Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Getz, Stan (Stanley)

Tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s distinctive sound and precise phrasing stand out in some of the best jazz recordings of the twentieth century. His sound was pure and almost reedless. His technique seems effortless; listeners rarely feel him straining to create his beautiful solos.

Stan (Stanley) Getz was born on February 2, 1927 in Philadelphia, PA. His Jewish parents emigrated from the Ukraine. Stan’s brother Robert was born in 1932, and during that time the Getz family moved to the Bronx, NY, where Stan became fascinated by music.

Always a good student, he tried various instruments before settling on the tenor saxophone at age thirteen. His talent was good enough to land him in the All City High School Orchestra, and enabled him to study privately with Simon Kovar, a bassoonist with the New York Philharmonic. As his obsession with music deepened, Getz quit school, only to have the school system bring him back to his studies.

In 1943, at age fifteen, Getz joined trombonist Jack Teagarden’s band. Teagarden became Getz’s ward, but alcohol and drugs permeated the environment of most big bands of the time. Getz found himself with addictions that he would battle for most of his life.

Teagarden’s band surrounded Getz with great musicians, and he learned as much as he could from them. After leaving Teagarden’s band, he played with Nat ‘King’ Cole, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, and Benny Goodman, all while still in his teens. On November 7th, 1946, he married Beverly Byrne, a singer with the Gene Krupa band. They had three children: Steven, Donald, and Beverly.

Getz’s cool, almost reedless tone solidified itself in this period. Owing much to the sound of Lester Young, Getz sounded different from the heavier-sounding Coleman Hawkins-influenced tenor players of the day. He was given the nickname ‘The Sound’ because of the beauty of his unmistakable tone.

In 1947, after his tenure with Goodman, he joined the band of another clarinetist, Woody Herman. This Herman unit was known as ‘The Second Herd’, and featured three tenor saxophonists at its onset: Getz, Herbie Steward, and Zoot Sims.

This unusual trio of tenors was augmented by baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff, and became known as ‘The Four Brothers’. The Jimmy Giuffre composition ‘Four Brothers’ showcases the unique sound of the quartet as well as demonstrating a linear bop-like style, unusual in the big bands of the time. Getz’s playing on Ralph Burns’ arrangement for Herman ‘Early Autumn’, became one of Getz’s best –known pieces.

Getz went solo in 1950, at the tender age of twenty-three. From this point, most of his recording output was as a leader and not as a sideman. One of his early bands featured guitarist Jimmy Raney, and Getz’s brisk tempos showed the public that he was more than the balladeer they heard in ‘’Early Autumn’. His cool sound, inspired by Lester Young, was at odds with much of the hard-bop esthetics of the time, but Getz played with boppers like Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson, and Oscar Peterson, as well as with the cool jazz players Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan.

His heroin and alcohol addictions worsened, however, and in 1954 he was arrested trying to steal morphine from a Seattle pharmacy, which landed him in jail for six months. Due to his addictions, his marriage failed. In 1956, he and Beverly divorced, and he married Monica Silfverskiold, a Swedish native and a member of the Swedish aristocracy.

Once out of prison, he launched back into his career, and in 1958 headlined Norman Granz’s ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ tour of Europe. The point of the tour was to bring more American jazz to Europeans, but it also brought many American jazz musicians to Europe, where Getz, like many other musicians, stayed. He and Silfverskiold lived in Copenhagen, Denmark until 1961.

Getz moved back to New York in 1961, and recorded the album ‘Focus’ with compositions and arrangements by Eddie Sauter. It was one of the most successful jazz albums ever recorded, and appealed to critics as well. Although the hard-edged sound of fellow tenor saxophonist John Coltrane was in vogue (Coltrane claimed Getz as one of his favorite saxophonists) Getz continued to record and perform his style of jazz.

The guitarist Charlie Byrd told Getz of his recent tour of Brazil, and the music he found there. Getz and Byrd teamed up for the 1962 Grammy-winning album ‘Jazz Samba’, which featured the Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions ‘Desafinado’ (‘Slightly Out Of Tune’) and ‘Samba de Una Nota So’ (‘One Note Samba’).

Bossa Nova, as the Brazilian music was known, was a calmer form of Samba, and the sensuousness of Getz’s tone and the warm Brazilian melodies captured the ears of America, creating the Bossa Nova craze. Getz recorded with Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and Gilberto’s wife Astrud Gilberto, releasing the 1964 album ‘’Getz/Gilberto’. Joao sung in Portuguese, while Astrud, not a professional singer, sang in English.

The record was a great success, spurred by the popularity of the song ‘The Girl From Ipanema’. It beat out the Beatles for the Grammy’s Album of the Year. Getz explained that his use of the cool sounds of Bossa Nova was simply ‘borrowing back’ from his jazz roots and Lester Young influence.

Getz and Astrud Gilberto had a long love affair, which naturally distanced him from her husband and Jobim. He resumed recording straight-ahead jazz for the remainder of the 1960s, (against the wishes of his record label, Verve.) going against the free jazz movement of the time. He incorporated some of the modal innovations of the period into his playing without changing the essence of his musicality.

During this period, he introduced the world to young Gary Burton, a wunderkind of the vibraphone. Discouraged by the free-jazz movement, Getz moved back to Europe for a short period until 1972.

That year Getz recorded the album ‘Captain Marvel’ with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Tony Williams, and Airto Moreira. The Latin-tinged album featured adventurous compositions by the young pianist Corea, who later founded the band ‘Return to Forever’ with bassist Clarke.

Through the 1970s, Getz recorded with the Bill Evans Trio, pianist Jimmy Rowles, and many others. He experimented with the Echoplex, a tape-delay device. This foray into electronics was a departure for Getz, and critics rallied against it. He went back to recording straight-ahead jazz, and teamed up with pianist Kenny Barron, whom he called ‘my musical other half’. Getz and Barron recorded and performed throughout the 1980s.

In 1985, Getz moved to Northern California to accept the artist-in-residence position at Stanford University. His teaching duties allowed him to tour and record, despite his divorce from Silfverskiold in 1987. He was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1988 and left the Stanford post in 1989. In March 1991, he recorded a final album with Barron in Copenhagen. Two months later, he suffered a massive hemorrhage, and died on June 6th, 1991, at the age of sixty-four.

His mastery of the instrument and jazz vocabulary seemed effortless, even though he improvised solos of the highest technical caliber. Getz’s early training with the big bands helped him achieve his style and sound, as he was surrounded by older musical giants of the period. He claimed to have never consciously imitated anyone in his playing, and his sound is instantly recognizable. Few other jazz musicians have enjoyed the critical and commercial success Getz achieved, or his influence as a player, which endures.

Contributor: Jonathan Dryden