Stan Getz: Blood Count (1982 studio version)

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.

August 05, 2009 · 0 comments


Stan Getz: Blood Count

"Blood Count" was originally titled "Blue Cloud," to be the first part of a three-part piece that Strayhorn began writing for Duke Ellington before the composer's final hospitalization in 1967. Down to 80 pounds and fighting a losing battle with cancer, he finished the tune and retitled it "Blood Count" before sending it from his hospital room to Duke for a Carnegie Hall concert that March, as a feature for Johnny Hodges. It turned out to be Strayhorn's last composition before his death on May 31st of that year.

Stan Getz had not heard the classic Ellington-Hodges recording of "Blood Count" from August 1967, and had never played it until the Pure Getz session in 1982. Yet Getz outdid Hodges and pretty much "owned" the tune from that point on, also recording it on several other occasions for both audio and video releases. In May 1987, about two years after he had conquered his alcohol and drug addictions, Getz learned that he himself had cancer. "Blood Count" had thus taken on an added underlying significance when Getz performed it brilliantly two months later at the Montmartre Club, as heard here. After a rather pensive and tranquil opening interpretation of the theme, tinged with sadness and sympathetically backed by Barron's filigreed comping, Getz delivers an alluring extended run to launch his solo, followed by heartrending cries. A graceful arpeggio leads back to the melody, played this time with a controlled passion laced with resignation and bolstered by the chilling finality of the closing tag. As Getz said shortly before his death in 1991, "I think about Strayhorn when I play the song. You can hear him dying. When it's in a minor key, you can hear the man talking to God."

May 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: Blood Count

Billy Strayhorn wrote or co-composed with Duke Ellington some of the best-loved pieces in the Ellington band’s repertoire. “Blood Count,” written while Strays (as his mentor called him) was hospitalized with terminal cancer, is one of his most beautiful and poignant works. The smooth, expressive alto sax of Johnny Hodges, one of the most revered altoists prior to Charlie Parker, is the ideal vehicle for its realization.

November 07, 2007 · 0 comments


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