Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Expatriate Life of Stan Getz: Getz In Denmark

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

While the editorial staff at JazzProfiles puts the finishing touches on a piece about Stan Getz in Sweden, the Scandinavian country he moved to in 1955, we thought you might enjoy reading the following essay about Stan’s subsequent stay in Denmark.

Despite the fact that in the article, both the author and Stan revel in the qualities of European life circa 1960, Stan would return to the United States a few years later just in time to become involved in a series of widely popular bossa nova recordings that would ensure his future and his fortune.

Few Jazz musicians have ever been so fortunate.

© - Jack Lind, Down Beat, 4/14/1960, copyright protected; all rights reserved

“An American tourist who had picked up enough Danish to become aware of Danish radio’s predilection for lecture series on turnip growing, and similar heavy fare, was surprised, when he turned on his car radio not long ago, to hear a broadcast of live jazz.

To add to his bafflement, he thought he recognized one of the soloists with the big, swinging band. The tenor saxophonist sounded for all the world like Stan Getz. It can’t be, he muttered.

But it was. Getz, Joe Harris, Oscar Pettiford, and other American stalwarts were wailing over the staid Danish airwaves.

Getz, one of the most creative and influential of American jazzmen and a consistent favorite of the U.S. public, is today living in Copenhagen—or rather, in one of its suburbs. With his pretty Swedish wife, Monica, and his four children (three by a previous marriage), he occupies a palatial home in Lyngby, which he rents from a university professor. It is not far from the summer residence of the Danish Royal family.

The Getz family has sunk itself into the life of Denmark. His children, with the linguistic ease of the young, have come to speak fluent Danish, and one of them even appeared recently in a play at his school. For his wife, the language presents no problem, since Danish is quite close to Swedish (the Swedes traditionally wisecrack that Danish isn’t a language, it’s’ a throat disease). Getz himself speaks only a few words of Danish. It’s impossible to learn, he says. Besides, everybody in Denmark speaks English and everybody wants to practice his English on you.
All the evidence suggests that Stan Getz has found in his expatriate life more health and happiness than his career has ever before given him.

Nor has living and playing far from the roots of jazz led to stagnation for the young saxophonist (he is only 33). He has found, like many American jazzmen who have become voluntary expatriates, that in the European life he has more time to develop, to try out new ideas. There are those who think that Getz is playing better today than ever before. American critic Ira Gitler, reviewing a European-made Getz LP in Down Beat recently, observed: “Getz sounds as if he is enjoying his expatriate life…He has reaped the benefits of relaxed living without being complacent about his playing…”

The musician himself verifies this view.

”I’m tired of competition. I’m tired of tearing around making money,” says Getz who, until he settled in Denmark, was constantly on the go with concert tours, the nightclub circuit, and recording work, among many activities.

“There are other things in life than making money. Here, I have more time with my family. I dont make as much money as in the States, but it’s cheaper to live here.
And it’s unhurried. I enjoy the relaxed way of living in Europe. I wanted to find peace of mind. That’s hard to find in the States.”

Getz is by no means the only American jazzman to take this view of America and leave. Europe today has a large and growing colony of American jazzmen. Getz’s constant companion and best friend in Copenhagen has been bassist Oscar Pettiford, with whom he often works.

The first of the American jazz musicians to settle in Europe was, of course, Sidney Bechet, for whom France, where he died last year, had become home. Kenny Clarke moved to France; so did Bud Powell and Lucky Thompson. Trumpeter Bill Coleman lived abroad so long that he is virtually forgotten in America. Tenor saxophonist Don Byas chose Holland for a home, married a Dutch girl, and has been living abroad for 10 years.

Others chose Sweden, another country that is particularly hospitable to jazzmen and their talents. Former Dizzy Gillespie drummer Joe Harris hopped off during a tour and stayed, and is now married to a Swedish girl.

Quincy Jones has spent more time in Europe than in America in the past three or four years, working a great deal in Sweden. Trumpeter Benny Bailey, another Gillespie alumnus, had been living in Sweden for three years until he joined Quincy’s big band during its European tour recently.

Some of these expatriates are fugitives from the American scene—fleeing from personal problems, or from the American concept of the Age of Anxiety. A few are fugitives from more tangible things—high taxes, the racial situation, the disjointed family life that is so often forced on the American jazzman.

Getz and Pettiford evidently got tired of the pressures of life in America.

In Copenhagen, the two musicians are most likely to be heard in the Club Montmartre, a jazz room tucked away behind the facade of one of the ancient buildings that line a meandering street in the inner city. In many ways Europe’s most unique jazz spot, the Montmartre has no sign outside its door. Indeed, it has no other identifying mark than a giant photo of Count Basie that stares at you from the outside wall. Yet jazz fans and musicians have no trouble finding it. They gravitate toward it with the unerring instinct of a Sahara desert camel galloping toward an oasis for replenishment.

The Montmartre is run by Anders Dyrup, a tall, good-looking, blond Dane who first heard jazz 16 years ago when someone played him Artie Shaw’s recording of Traffic Jam. He was smitten on the spot, and long ago began making plans for a jazz club—plans that came to fruition last year with the Montmartre.

