Born Stanley Gayetzky, his family emigrated to the West Philadelphia from Kiev in 1903 to escape the Ukrainian Pogroms; Stan Getz was born in Philadelphia twenty-four years later. His father, in search of employment, moved the family to New York City. Despite working hard at school, young Stan's attention soon turned to music and he tried out as many instruments as possible – piano, harmonica, bassoon in the school band – and displayed a photographic memory along with an uncanny ability to play tunes by ear and hum Benny Goodman's solos. Lessons and practise – up to eight hours a day – taught him good sight-reading skills as well as developing his instinctive sense of pitch and rhythm.
When Getz was thirteen years old, his father bought him a $35 alto saxophone, and he was soon playing other saxophones and clarinets, but favoured the sound of the tenor saxophone, which he saved up to buy from working a series of jobs and by playing low-paid gigs. In 1941, he entered the All-City High School Orchestra of New York City, which provided a free private tutor from the New York Philharmonic, but his studies began to compete for time with his evening engagements and late night jam sessions. Dropping out of school in 1942, he was hired by bandleader Dick 'Stinky' Rogers to play at the Roseland Ballroom for $35 a week, joined the musicians' union and a year later was offered a place with Jack Teagarden's band at $70 a week.
Encouraged by his father, Getz went on tour, having to become Teagarden's ward because he was under sixteen years old. However, unlike many other musicians playing with the big bands, it meant that he was too young for the draft, and therefore played with Stan Kenton (1944–1945), Jimmy Dorsey (1945) and Benny Goodman (1945–1946). While he was touring with Kenton, Getz developed a heroin habit – ironically in an attempt to cut down on how much he was drinking. The Pres was a major influence on Getz's early sound; he was especially fond of Count Basie's 'Song Of The Islands' from 1939.
Leaving Goodman and moving to California, Getz found like-minded souls in saxophonists Herb Steward, Zoot Sims and Jimmy Giuffre, who also worshipped Young. They were also friendly with Woody Herman's spotter and were invited to join his Second Herd in 1947. Getz, Sims, Steward and Serge Chaloff together formed a sub-unit called 'The Four Brothers', while Giuffre was taken on as arranger bringing the band great success with his tune 'Four Brothers', tailored to highlight each of the four soloists and then combine them in a typical Herman's Herd's hard-hitting crescendo. The arrangement was so popular that the band became known by the same name, and understandably Getz shot to stardom from a string of popular tracks, especially for his solo on 1948's mellow 'Early Autumn'.
Getz's individual popularity gave him the impetus to leave Herman at the end of the decade and form his own groups: a quartet with guitarist Jimmy Raney, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and Al Haig on piano, then Horace Silver also on piano, who he 'discovered' in 1950. Significantly, Getz made the first of his many visits to Scandinavia in 1951. After some studio work in New York, he began leading mostly quintets; notably one with Al Haig, Jimmy Raney, Teddy Kotick and Tiny Kahn who appeared with Billie Holiday at the Storyville Club in Boston.
Despite drug problems, ironically made worse by his attempts to give up heroin, Getz had a successful decade in the 1950s. Norman Granz signed him to Clef records in late 1952 and almost immediately he was in the studio to record two weeks before Christmas with Duke Jordan (piano), Jimmy Raney (guitar), Bill Crow (bass) and Frank Isola (drums), and when the album came out early the following year as Stan Getz Plays, it was prescient of what he did over the next decade for Clef, Norgran and Verve.
He made a huge number of records under his own name as well as participating in Granz jam sessions with the likes of Count Basie and Buddy DeFranco, and he also recorded with Dizzy Gillespie in 1953. In 1955, he did an album with Granz called The Modern Jazz Society, on which he appeared with the MJQ's rhythm section and trombonist J. J. Johnson among others, and later in the year with Lionel Hampton. His first record for Verve was in 1956 as Diz & Getz, and in 1957 he appeared on Buddy Bregman's excellent Swinging Kicks album of big-band jazz. By 1957, he hardly ever seemed to be out of a studio recording for Verve, including recording with Ella on numbers such as a beauty called 'Midnight Sun'; 1957 was also the year he first appeared with JATP.
He won a string of Down Beat polls in this period, but had previously been arrested for attempting to steal morphine from a pharmacist in 1954. He spent several months recuperating after collapsing in Stockholm a year later and then lived in self-imposed exile in Copenhagen in 1958 when he toured Europe to beat his addiction. This did not stop him recording for Verve however; Granz just used a studio in Stockholm.
