Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stan Getz Was The Voice Of The Angels, and Stan Getz Was A Schmuck

"Stan Getz is bunch of nice guys" –Zoot Sims

Being a teenage dope-fiend and a raging alcoholic on a bender streching out over three decades can take a toll on a man. Despite being in posession of prodigious talent, even the strongest of men can be brought to their knees. Stan Getz succumbed to that, making him moody, violent and confrontational. Despite these shortcomings, he was a man whose talents were beyond reproach. After fooling around with a few instruments as a kid, he settled on saxophone. And although it can’t be substantiated, it’s said he mastered the instrument in four months. Stan had found his voice with the tenor saxophone. While correctly associated with the Lester Young School of the tenor, his playing always brought on a kind of distant howl like a shofer from the temple, reminiscent of his Jewish upbringing, a Jewish Prez if you will. It should be said to those who feel that he was just a Lester Young impersonator, Prez himself was always an admirer and champion of Getz. Stan had it all, movie star good looks, a beautiful home, a lovely family, a gorgeous wife and that supreme talent. He seemed to want it all, the normal life and the life of a Jazz star, but his demons always got the best of him. Stan Getz was a junkie, a bad drunk, a lousy husband, father and friend. I’m certain he was a crappy Jew as well, I’m not sure how often he frequented the synagogue, but I’m guessing not very often. Music was not always his number one priority. Women and drugs were usually the order of business that preceded all, um… musical business.

Stan and Steve Getz at the St. Louis Zoo, 1961.

So now we all know that Getz was a schmuck (much of the time), it should also be known that the man made some fine music, and to this day is arguably considered one of the top five tenor players in Jazz history. His break-out solo on Woody Herman’s “Early Autumn” started it all. Then came his great body of work for Roost, Verve, Prestige and those great European recordings of the 50’s. Getz will be best remembered for the Bossa Nova records with Charlie Byrd, Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, Laurindo Almeida and of course Astrid Gilberto. While all these recordings are anywhere from great to classic, his body of work from the last 10-15 years of his life may be his finest output. His choice of songs and personnel were beyond reproach. He could piss off his band mates, knowing that rehearsal was not something he needed. He could naturally pick up tunes and tempo without the effort that so many musicians have to practice for years. He had amazing dexterity, a fabulous sense of harmony and that unmistakable Getz sound. 

Stan stopped drinking in 1985. For the first time in his life he was going into the studio clean and sober with a clear mind and body. Despite his fears of recording without the aid of drink and drugs, the results were extraordinary. Although it was released posthumously the album Bossas and Ballads was his strongest effort in years and one of his all-time best. Getz was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1987, years of drug and alcohol abuse having finally caught up with him. Although the prognosis was dire, he kept working as well as teaching at Stanford. Aside from cleaning up and adding an herb diet, he spent the remainder of his life atoning his sins and making amends to all the family and friends he had wronged in the past. For some, it was too little too late, but to those close to him such as his band and family it was a rediscovery of the man they only saw on occasion. Getz died in 1991 at his home in Malibu, dozens of new recordings have surfaced since (all of them excellent) and his daughter Bev Getz curates a wonderful website devoted to Stan’s legacy. 


"Early Autumn" mp3
by Woody Herman Orchestra, 1948.
available on Keeper of Flame

"Night Rider" mp3
by Stan Getz & Eddie Sauter, 1961.
available on Focus

"O Grande Amor" mp3
by Stan Getz & João Gilberto, 1964.
available on  Getz/Gilberto

"Sweet Rain" mp3
by Stan Getz, 1967
available on  Sweet Rain (Dig)

"Soul Eyes" mp3
by Stan Getz, 1989.
available on Bossas & Ballads: The Lost Sessions

photographs by Bernie Thrasher, from the Euclid Records Archive


Mark said...

I have always especially been fond of that Verve record he made with Oscar Peterson, with "Pennies from Heaven," "Three Little Words," "I Want to be Happy." It swings like mad.

bing stills said...

Saw Stan Getz play with a small group in a bar in San Francisco, November 1978. Still one of the best performances I have ever heard.

dbfly said...

A former drummer of Stan's told me - 'what Stan wants, Stan gets."