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Jazz saxophone portrait: An introduction to the music of Stan Getz

Category: Jazz Saxophone | Date posted: 3 February 2014

Author: Kenneth Morris

STAN GETZ

Born February 2nd 1927 (Philadelphia, PA., USA)
Died 6th June 1991 (Malibu, CA, USA)

Primarily a tenor saxophonist Stan was arguably the finest lyrical jazz improvisor the instrument has ever known and was blessed with a unique and beautiful tonality. Winner of three Grammy's (in the Getz/Gilberto Bossa Nova period 1962-3) his full discography embraces at least 250 releases in a huge range of styles and combos. Both his personal and professional life was impared by spells of alcohol and substance misuse which incredibly seemed only to enhance his live and recorded activity.

Stan's parents, both children of Jewish emigrés from the Kiev area of the Ukraine, were extremely poor, but then living in the East Bronx (New York City) meant that their son had access to both loan instruments and tuition without cash outlay. Musically gifted from an early age, at 12 Stan was competent on the harmonica switching to double bass within a few months. Six months later he abandoned the large stringed instrument (it was too big for his parents little apartment) taking up the alto saxophone. His progress was rapid and was already an accomplished musician by his mid-teens. When Stan was 15 America entered World War II which instantly 'robbed' many of the popular bands-of-the-day of players. Despite several spats with truant officers Stan joined and remained with Jack Teagarden's band for over a year, playing nearly 300 gigs, honing his already excellent sight-reading skills and exercising his phenomenal 'total recall' of charts he had only seen the once!

Stan moved on from “Big T” through Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and then Stan Kenton during which time his Lester Young influenced improvisational style developed into a more individual sound polished also via work with his own quartets. This 1942-5 period co-incided with the birth of bebop. Stan absorbed both the extended' harmonics and the linear phrasing of the new genre but eschewed its more outrageous features. In fact Stan was introducing us to “Cool (modern) Jazz” becoming both a master balladeer and a phenomenally gifted bop improviser

To the day he died Stan could not quite understand the impact on saxophone style his short solo had at the end of Woody Herman's performance of Ralph Burns arrangement/composition “Sunmmer Sequence Part IV” and which became “Early Autumn”.  I can do no better than quote from Donald L Maggin's “Life in Jazz” a Getz biography:

 “.... then Stan gets up to play one opf the most beautifully conceived expressions of romantic yearning in all of American popular music. Everything fits perfectly; his caressing sound, his creation of a haunting improvised melody, his relaxed manipulation of the rhythms, (This) solo connected powerfully with the romantic fantasies of post-war America and started him on the road to srardom.”

 He was never short of work again, ever. Stan's “must have” discography includes:

  1. Woody Herman Orch. Early Autumn (Capitol) [Title track solo from 2:13]
  2. Stan Getz – J.J. Johnson Sextet Live at the Opera House (Verve)
  3. Stan Getz – Eddie Sauter Focus (Verve) – one of the first effective 'crossover' sessions.
  4. The Bossa Nova Years (Verve)
  5. Stan Getz People Time (Verve) 


Go to Spotify or Stan's (legacy) web site, maintained by Beverley Getz, for more information: <www.stangetz.net> including a full discography.

Other articles in this series:

1. Jazz Saxophone Portrait: the Adolphe Sax Bicentenary

2. Jazz Saxophone Portrait: an introduction to the music of Jan Garbarek

About Kenneth Morris

Born in Swindon, Wilts, 1934. Bought first derelict sop sax (£5:00) in 1945. Added B&H 'Regent' clari in 1946, Mark VI tenor/Grafton alto around 1952 (now wish I had kept both!). After a 35 year career in industry I returned to playing a Mark VI bari and LeBlanc bass clari in local community wind bands and my own sax quartet "Saophonica".

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) cassgb.org. Tel: 01642 769 558

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