Getz returned to the United States in 1961, recording the orchestrated album Focus that he would later name his favourite. Then in 1962 – even though his stylistic move during his stay overseas had been generally towards the edgier material of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman – a major success that no one could have predicted came with the comparatively subdued 'Desafinado', recorded with Charlie Byrd and released on Jazz Samba (1962). 'Desafinado' made No. 15 on the Billboard pop chart and helped propel the album to the No. 1 spot – jazz did not top the pop album charts. Bossa nova was 'in', and in March 1963 he recorded with the Brazilian pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim and guitarist and singer João Gilberto. The session included 'The Girl From Ipanema', famously featuring the vocals of Gilberto's wife Astrud. The song was a huge crossover hit, reaching No. 2 and only denied the top chart position by The Beatles. Released the following year, Getz/Gilberto made No. 2 on the pop album chart was awarded the Grammy for 'Album Of The Year'; again unprecedented success for a jazz record.
Having helped to popularize the genre with Western audiences, Getz rarely returned to bossa nova. Instead, he maintained a high standard of output in contemporary mainstream jazz. A highlight from 1967 is the impassioned Verve album Sweet Rain, with Chick Corea, Ron Carter and Grady Tate. Additionally featured were Stanley Clarke and Tony Williams, along with Chick Corea, whose career Getz had helped launch previously, and whom he now also asked to contribute material. The quintet, completed by Airto Moreira, juxtaposed Getz's traditional tone against an electric jazz backdrop.
Of note, also from 1972, is a concert that was originally billed as Ella Fitzgerald backed by Tommy Flanagan and the Count Basie Orchestra. However, Norman Granz invited Getz plus a few more 'surprise' guests. The resulting JATP event at the Santa Monica Civic also featured Harry Edison, Roy Eldridge, Al Grey, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, Oscar Peterson, Freddie Green, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. It was one of the first releases on Pablo, Norman Granz's new record label.
Even though his previous successes enabled Getz to live in semi-retirement he continued to tour frequently, often favouring Europe during the summer. In 1975 he played with João Gilberto again, in New York, and the 1980s saw some fascinating collaborations, with Chet Baker in Norway (1983), Helen Merrill (1989) and Abbey Lincoln (1991).
Getz's final recording was made in Copenhagen in 1991, three months before he died, for EmArcy in a duo with his regular pianist of the previous half-decade, Kenny Barron. Getz had continued touring right up until his death from liver cancer.
Words: Richard Havers
Dizzy Gillespie was at the peak of his powers throughout the 1950s, still the pacesetter among trumpeters. This double CD matches Dizzy with Stan Getz, the Oscar Peterson Trio and drummer Max Roach. Getz, although identified with the "cool" school, thrived on competition and is both relaxed and combative on the uptempo explorations of "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Impromptu."
Words: Scott Yanow
As of 2004, when this exuberant concert performance at Cleveland's legendary Severance Hall was recorded, it had been some years since the famed saxman had shared stages with the likes of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Elvin Jones, and toured with Quincy Jones. But he's never stopped being incredibly busy on tour or in the studio while establishing himself as a regional legend around his hometown of Cleveland. This date, focusing on the deeper tracks of Stan Getz's multi-faceted career (no "The Girl from Ipanema" to be found), is a beautifully rendered classical-jazz fusion affair blending Krivda's expressive melodic and improvisational tenor style with the rousing, sometimes percussive (even flamenco flavored), often sweeping power of the Cleveland Orchestra. Lighthearted, whimsical twists on songs like "Night Rider" and "Pan" are balanced beautifully by dramatic romantic interpretations of gentler pieces like "I Remember When" and "A Summer Afternoon." Focus on Stan Getz is an album hardcore Getz fans could cherish while inspiring casual fans of the master to dust off those old LPs and dig back into one of jazz's greatest legacies.
