Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Posted by Steven Cerra at 11:24 AM
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Thanks to his work as a Jazz composer, movie score writer for many of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films and writer of a series of TV themes including the one for the Mission Impossible series, Lalo Schifrin has achieved an iconic stature.
And deservedly so.
He has been a creatively consistent force in popular music at the highest level for over 60 years.
But most people don’t remember that it all began when Dizzy Gillespie took a chance on him when he was playing piano with Xavier Cugart and was largely unknown in Jazz circles.
In the following story, Gene Lees explains how it all began for Lalo. It’s a wonderful story and it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.
"BECAUSE Dizzy Gillespie is infinitely unpredictable (he has given up his northbound trumpet for a straight model, just when the world was getting —' used to the unorthodox horn), the music business has learned not to be surprised by his surprises.
Thus, when word went around the business last year that Gillespie had hired Xavier Cugat's pianist, the standard response was, "Well, that's Birks for you."
But as usual, Gillespie knew more than people knew he knew. Certainly in this case he knew precisely what he was doing. The association of pianist and arranger Lalo Schifrin with the Gillespie quintet has proved one of the trumpeter's most fruitful of recent years. So close is the collaboration that Gillespie compares it to that of Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington.
Schifrin was not, of course, Cugat's pianist at any time. A young freelance arranger working in New York, he had contributed arrangements to Cugat's book. And at that, they weren't standard Cugat arrangements. Schifrin added a distinct jazz tinge to the Cugat library.
More to the point, Schifrin was, and always had been, a jazz musician. Though he was born in Argentina, he had worked consistently with jazz groups, in his native country and in France.
Gillespie also knew this about Schifrin: he had studied composition with the noted Latin American 12-tone composer Juan-Carlos Paz, had led a highly successful 16-piece jazz band in his native Buenos Aires, and had taken four first prizes at the Paris Conservatory (in composition, harmony, fugue, and counterpoint). Finally, Schifrin already was working on the now-famous Gillespiana Suite, the idea for which had come to the young Argentinian when he first met Gillespie a few years ago during Dizzy's State Department tour of South America with a big band.
Lalo was a man with a lot of background.
Boris Schifrin 29 years ago (Lalo was a childhood nickname that stuck), he is the son of a musician. His father, Luis, led the second violin section of the Theater Colon Orchestra, one of South America's best symphony organizations, for 30 years.
When he was 10, Lalo started studying piano with a Russian teacher, Andreas Karalis, who had been the head of the Kiev Conservatory until his political convictions made it prudent for him to leave. At 16, Lalo started studying harmony with Juan-Carlos Paz. In the meantime, he was studying sociology and law at the University of Buenos Aires.
"Then I decided it had to be music," he recalled. "So I applied for a scholarship to the Paris Conservatory."
By now he was a draftee in the Argentine army. By luck, he was released from service in time to accept the scholarship and left for the French capital. There he studied with a celebrated disciple of Maurice Ravel.
"In the meantime," Schifrin said, "I was playing with French jazz groups. I played with Bobby Jaspar, who at that time was playing mostly tenor; Jean-Louis Chauton, baritone; Jean-Louis Viale, drums; and Benoit Quersin, the bassist, who now owns the Blue Note night club in Brussels."
He also played at the third International Festival of Jazz in Paris' Salle Pleyel, as a representative of Argentina. That was in 1955. In 1956 he went home to Buenos Aires and formed a 16-piece band. It was his country's first band in what Lalo calls "the Basie-Gillespie tradition."
"I wrote all the arrangements and put together the best musicians in town," Schifrin said. "The band was a big hit, and that we had not expected. We did concerts, radio and TV broadcasts, and dances. We had another book for dances, which I also wrote.
"A few months later, Dizzy came down on that State Department tour. It was the first American band to visit Argentina.
"We played for the musicians in Dizzy's band. The next day Dizzy asked me if I would write something for him. That's when I got the idea to write a Gillespiana suite."
But the time for the suite was not yet.
