Stan Getz Biography

2 February 1927, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 6 June 1991, Malibu, California, USA. Getz played several reed instruments as a child, especially the alto saxophone, but he finally chose the tenor saxophone and by the age of 15 was playing professionally. Within a year he had made his first records, playing with Jack Teagarden, who became, technically at least, Getz’s guardian so that the youngster could go on the road with the band. The following year Getz worked with Stan Kenton, then with the bands of Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Although he had already attracted attention in jazz circles during these tenures and through record sessions under his own name, it was as a member of Woody Herman’s ‘Four Brothers’ band in 1947 that he became an internationally recognized name. He was with Herman for about two years and then, during the 50s, he began leading a small group on a semi-regular basis. Spells with Kenton and Jazz At The Philharmonic were followed by an uncertain period as Getz sought, successfully, to throw off drug addiction.

In the late 50s and early 60s Getz spent some time in Europe, being resident for a while in Copenhagen, Denmark. Back in the USA in the early 60s he made a milestone album, Focus, and worked with Charlie Byrd, developing an interest in Brazilian and other Latin American musical forms. As a result Getz made a number of Latin records that proved to be very popular, amongst them ‘The Girl From Ipanema’, featuring singer Astrud Gilberto, which helped to launch the bossa nova craze. Throughout the 60s and 70s Getz led small groups, whose line-ups often featured up-and-coming musicians such as Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Jimmy Raney, Al Haig, Steve Swallow, Airto Moreira and JoAnne Brackeen. Nevertheless his activity in these years was sporadic. His earlier popular success and the control he exercised over his career, including production of his own recording sessions, allowed him to work as and when he wanted. In the 80s he became more active again; in addition to playing clubs, concerts and festivals around the world he was also artist-in-residence at Stanford University. He recorded with among others Everything But The Girl. This late period saw a new surge in popularity which sadly coincided with gradual awareness that he was suffering a terminal illness: he died of cancer in June 1991.

One of the most highly-regarded tenor saxophonists in jazz history, Getz’s early recording career was highlighted by his work with Herman. His playing on several records, notably ‘Early Autumn’, a part of Ralph Burns’ ‘Summer Sequence’ suite, displays to great effect the featherweight and almost vibrato-free tone which hints at the admiration he had for the work of Lester Young. Getz followed the success of this recording with a string of fine albums with his own small groups, notably those he made with Haig and Raney, in the process influencing a generation of tenor saxophonists who aspired to his coolly elegant style. The remarkable Focus album, a suite composed and arranged by Eddie Sauter for jazz players and a string quartet, and the bossa nova recordings, which included the single, ‘Desafinado’, were other features of his first period. The smoothness of Getz’s sound, the delicate floating effect he created, proved immensely popular with the fringe audience and led some observers to conclude that his was a detached and introspective style. In fact, during this period he had made a conscious attempt to subdue the emotional content of his playing, in order to fit in with current commercial vogues. Beneath the surface calm there was a burning, emotional quality which flared only occasionally.

By the mid-60s Getz had become bored with the style he had adopted and entered a new period of brief experimentation with electronics, followed by the gradual development of a new and deeply soulful ballad style. Although he was still playing with a delicately floating sound, his rich melodic sense was given much freer rein. Towards the end of his life, when he knew he was slowly dying of cancer, Getz entered a third and in some respects even more fulfilling phase of his career. Despite, or perhaps because of, the state of his health, the emotional content of his work began to burn with a romantic fire, a glorious outpouring of which is heard on his Anniversary and Serenity albums. In retrospect it was possible to see that this romanticism had always been there, even if, at various times, it had been deliberately suppressed to accord with the musical spirit of the times. No one could doubt the emotional thrust of his late work. His sound was still smooth but now that quality was more obviously a surface patina beneath which surged a fierce desire to communicate with his audience. He succeeded in doing so, and thus helped to make those years when his life waned as his music waxed a period not of sadness but one of grateful joy for his many admirers.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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