Words: Jonathan Widran
Partly because of its Brazilian collaborators and partly because of "The Girl From Ipanema," Getz/Gilberto is nearly always acknowledged as the Stan Getz bossa nova LP. But Jazz Samba is just as crucial and groundbreaking; after all, it came first, and in fact was the first full-fledged bossa nova album ever recorded by American jazz musicians. And it was just as commercially successful, topping the LP charts and producing its own pop chart hit single in "Desafinado." It was the true beginning of the bossa nova craze, and introduced several standards of the genre (including Ary Barroso's "Bahia" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Desafinado" and "Samba de Uma Nota Só" "One Note Samba"]). But above all, Jazz Samba stands on its own artistic merit as a shimmering, graceful collection that's as subtly advanced -- in harmony and rhythm -- as it is beautiful. Getz and his co-billed partner, guitarist Charlie Byrd -- who was actually responsible for bringing bossa nova records to the U.S. and introducing Getz to the style -- have the perfect touch for bossa nova's delicate, airy texture. For his part, Byrd was one of the first American musicians to master bossa nova's difficult, bubbling syncopations, and his solos are light and lilting. Meanwhile, Getz's playing is superb, simultaneously offering a warm, full tone and a cool control of dynamics; plus, Byrd's gently off-kilter harmonies seem to stimulate Getz's melodic inventiveness even more than usual. But beyond technique, Getz intuitively understands the romanticism and the undercurrent of melancholy inherent in the music, and that's what really made Jazz Samba such a revelatory classic. Absolutely essential for any jazz collection.
Words: Steve Huey
SITTIN' IN is a jazz lover's dream come true. On this historic session, recorded in the summer of 1957, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, and Paul Gonsalves got together to create one of the most formidable frontlines ever captured on tape. The program, which includes "Dizzy Atmosphere," the chestnut "The Way You Look Tonight," and two lengthy ballad medleys, lets each horn player take a turn in the spotlight. The music blends West Coast cool, swing, bop, and hard-bop styles in a manner befitting each of the monumental leaders, and the whole is driven by a spry rhythm section consisting of bassist Wendell Marshall, drummer J.C. Heard, and pianist Wynton Kelly. Aficionados will relish the opportunity to identify the solos and styles of each player--Getz's cool complexity, Gillespie's athleticism, Gonsalves's unique lyricism, and Hawkins's pioneering technique and tone. SITTIN' IN is a superb slice of bop history, starring some of the most influential figures in the evolution of jazz.
One of the biggest-selling jazz albums of all time, not to mention bossa nova's finest moment, Getz/Gilberto trumped Jazz Samba by bringing two of bossa nova's greatest innovators -- guitarist/singer João Gilberto and composer/pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim -- to New York to record with Stan Getz. The results were magic. Ever since Jazz Samba, the jazz marketplace had been flooded with bossa nova albums, and the overexposure was beginning to make the music seem like a fad. Getz/Gilberto made bossa nova a permanent part of the jazz landscape not just with its unassailable beauty, but with one of the biggest smash hit singles in jazz history -- "The Girl From Ipanema," a Jobim classic sung by João's wife, Astrud Gilberto, who had never performed outside of her own home prior to the recording session. Beyond that, most of the Jobim songs recorded here also became standards of the genre -- "Corcovado" (which featured another vocal by Astrud), "So Danço Samba," "O Grande Amor," a new version of "Desafinado." With such uniformly brilliant material, it's no wonder the album was such a success but, even apart from that, the musicians all play with an effortless grace that's arguably the fullest expression of bossa nova's dreamy romanticism ever brought to American listeners. Getz himself has never been more lyrical, and Gilberto and Jobim pull off the harmonic and rhythmic sophistication of the songs with a warm, relaxed charm. This music has nearly universal appeal; it's one of those rare jazz records about which the purist elite and the buying public are in total agreement. Beyond essential.
Words: Steve Huey
Justifiably overshadowed by the peerless Getz/Gilberto album (which featured "Girl from Ipanema") from a year before, Getz/Gilberto #2 still holds its own with an appealing selection of fine jazz and bossa nova cuts. Unlike the first album's seamless collaboration by Getz, João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, here Getz and João Gilberto turn in separate sets recorded live at Carnegie Hall in October of 1964. Backed by a stellar quartet comprised of vibraphonist Gary Burton, bassist Gene Cherico, and drummer Joe Hunt, Getz turns in a sparkling performances on the seldom covered ballad "Tonight I'll Shall Sleep with a Smile on My Face," while stretching out nicely on his original blues swinger "Stan's Blues." With the support of bassist Keeter Betts and drummer Helcio Milito, Gilberto displays his subtle vocal and guitar talents on a set of bossa nova favorites, including his own "Bim Bom" and Jobim's "Meditation." An appealing title amongst Getz's many bossa nova outings, but not an essential one. Newcomers should definitely start with the Getz/Gilberto album before checking this one out.