IN 1957, SCHIFRIN started writing for motion pictures. One of the films for which he did an underscore was called El Jefe, meaning the chief or leader. The score was strictly jazz. For it, he won an Argentine academy award. A ballad from the score also became a pop hit.
The following year, Schifrin picked up his second Argentine academy award, this one for a non-jazz, 12-tone score utilizing the curious sextet instrumentation of violin, viola, cello, tympani, alto saxophone, and baritone saxophone.
Schifrin decided it was time to go to the United States.
Shortly after his arrival in New York City, he put together a trio comprising himself, bassist Eddy DeHaas, and drummer Rudy Collins. Collins is now in the Gillespie quintet with him; he replaced Chuck Lampkin, who has been drafted. The trio played Basin Street East and the Embers. Schifrin also began to do studio arranging.
"It was ironic," he said. "They gave me more Latin American things to write than anything. They evidently couldn't believe I was a jazz musician.
"This was the period when I was writing for Cugat. I did a lot of work for him. There are several albums of my charts. I changed the sound of the band somewhat. Cugat liked it. He told me that all his life he had wanted to do something like it, but the business end of it had pushed him to do other things.
"All this time I had been carrying the idea for the Gillespiana Suite in my head. One day I wrote a sketch of it and took it to Dizzy."
Gillespie not only liked the sketch but also liked Schifrin's playing enough to hire him to replace Junior Mance, who had left the trumpeter.
If Schifrin had changed the sound of the Cugat band somewhat, he also changed that of the Gillespie quintet. After the bluesy sound of Mance, Schifrin's Latin American effects resulted in a considerable change of texture and, to an extent, of rhythmic emphasis.
But there was no clash. "Don't forget," Schifrin points out, "that Dizzy is the composer of Manteca, Lorraine, A Night in Tunisia, and Con Alma. He worked with Chano Pozo years ago. Dizzy has always had a sympathy for Latin American music."
To the listener, it sounds these days as if the group has been heavily Latinized. Sometimes whole sets are made up of Latin tunes, in which Gillespie seems to find even more than his usual freedom. Schifrin claims otherwise: "We've really added only a few Latin things to the book, including the thing we call Safari, which is really African, and the Gillespiana Suite. All the other Latin tunes were in the book before I came."
Rehearsals on the quintet version of Gillespiana began shortly after Schifrin joined the group. "Then Dizzy commissioned me to write it for big band," he said. "That was the original idea anyway.
"We did it in concert with a big band in Carnegie Hall in March, 1961. In fact, I wrote all the arrangements for the concert, including a work called Tunisian Fantasy, which was based on A Night in Tunisia. Of all the works I've written for Dizzy, I was most happy with that one.
"It is a work in three movements. They're called A Night in Tunisia; The Casbah, which is a development on the bridge of the tune; and Tunisian Promenade, which is based on the interlude of the tune. It's really a duet for trumpet and bass with orchestra.
"The whole concert was recorded, but it hasn't been released yet."
SCHIFRIN continues to write at a furious pace. He has just completed a jazz piano sonata (the Modern Jazz Quartet publishes his music), which Bill Evans will probably record. Schifrin is scheduled himself to record, for Roulette, an extended work for small group, which is to be a choreographic poem, based probably on the Faust legend.
He says there is no nationalism in his use of Latin American rhythms. "I use them for color," he explained. "And they seem to work well with Dizzy.
"I have always had a great sympathy for Dizzy's music — his dramatic conception of both harmony and melody. And he always has been interested in different rhythmic effects. You know, when Dizzy uses Latin American rhythms — like when he's playing the cowbell while Leo Wright is soloing—they're absolutely authentic. He picks them up so easily it's amazing.
"You know, the man is a genius.
"It seems to me that there is enough room in jazz for all possible influences. I've just done a composition for the quintet called Mount Olive, which is based on Middle Eastern rhythms and scales.
"Jazz is music.
"It happens that it is facing certain problems at present. I think most creative musicians today are facing problems.