The Montmartre is dark and smoky, lit only by candles that cast long, moving shadows, like claws, across the walls. You have trouble discerning the grotesque puffed-up heads set in relief on the walls.

The hipsters who come to dig jazz sit on long benches at rough-hewn tables, sipping heady Danish beer. The girls wear tight skirts, low-cut blouses, Brigitte Bardot hairdos, and no makeup. The men wear beards and sweaters and Caesarean haircuts and smoke pipes. They look terribly earnest and sit in frozen postures while the musicians are blowing. The dance floor remains polished from lack of use, and the boor who dares to tap a finger to the rhythm is caught in the crossfire of a dozen icy stares.

Owner Dyrup and his pretty wife, Lotte, who is hostess, chef, and waitress in the place, have in the last year been hosts to such assorted dignitaries as Buck Clayton, Gerry Mulligan, Helen Merrill, Art Farmer, Mose Allison, Kenny Clarke, Kid Ory, Bengt Hallberg, Jimmy Rushing, Art Blakey, and sidemen from the bands of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie. Gillespie himself tried to get in during a recent visit to Copenhagen but gave up when he saw the waiting crowds.

The Montmartre also has a very good house band, the personnel of which has, at various times, included Don Byas, Oscar Pettiford, Benny Bailey, Joe Harris, Kenny Clarke, and Dan Jordan, a young bassist from Detroit. The leader of this group is Stan Getz.

Why, of all the places where Getz might have chosen to live in Europe, did he choose Denmark—which is better known for its Tuborg beer, atom-splitter Niels Bohr, pretty girls, and Hans Christian Anderson, than for jazz?

For one thing, there is the nature of the people The Danes never seem to fail to enchant foreigners. The screwball style of humor of Victor Borge, which seems so unique to an American, is not uniquely Borge; it is uniquely Danish—and it is commonplace here. The Danes have a remarkable flair for living, and have no hesitation in giving in to their inner desires and yearnings. We all remain children at heart, but only the Danes have been willing to admit to it. Only they could have built a remarkable establishment such as the Tivoli, the charming amusement park for adults as well as children that seems to give physical being to the fairy tales.
Then there is the Hans Christian Anderson mermaid of bronze that sits on a rock in Copenhagen harbor. What other people would build a statue not to the poet but to the product of his imagination?

Then, too, Denmark is an inexpensive place to live. And there is virtually no poverty in the country. There are no slums, there is no hunger.

On top of that, audiences here are remarkably receptive to jazzmen. “More people like good music here,” Getz says flatly.

Finally, Getz has encountered a particularly sympathetic audience in the Danish jazz critics, on whom it might be well to spend a few moments of consideration.
The Danish jazz critics have an amazing knowledge of what is going on both in Europe and (thanks largely to records) in America. If they have a fault, it is that they are analytical to the point of pedanticism. At times, their deadly seriousness becomes amusing.

Probably the most influential Danish jazz writer is Torben Uhlrich, a musician and tennis star. He is also by far the most ponderous and cantankerous of the critics, rarely missing a chance to take his fellow critics to task for their inferior judgment. In this way, he is not unlike some of the American members of the critical brotherhood.

In a recent column in Politiken, one of Denmark’s two largest papers, which has too weekly jazz columns, Uhlrich told me some of the things that pain him about Danish jazz. Danish musicians, he contended, tend to rush headlong into each new direction in jazz without a firm grasp of what they are doing. ”I’d like to see a bit more contemplation,” he chided the Danish jazzmen. “Slow down and give yourselves time to absorb.”

He told the story of a local musician, who after he had been listening to Getz, Zoot Sims, and Lee Konitz, then became aware of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. “He suddenly discovered that Rollins and Coltrane had been deeply hidden within him all along,” Uhlrich scoffed, and added: It’s precisely because Europeans are able to discard Sims, Getz, and Konitz so easily and so carelessly that one doubts that they are able to get something out of jazz which is closer to its roots.
In other words, the critical devotion to Getz in Copenhagen is great. “Getz has a fabulous technique,” another critic wrote. “Hearing him strengthens your belief that he may well be the best instrumentalist in jazz today.”

Actually, despite what Uhlrich’s criticism would seem to suggest, Getz is not taken for granted by the local jazzmen. If anything, they, like the public, tend to idolize him.

As yet, Denmark has not contributed to jazz any musicians of international stature, such as Sweden’s Arne Domnerus, Belgium’s Bobby Jaspar, France’s Martial Solal, Germany’s Rolf Kuhn. But the day will no doubt come, as Danish musicians come under the increasing influence and stimulation of their American colleagues—and particularly with men of the caliber of Getz and Pettiford living and working in their midst.

Among the top men on the jazz scene in Denmark are Max Bruel, a baritone saxophonist who is also a top Danish architect; Erik Moseholm, an accomplished bass player who doubles as a school teacher; and Louis Hjulmand, vibist, who is also a bank clerk. Bruel and Moseholm can be heard on an EmArcy disc, Cool Bruel. There is also Bent Axen, a gifted pianist who directs the Jazz Quintet - 60.

