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Stan Getz



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Some of the most beautiful sounds to ever come out of a saxophone came from Stan Getz'.  He had a very light sound, that almost sighed, or as Dave Gelly once put it, hung in the air like wreaths of smoke, which earned him the nickname "The Sound."  While many tenor sax players of the day were heavily influenced by Coleman Hawkins, Getz found his influence in Lester Young.  Of the many fellow "cool" jazz tenor sax players who were disciples of Young's, Getz was the most lyrical and sensitive player, while avoiding the blues of Young.

Getz discovered in junior high that he had perfect pitch and perfect rhythm.  His sight reading developed practically overnight, as if by magic.   He dropped out of  school at the age of 16 and joined Jack Teagarden orchestra, where he learned a lot about music, but was also introduced to alcohol and cigarettes.  In a matter of months, he became a chain smoker and a heavy drinker.   He also played in other big bands, such as Benny Goodman's and Stan Kenton's, but left Kenton's when he asked Kenton about improvising based on Lester Young's style.  Kenton thought it was too easy, so  Getz left and eventually wound up in Woody Herman's big band, as part of Woody Herman's "2nd Herd."  Getz was part of the "four brothers" (the celebrated saxophone section), and at the age of 21, he became an overnight sensation with the recording of Early Autumn

Getz left Herman's band, after a 2 year stint, in 1949, and went out on his own, and quickly became one of the most celebrated musicians in jazz.  He influenced a whole sect of tenor sax players, which basically divided the players into the "cool" players and the "hard bop" players.  John Coltrane, who was part of the latter, however, was an admirer of Getz, and used Getz' technique for playing perfectly controlled sound in the higher register.  While Getz was something of a godfather to the cool tenor sax players, he was a great bebop tenor player as well, as he demonstrated when he joined Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Oscar Peterson, and Ray Brown for a record and especially on the track It don't mean a thing (if it ain't got that swing).  Following a celebrated drug case, in which he nearly killed himself with an overdose of heroin, he temporarily cleaned up and moved to Europe (he never actually kicked the habit for good until near the end of his life).  When he returned, he recorded 2 of his most successful records. First, there was Focus in 1961, which has been called by many, the best "with strings" jazz recording ever.  (Charlie Parker started the trend when he recorded popular tunes with the backing of a string orchestra-- personally, I think Parker's is the best--and a lot of other musicians cut their own records with string orchestras.)  Then, there was Jazz Samba, in 1962, which launched the jazz Bassa Nova craze and took Getz to the top of the pop charts.  Besides being a tremendous player, Getz also had an eye for talent, as he gave 21 year old Horace Silver his first big gig, when Silver was pretty much an unknown.

        Afterwards, Getz recorded with all types of different groups and sounds.  He was experimenting with new things, that he admitted didn't always come off, and his playing lacked a consistency during this time. He did, however, record with the top musicians, such as Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Elvin Jones. and when he recorded with Chick Corea's rhythm section, it gave bassist Stanley Clarke, his first international profile.  During the last decade of his life, he settled back into songs with strong melodic content, allowing him to exploit his tone.  He recorded some of his finest works during this time.  Stan Getz died of lung cancer in 1991.

        His "with Strings" recording, Focus, as I previously stated, has been hailed by many as the best recording of that style.  It is very innovative.  The others were recording popular songs with a string accompaniment.  Getz' recording uses an entirely original orchestra score written for that record, and Getz improvises over the pre-written composition.  Personally, it never did much for me.   However, I am in the minority, and I freely admit this.  I preferred his traditional strings recordings, Cool Velvet and Voices.  I really like his previously mentioned bebop recording with Dizzie Gillispie (called Diz and Getz).  I also like his Best of the West Coast Sessions.   His 3 CD complete Roost recordings is excellent also.  During the 1950s, Getz recorded with a LOT of different musicians.  I don't have many of these, so I cannot comment on them.   I also don't have his recordings from his last 10 years, but I have heard excellent things about them.

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