"Recently we've seen the introduction of Greek modes by young musicians; the use of polytonal harmony along with excursions into the atonal, a field which Lennie Tristano started exploring years ago; polyrhythmic things like Dave Brubeck is doing; different effects of timbre like Gil Evans uses. And there have been other explorations, using classical influences — for example, the music of John Lewis, Gunther Schuller, and J. J. Johnson. Don't overlook J. J. — he's something else as a composer. All of these explorations are having a revolutionary effect on the form of jazz, aiming toward escaping the constant use of simple theme and variations in the old way.
"Of course, there will always be guys who just want to blow. But the writers are becoming more important. They can give the player form and inspiration and support. The first to use that conception was Duke Ellington. For a long time he was alone."
GILLESPIE is of the view that his pianist is likely to be one of the writers contributing much to that development.
"Lalo has improved a lot as a pianist since he joined the group," said the trumpeter, who didn't bother to point out that every musician who has ever worked with him remembers that period of his life as one of great growth under Gillespie's almost off-handed teaching.
"People from other countries," Gillespie said, "they listen to records, get ideas. . . . But it's not the same as playing jazz all the time.
"A couple of things confused Lalo at first. But he's improved enormously, now that he's been here a while."
Lalo is well-schooled in Chopin, Beethoven, and other great classical writers for the keyboard. Yet his approach to jazz piano is quite unclassical, except for his fluency in playing long lines and runs. Sometimes he hammers at the keyboard in a stiff-wristed manner reminiscent of Dave Brubeck's.
He applies Latin American methods to jazz, in a highly personal way. Sometimes he can be heard repeating a left-handed chord in rhythmic unity with the running Latin chords (octaves with fifths, or sometimes fifths and sixths in between) while he is playing at surprising speed with his right. But the ideas are jazz ideas. As often as not, a solo will start with a single line and gradually develop into a powerful and exciting excursion into the Latin toward the end.
All this music comes from a somewhat unkempt, rather serious, and usually confused-looking young man who somehow reminds one of Bill Dana's television character, Jose Jiminez. Unsmiling when you meet him, Schifrin looks as if he'll, never in a million years, know what's happening.
The slightly discombooberated air is probably related to the fact that English is not his native language and he has to listen carefully to it. The subtlety of a joke will pass by when he has first met a person. Later, as his ears become attuned to the acquaintance's speech, his big, easy sense of humor manifests itself. He is a thoroughly cultivated young man of polished tastes, who may be found in intense conversation about Goethe or quoting the poetry of Paul Valery in French.
"Lalo is really something," Gillespie said. "And he hasn't really begun to show people his potential. He won't, until he gets a chance to use strings. He has ideas about strings that will scare you, using them percussively and that sort of thing.
"We're all going to hear a lot more from Lalo."
Down Beat Magazine
April 12, 1962
Monday, December 30, 2019
Posted by Steven Cerra at 11:51 AM
© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Some of Gerry Mulligan’s remarks in the following piece which appeared in the November, 1958 Down Beat about Jazz, and movies and being in them are somewhat prescient in terms of his career path as he was to be in four of them, beginning with his appearance in I Want to Live.
Mulligan also appeared in The Rat Race, The Subterraneans and Bells are Ringing [with his then girlfriend, Judy Holliday].
And while there was nothing particularly notable about his acting career, there is a positive upside to his movie appearances because he used the money that he earned from them to fund his Concert Jazz Band - one of the great big bands in the history of Jazz.
“Impressions of Jazz in Hollywood
Working on the film I Want to Live was a labor of love for the jazzmen involved in cutting the soundtrack. Among the west coast jazzmen participating were Johnny Mandel, who composed the music for the film; drummer Shelly Manne, reed man Bud Shank, pianist Pete jolly, and trombonist Frank Rosolino.