The trouble with most of the Danish jazz musicians, however, is that they are hobbyists—though very good ones—for whom it apparently doesn’t pay to play for a living. Perhaps as the interchange of jazzmen increases, the climate will be more propitious for careers in jazz. It is already getting better, as evidenced by the fact the daily press devotes a considerable amount of space to jazz columns and reviews. Denmark also has two regularly-publishing magazines devoted to jazz.

Two of the best jazzmen in Denmark are Jan Johansson, a lean young Swede with a beard and a modest manner, who has been influenced considerably by Horace Silver and Lenny Tristano; and William Schioppfe, a poll-winning drummer who has learned from the two Joneses—Jo and Philly Joe—and is the only Danish musician who makes a full-time living from jazz.

Both have played extensively with Getz, in the house group at the Club Montmartre.
Johansson recalled his first few nights of playing with Getz and Pettiford. “They were, of course, excellent,” he said. “I was terrible. American musicians like Stan and Oscar not only play better than most Europeans, but in many ways quite different from us. They have more nuances, they are more forceful, bolder. The rest of us are so busy trying to keep up with them that we rarely reach the great moments. European musicians spend a lot of time listening to American jazz on records; we seem to be less independent in our playing.”
Another young musician, Lars Blach, a Danish guitarist who occasionally sits in with Getz and Pettiford, speaks with even greater awe.

Of course, it’s wonderful to be allowed in with such company. At first you think it’s strange that they’ll have you sit in at all. There you sit — waiting for that knowing smile that tells you that you’ve failed. But suddenly you realize that the other guy gets something out of even your worst blunder! Then afterwards you rush home with your head full of new ideas and try them out.”
This, then, is the present world of Stan Getz: a favorable, relaxed atmosphere in which he is able to play without pressure, in which his work is able to grow and his influence take root among musicians who need the inspiration he and Pettiford can give. And make no mistake: he is making a real effort to grow as an artist.
He sat down to talk about it one night at the Montmartre.

As it happened, it was one of those wrong nights. The Montmartre was half empty (a rarity) and the first few sets by the group were undistinguished to the point of being restive. Getz had had a bad day. Yet suddenly he launched into a 12-minute version of I Can’t Get Started, during which he poured out his soul with extraordinary beauty and lyricism. The audience was transfixed.

Afterwards he seemed to feel better.

“My music gets better when I have time for meditation and working new things out,” he said. “I have been working a lot with my tone over here. I’ve been trying to set it more naturally. I’m trying to get away from too much vibrato. I started off the wrong way, learning the practical aspects first. It’s a blind alley.”
To achieve his ends, Getz plans to enroll at a Danish music conservatory to study theory, and learn to play piano. He has, believe it or not, never had a formal music lesson since he began playing professionally in New York at the age of 15.

This devotion to improvement is already paying off. As Gitler detected from the Getz recording, his playing has reached a new maturity. The style has become more lyrical, yet increasingly forceful. He doesn’t seem dry and intellectual as he used to, said one Danish jazz critic. He has soul in every note he plays.

Getz demonstrates that the modern school isn’t as bloodless as people have been thinking. He builds up his themes with unerring logic, and it is almost incredible that he can give his tone so much richness and fullness without vibrato & Getz has no intention of leaving Denmark at this time. Why should he?

He and Pettiford do considerable radio work, mostly with the intelligent planning of Borge Roger-Henrichson, a jazz pianist who is in charge of jazz programming for the Danish state radio. And there is recording work. Pettiford does some recordings with small European groups for Dyrup, the Montmartre proprietor, who also owns a record firm and distributes in Denmark American labels such as World Pacific, Savoy, and Roulette. Getz said that he plans to join Pettiford when his contract with Verve runs out.

Getz and Pettiford usually play four nights a week at Montmartre. During the weekends, they either play to one of the hundreds of jazz societies that have sprouted up all over this little country in recent years or they hop a flight to some other European city for a weekend gig.

And that is one of the main appeals of Copenhagen to Getz: it is so located that no major European city is more than a few hours away by air.

In point of fact, Getz at this time is away from Copenhagen, traveling the Continent with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe. With him are the Oscar Peterson Trio, Miles Davis—and Jan Johansson and William Schioppfe. The pianist and drummer, so modest in evaluating their roles in the present career of Stan Getz, so impressed Granz when he went to Montmartre to talk to Getz recently that he hired both of them to work with the saxophonist on the tour.

When they return from the tour, it will be time for Getz to start thinking about the summer. During the summer months, he and his family rent a large home facing Oresund, the sound that separates Denmark from Sweden.

It is an easy drive into town for Getz, who uses a small German car. He explained that he brought a large white Cadillac with him from America, but promptly traded it in.  “I didn’t want any notoriety,” he grinned.

But chances are that in the vicinity of his home, you’ll find Stan Getz using an even more modest mode of transportation. Adapting himself to the local atmosphere, Getz does what the Danes do: as often as not, he travels by bicycle.

“Yes, I like this life,” the quiet-spoken musician said.  “It’s a good life.””