Words: Stephen Cook
One of Stan Getz's all-time greatest albums, Sweet Rain was his first major artistic coup after he closed the book on his bossa nova period, featuring an adventurous young group that pushed him to new heights in his solo statements. Pianist Chick Corea, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Grady Tate were all schooled in '60s concepts of rhythm-section freedom, and their continually stimulating interplay helps open things up for Getz to embark on some long, soulful explorations (four of the five tracks are over seven minutes). The neat trick of Sweet Rain is that the advanced rhythm section work remains balanced with Getz's customary loveliness and lyricism. Indeed, Getz plays with a searching, aching passion throughout the date, which undoubtedly helped Mike Gibbs' title track become a standard after Getz's tender treatment here. Technical perfectionists will hear a few squeaks on the LP's second half (Getz's drug problems were reputedly affecting his articulation somewhat), but Getz was such a master of mood, tone, and pacing that his ideas and emotions are communicated far too clearly to nit-pick. Corea's spare, understated work leaves plenty of room for Getz's lines and the busily shifting rhythms of the bass and drums, heard to best effect in Corea's challenging opener "Litha." Aside from that and the title track, the repertoire features another Corea original ("Windows"), the typically lovely Jobim tune "O Grande Amor," and Dizzy Gillespie's Latin-flavored "Con Alma." The quartet's level of musicianship remains high on every selection, and the marvelously consistent atmosphere the album evokes places it among Getz's very best. A surefire classic.
Words: Steve Huey
The only studio meeting between Stan Getz and Bill Evans took place over two days in 1964, with the aggressive drummer Elvin Jones and either Richard Davis or Ron Carter on bass. It is peculiar that Verve shelved the results for over a decade before issuing any of the music, though it may have been felt that Getz and Evans hadn't had enough time to achieve the desired chemistry, though there are memorable moments. The punchy take of "My Heart Stood Still," the elegant interpretation of "Grandfather's Waltz," and the lush setting of the show tune "Melinda" all came from the first day's session, with Davis on bass. (Evidently he was unavailable the following day, so Carter replaced him.) Evans' driving, challenging "Funkallero" is the obvious highlight from day two, though the gorgeous "But Beautiful" and the breezy setting of "Night and Day" are also enjoyable. Only the brief version of "Carpetbagger's Theme," which seems badly out of place and suggestive of the label's interference with the session, is a bit of a disappointment. Obviously neither Getz nor Evans liked the tune, as they go through the motions in a very brief performance. The Complete Bill Evans on Verve.]
Words: Ken Dryden
Shortly after returning to the U.S. (following three years in Copenhagen) Stan Getz had a musical reunion with Bob Brookmeyer. As usual the cool-toned tenor blends in very well with the valve trombonist and, backed by a fine rhythm section (pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist John Neves and drummer Roy Haynes), they perform three Brookmeyer pieces (including one titled "Minuet Circa '61"), two standards and Buck Clayton's "Love Jumped Out." This little-known session is often quite memorable.
Words: Scott Yanow
It doesn't happen too often, but there are times when the title of a jazz album and the material within interface perfectly. Hence The Steamer, where Stan Getz joined forces with a super West Coast-based rhythm section to produce some truly steaming music. "Blues for Mary Jane" is remarkable; for all of the straight-ahead heat generated by the rhythm section, Getz is incredibly relaxed, poised, and always under control while still managing to swing like mad. In other words, the style that he was able to carry over to his bossa nova adventures in the following decade is right here, ready to go. There is also room for the Getz-ballad manner on "You're Blase," and "Like Someone in Love" combines a leisurely swinging tempo with Getz's natural warmth. From the evidence of these sessions alone, not to mention countless others, the team of bassist Leroy Vinnegar and drummer Stan Levey ought to be anointed as one of the greatest rhythm sections in jazz history, and sure-fingered pianist Lou Levy benefits from their finesse and drive. All of this music is available on the three-CD set East of the Sun: The West Coast Sessions, and this Verve Master Edition release offers outtakes from that set at the end of the disc. Indeed, the alternate "How About You?" has some swinging hairpin turns by Getz that will make your head swivel.
Words: Richard S. Ginell