These musicians were eager to express their feelings on the film and the role jazz plays in it. When asked to comment by Down Beat, they said:
MANDEL: "Jazz has always been used in such a limited sense in pictures. Actually, the music is capable of expressing any human emotion. I was very happy to do this picture, hoping that the whole field could be opened to jazz composers like Bill Holman, Jimmy Giuffre, Quincy Jones, Al Cohn, and others."
MANNE: "Strictly from a musical standpoint, working on this picture was a complete gas. Mandel's writing was simply great. And the group he assembled to play the source music couldn't have been better.
SHANK: "My strongest recollection of working on this picture is how great it was under the direction of Robert Wise. For the first time I was working on a picture where the musicians were treated with respect. I remember, for example, on previous pictures the musicians were just extras.
JOLLY: "This was one of the first pictures I've worked on where jazz was used to advantage rather than the opposite. Mandel accomplished so much in combining jazz with the action . . . And he captured with great accuracy the contemporaneous mood. But the only thing that bugs me about working in movies is that, when they shoot a scene, they give you a beat-up, four-octave, upright piano that doesn't work—a piano half the size of the one you recorded the music on!"
ROSOLINO: "This really was a chance to exploit a good jazz composer in a motion picture. For the first time, it shows what the talented jazz composer can do. And I must say, also, that the staff and powers that be had a lot more respect for us as musicians than any others in my experience. The whole thing was a treat."
“The club is filled with smoke and chatter.
On the stand a septet rockets through a blues.
Pete Jolly, Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne are cooking. Frank Rosolino and Bud Shank are waiting to play. Art Farmer is fingering his trumpet and nodding his head slightly to the tempo.
In front of the main mike, Gerry Mulligan is bending back and blowing ferociously into his baritone.
This is the opening scene of I Want to Live, the United Artists movie with a fine score by Johnny Mandel. It is a curious scene in that it represents both sides of the jazz coin.
Musically, it as good as you'll find in any club a week running.
Atmospherically, it perpetuates the booze-junk-vice background that has become a cliche in depicting jazz.
None of the musicians has a speaking part. But a strong fiber of jazz is woven into the supporting music throughout the film.
"We spent a lot of time syncing," Mulligan said between sets at the International Foreign Car show in Boston recently. "We went in one day and blew on tunes we didn't know. Then we came in the next day and learned the tunes while we synced. Among the three of us — Shelly, Art. and myself — we had the band buckling down to synchronizing.
"It's a hard thing for nonmusicians to learn to do, and it's hard for musicians to do. I can't go through the motions of playing, even to a soundtrack.
"What we did was have them put the speakers on top of us ... up over the stand and turned on as loud as we could stand it. Then we could blow to match what we had played lor the soundtrack."
The results as seen in the opening long scene of the film are realistic, perhaps more so than any film involving musicians. The fingerings and lip compressions and breathing all mesh with the soundtrack. There were no noticeable lapses or overlaps between the shots of the men playing and the music coming from the sound system.
"I had a ball blowing against the choruses," Mulligan chuckled. "Of course, it sort of blew things for all of us, but it was fun."
United Artists' Jack Lewis, who selected Mandel for the film was the artists and repertoire man for the soundtrack and the two LPs that will be issued, featuring the small group and a big band. Mandel's name has been cropping up in New York gossip columns and among the music trade people as a strong candidate for an Academy award for his score.
"Johnny's music was very interesting," Mulligan said. "And I think that the way it's presented will be more intelligent than the usual. Johnny worked with the cutter [editor] all the way.
"He tried to write music with all the nervousness and anxiety of the 40s in it ... He wanted to make it very frenetic music. It fits the mood of the times and ties in with Barbara Graham's character.
"I was on the coast when this case came up, and I can remember feeling then that she wasn't guilty."
Bassist Bill Crow sat in on the discussion as it moved to the pictorial
presentation of jazz in the opening scene of the film.
The picture opens in a club, and then scenes shift rapidly outside lo the street and to a hotel room, where Barbara Graham is introduced and arrested. The opening swinger is heard right through the fade of the arrest scene.
