Archive for September, 2009

Stan Getz: But Beautiful

Stan Getz and Bill Evans: But Beautiful
Originally released 1974.

Stan Getz 

Imagine a torrent of melodic invention like a mountain stream – sometimes threading through airy heights, sometimes rushing headlong through rapids, then broadening out in wide still pools, or wandering through beautiful tranquil meadows… the lovely tone of Stan Getz’s tenor saxophone could do all these things. Sometimes cool, sometimes warm – sometimes intense emotion breaking out – always improvised, spontaneous and absolutely precise rhythmically. Participating in swing bands from an early age, in the 50s Stan achieved fame for “cool” jazz in small groups, before adopting Bossa Nova and helping lift it to fame.

Jazz musician
Stanley Gayetzky was born in 1927, the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants to the USA. Although he was a top student in high school, he showed a great interest in musical instruments, and a talent for music – he could hum all the Benny Goodman clarinet solos from memory, he was good at sight reading and had an excellent musical memory. When his father gave him a saxophone at age 13, he set about practising all day, and soon was good enough to be invited to join bands, while he could earn money playing gigs. Soon music took over from studies, and he dropped out of School. In 1943, at 16, he auditioned for the band lead by trombonist Jack Teagarden – many musicians were being called up to serve in the Armed Forces – and was taken on at $70 a week (more than twice what his father was earning). Soon he was playing one-nighters all over the States, and learning too to smoke and drink. In 1944 he joined Stan Kenton’s band, playing in California, and that year participated in his first recording date ….. but he also became addicted to heroin. In 1945 he joined Benny Goodman’s band, playing on the East Coast, and would go into New York to hear Charlie Parker, whose bepob was revolutionising jazz. In 1946 he married Beverly Berne (a jazz singer) and began working in a group called Woody Herman’s Second Herd, which had a famous sax section known as the Four Brothers – all outstanding musicians and players. Although big bands mostly played from a written score, the soloists could improvise as they wanted and as the mood took them. A solo of Stan’s on “Early Autumn” became a hit – but to the audience, not to Getz, who once commented: “It’s a nice solo, [but] I don’t understand why it was such an earth-shaking thing. It’s just another ballad solo for me…. my music is something that’s done and forgotten about”. (Listen on YouTube at However, this brief solo brought him to notice, and when he left the Herd in 1950, he was already being invited to share the bill with other top-flight jazz musicians, like Charlie Parker and Lester Young, and for the rest of his life he was his own band leader.

In the early 50s his career was in full flow – in the first five years he recorded 40 albums, mostly with titles like Stan Getz Plays, Stan Getz Special etc and in polls was voted the outstanding jazz tenor sax player in successive years. But at the same time his drug addiction absorbed all his income, and it took a jail sentence and hospital treatment to get him “detoxed”. In 1955 Stan flew to Sweden where he was well known, but became very ill; however, a fan from a wealthy Swedish family, Monica Silfverskiold, decided it was her mission in life to take care of him –they became engaged in Sweden and married later in the US when he divorced from his first wife (three children with the first, two with the second). In 1958 they moved to live in Denmark; Stan was now very well off, and his playing was admired all over Europe.

Bossa Nova
On returning from Europe in 1961, Stan found that musical tastes had moved on, and he was not really inspired by the modal improvisations then in vogue. He recorded an innovative album called Focus, which was a commercial flop, although he regarded it as his best work. Then he linked up with guitarist Charlie Byrd, who had just returned from a trip to Brazil where he heard Bossa Nova, and they recorded an album called Jazz Samba, containing many of the Bossa Nova hit tunes – but it had a rhythm section of American drummers who were way away from the subtle “batida” originated by João Gilberto. But in the States, the album was a hit, and was followed by more recordings with Brazilian musicians resident in the US (Luis Bonfá and Laurindo Almeida). There was a launching of genuine Bossa Nova in New York in November 1962, when most of the leading Brazilian exponents travelled there. Afterwards a recording session was arranged which had Stan Getz on tenor sax, João Gilberto guitar, Tom Jobim piano, Tião Neto bass, and Milton Banana on percussion – and so finally the rhythm had a subtlety and ginga authentically Brazilian! According to Ruy Castro´s account (in the excellent history Chega de Saudade) Stan’s adaptation to the “genuine” Bossa Nova beat was not so easy, but was finally helped by considerable doses of whisky! Astrud Gilberto, João’s wife, sang the lyrics in English on some tracks, and her simple clear voice, melodious and unaffected, added a special charm to the disk, which was already destined to be a classic. Vintage Gilberto and Jobim were beautifully complemented by Getz’s warm sound, and his improvisations, if not adventurous, were completely apposite. It took some six months before the album Getz/Gilberto was released, together with a single with Girl from Ipanema and Corcovado – but both were a hit, and established careers in the States for everyone (except Tião and Milton!). Not only that, but it established Bossa Nova as a new musical trend, and spread its fame worldwide.

The later years
Getz remained closely associated with Bossa Nova for many years, but always kept to his roots of jazz, experimenting with different styles. Well known and appreciated through the Americas and Europe, he moved around, playing in clubs, festivals, and concerts, called by the White House to play on special occasions. Always he played with his beautiful characteristic sound, a mastery of his instrument which appeared effortless, and a never-exhausted creativity. Every improvisation was different: every time he played, something new happened – sometimes more inspired, sometimes less. He based himself in California, and taught at Stanford University, combining it with touring. By the mid-80s he was essentially free of drink and drugs (but eventually he died in 1991 of liver cancer). His recording legacy is immense: 386 albums over a 50-year career.

The CD But Beautiful was recorded live in a concert in Holland in 1974. It brought Stan Getz together with the Bill Evans Trio, which had Eddied Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums. Since Stan and Bill were both outstanding white jazz musicians, adept at slow ballads, some moving playing could be expected – and indeed it happened on The Peacocks, a cool, lonely number. Stan plays the melody, not straying far in his improvisations, while Bill on the piano produces the enigmatic chords which only he seems able to conjure up.

But the two musicians show very different skills on Funkallero, a fast number, also composed by Bill. Here we are in the essence of jazz – inventing interesting phrases which fit over a sequence of chords (here quite simple ones), and building up a tremendous swinging rhythmic impulse. Both show they are masters at it – particularly Getz who rolls out chorus after chorus of precise, wildly swinging phrases.

It’s very easy to hear great recordings of Stan Getz – go to his official web site, and each page you choose has a different piece playing in the background – the song and the recording are noted on the left.
So tune in to the warm, lyrical sax of Stan Getz – and Good Listening!

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