Stan Getz: Blood Count (1982 studio version)


Blood Count (1982 studio version)


Stan Getz (tenor sax)


Pure Getz (Concord 4188)

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Stan Getz (tenor sax), Jim McNeely (piano), Marc Johnson (bass), Victor Lewis (drums).

Composed by Billy Strayhorn


Recorded: San Francisco, January 29, 1982


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Billy Strayhorn wrote it; Duke Ellington recorded it; but make no mistake—Stan Getz owned this song. In the 1980s, Getz performed it at almost every concert, and if the acoustics were right, he would turn off the mikes and render it un-amplified. I lost count of how many times I heard him play it, but I know that, without fail, this song left the listeners mesmerized by its poignancy.

I even performed it with Stan, and matched my piano part to what McNeely plays on this track—since Getz's approach to this song was not about improvisation. Instead, playing this composition again and again, he seemed to be seeking a quasi-ritualistic revisiting of some primal experience. On this studio version, as in concert, he never departs far from the written melody. Getz's whole attitude—not just to music, but to life—was about improvisation, yet I never once heard him take a real solo over these changes. He might briefly allow his horn to stray from Strayhorn's line, for a fill or ornamentation, but would always come back to it. I think he would have considered an extended solo on this piece some sort of sacrilege. Instead, I sensed him reaching for what Kierkegaard talks about with his metaphysical concept of Repetition, a return to the same that is the antithesis of sameness.

This had been Strayhorn's final composition, written shortly before his death from esophageal cancer. This exquisitely crafted piece is one of the composer's most multilayered efforts, its power rising from the tension between the surface elegance and the submerged anguish of the music. Getz's interpretation took on added poignancy as his own health started failing during the course of the decade. One couldn't help hearing Stan confronting his own mortality as he returned to this piece night after night.

What a testimony to the focus musicality of this artist, that he could channel so much of his own inner life into a mere melody statement—and not even a melody he had written—and communicate it to every member of the audience. If you haven't heard it, you need to. Check out either this studio version, or the later live performance in Copenhagen. Against the backdrop of a career chock full of memorable tracks, both classic and commercial, Getz delivered one here for the ages.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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