Mulligan described the silent rushes he'd seen of the opening to Crow.
"It opens with shots of the band," he said, occasionally illustrating with his hands. "A hustler walks across the floor and picks up a cat. Then there's a bit with a roué [rake or a debauched man] and a young girl that's really too much. And to top it all, there are two cats smoking pot near a washroom and really acting it up.
"What it does is establish the mood of all the things we are trying to eliminate."
Crow nodded and observed, "You get this type of thing every time when someone wants to establish a mood of degeneracy or vice. This picture uses jazz incidentally, but there are an awful lot of of legitimate conflicts in the life of a jazz musician which would make a good movie. And without resorting to the stereotype."
"This was done with the big bands dining the '40s," Mulligan said. "The music wasn't the greatest, but the stories were honest. Do you remember Orchestra Wives with Glenn Miller? That had a story that every musician lives. Now there's another kind of music in the ascendancy, but the same problems exist."
"Benny Goodman was in a picture about a trombonist who left the band to go out on his own and who didn't make it," Crow added. (The film was Sweet and Lowdown, wilh Bill Harris blowing the trombonist's soundtrack.)
"Maybe he wasn't ready to record," Mulligan grinned.
Then he added, "Maybe someday we'll see some stories of musicians with musicians acting important parts."
"There are plenty of good stories," interjected Crow. "There's one of the young player and his idol, which could have the drama of the struggle for identity. It might end with the player doing what he once did spontaneously for love now mechanically for money."
Mulligan was asked about some of his ideas or aspirations as far as movies and television were concerned.
"I'd like to do a lot of things in the movies,” he replied. "I would like to be a sort of independent producer and make my own TV films, records, and movies.
"In TV, for instance, I see that mostly they have just no idea of how to present jazz. And they don't know how to present me, individually. Each musician requires an individual approach to presentation. What's right for me won't necessarily be good for another player.
"I feel I've learned techniques on how to pace a show. With a couple of good cameramen, I think I could do it. It looks like a good presentation is going to have to come from the musicians."
How about motion pictures?
"If they could come up with a part I could play, I'd want to do it. There are good parts from time to time, which a musician can play. Take Young Man with a Horn; there are a number of musicians who could have made that part. I'd say a good 30 to 50 per cent of the blowing instrumentalists, given the chance, could act.
"It's a lot like blowing. You require concentration, and the ability to project a given emotion at a given time."
"A lot of it," said Crow, "could be in the direction, too."
Mulligan nodded vigorously. "On the set of I Want to Live, it was a gas. Robert Wise was great. Everyone looked to him and dug him."
"Vittorio DeSica has that quality of drawing the best out of an amateur," Crow said. "Kazan knows how to work with actors and has the discrimination to know when an actor can work or not. He gets fantastic results out of guys like Brando."
"Brando seemed to be coasting after his first couple of pictures," Gerry said. "But I liked him in The Young Lions. He had that concentration . . ."
Switching back to TV, Mulligan outlined some of his ideas. "Like everyone," he smiled, "I have a lot of ideas on presenting jazz on TV, but I'm not in a position to do it.
"For one thing, there would be no interruptions lor commercials. That's just stupid. It's necessary because of the relationship of the sponsor and the agencies and the audience. They all feel that you must put in your message while the audience is interested and waiting for a climax. But while it's good for the commercials, it can ruin the mood or the atmosphere of a presentation.
"If a sponsor let me do a show my way, he could count on me making a statement at the end of the show about the product that would be sincere.
"If they're going to use jazz on TV, I think it should be used intelligently — and really used. This way, what we're having today is too often just a use of jazz with jazz getting nothing in return.
"I'd like General Motors to sponsor us," he grinned. "They have a design on TV now that has the letters G and M with some shading
behind them. The big letters could be General Motors, and the shaded ones could be mine."
The group broke up, and Crow admired Mulligan for being willing to accept second billing.
