay the Band, recorded in 1991 with singer Abbey Lincoln. Getz remained active until his death on June 6, 1991. The legacy of musicians he had directly inspired included Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, soon to be elected president of the United States.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 12, Gale 1994.
Maggin, Donald L., Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz, Morrow, 1996.
Billboard, June 22, 1991.
Boston Globe, June 8, 1991.
Independent (London, England), June 8, 1991.
New York Times, June 9, 1991.
New York Times Magazine, June 9, 1991.
Washington Post, June 8, 1991.
"Stan Getz," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 15, 2006).
GETZ, STAN (1927–1991), U.S. tenor saxophonist. Getz was one of those rare figures in jazz who manages to achieve huge commercial successes without compromising considerable artistic abilities. Like his first major influence, Lester Young, he had a light yet huge sound and a natural sense of swing. He was one of jazz's great ballad players and a superb melodist. Of the latter skill he once said, "The saxophone is actually a translation of the human voice, in my conception. All you can do is play melody. No matter how complicated it gets, it's still a melody." Born in Philadelphia but raised in the Bronx, Getz manifested his musical skills early, playing bass in junior high school and bassoon in high school, where he was selected for the all-city orchestra. He recalled, "I was a withdrawn, hypersensitive kid. I would practice the saxophone in the bathroom, and the tenements were so close together that someone from across the alleyways would yell, 'Shut that kid up,' and my mother would say, 'Play louder Stanley, play louder.'" He turned down a possible scholarship to Juilliard at age 15 to go on the road with the Jack Teagarden band. Shortly after, he moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly found work in the Stan Kenton Orchestra, but he quit when Kenton made disparaging remarks about Lester Young. He would not stay unemployed for long, working with Benny *Goodman and Tommy Dorsey before he landed the job that first brought him stardom, as one of the "Four Brothers" sax section in the Woody Herman band known as the Second Herd. He quickly became one of the stars of this be-bop influenced band, with his solo on "Early Autumn" earning him major accolades. Regrettably, he also acquired a heroin habit that would plague him throughout the 1950s, leading him to a brief retirement and exile in Denmark in 1958–61. Getz came roaring back the following year with a series of Brazilian-influenced recordings that would bring his greatest commercial success, including a session with Joao and Astrud Gilberto that included "The Girl From Ipanema," one of the biggest-selling jazz singles of all time. He continued playing and recording steadily until his death from liver cancer at age 64. Elected to the Down Beat Hall of Fame in 1986 by the magazine's readers, Getz was also held in high esteem by his peers; John Coltrane, the most influential tenor player of the post-World War ii era, said of him, "We would all like to play like Stan Getz, if we could."
B. Case and S. Britt, "Stan Getz," in: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz (1978); D.L. Maggin, Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz (1996); B. Priestly (ed.), The Sax and Brass Book (1998); "Stan Getz," Down Beat Magazine archives at www.downbeat.com.; "Stan Getz," Music Web Encyclopaedia of Popular Music, at www.musicweb.uk.net.
[George Robinson (2nd ed.)]