"I hope I don't sound like an angry-young-man type," Mulligan said. "The group has had some unfortunate exposure on TV. The group is the most important thing to me right now, and we all want to be sure we're doing our best, and that we're getting the best possible exposure."
Mulligan's engagement in Boston, appearing for four half-hour sets daily during the eight-day run of the foreign car show, was a case in point.
"There are some obvious possibilities in this kind of thing," Gerry said. "Whether they work out that way remains to be seen.
"At first, the building felt cold and uninviting, and we could sense that the people didn't know how to react. We've ironed that out, and we're living with the sound. We feel we belong there, and we feel we're helping create a pleasant atmosphere.
"I'd like us to make a success of this because it would open new channels of work for the band and get us before some different audiences."
Art Farmer [trumpet] and Dave Bailey [drums] had wandered in during the movie and TV discussion, and Farmer glanced significantly at his watch. The group moved on toward the massive Mechanics building, site of the show.
Gerry paused for a moment to admire a Maserati on exhibition. A discreet sign read: "Maserati, Gran Turismo, $11,495, 145 m.p.h."
"That's a beautiful, finished piece of machinery," he said. "I've seen it underneath and it's almost as pretty as on top. Jt has real workmanship in it."
The group threaded its way through the crowd, admiring cars on the floor of the hall, and climbed the stairs to a balcony overlooking the exhibition floor. They tuned up, and on a signal from Gerry, went into Utter Chaos, the theme.
Throughout the set, while some persons clustered around the stand, others climbed in and out of cars or peered intently under hoods. At the end of each tune, both groups responded with applause. It appeared that the Mulligan quartet was accomplishing its purpose at the show: satisfying the jazz fans among the sports car fans, and providing a pleasant interlude for the strictly automotive audience.
The audience was appreciative and attentive. Particularly to Gerry's good-natured admonition at the start: "We're going to play some jazz for you. And all we ask is that you refrain from blowing car horns during our set . . . unless they fit into the chord."[!]
Sunday, December 29, 2019
“In Getz's case, it's ironic that the very thing that was (and has remained) his most talked of virtue – his sound – has done more to bury the lead of his being a great blues player than promote it. And yet it is Getz' sound – that far reaching, emotion-packed tone that could vary from a goosebump-raising purr to a seizing cry – that contains his most fundamental and profound link to the blues.” …
“Some who knew the tenorist personally found him to be nothing but a mass of emotional contrast and contradiction (his long term friend Zoot Sims once summed Getz up as “a nice bunch of guys”), however there was one thing which united these sometimes alarmingly disparate strands – the saxophonist's ability to outline a musical narrative.
Getz' knack for telling a melodic story is central to his legend, and whether they be tales told at top speed (1955's astonishing Shine) or at near heart-stopping stillness (hear his 1966 account of When The World Was Young) these stories were always cogent, convincing and full of a sure sense of intelligent musical architecture, attributes all the more impressive for being improvised rather than scripted. He also had a talent for getting to the meat of whatever he was playing, …”
“But somewhere, deep within the twisting, interlocked and yet separate characters that made up the public edifice called Stan Getz there lay a melancholy and a sadness that was every inch a match for that within the rural blues of the south, or the urban blues of Chicago or Kansas City. Where this came from is anyone's guess. Dave Gelly postulated that it might have been part of Getz' Jewish heritage – a sort of cantor cry transplanted to jazz; others from his less than comfortable upbringing in New York's East Bronx. Wherever it stemmed from, it's certain that the raging contradictions of pride and sorrow – the very schism that make the blues work as a consistently dignified expression of the human condition, regardless of idiom – were already in play within him as a young man. And they never left him: …”
- Simon Spillett
Simon Spillett is a first-rate Jazz tenor saxophonist and an authority on the music of many of the great players of the instrument who blossomed during the second half of the 20th century, both in Great Britain and in the USA.
He is the author of The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes which Equinox has recently published in a second edition. You can locate my review of it by going here.
In addition to fronting his own quartet and big band, Simon has won several awards for his music, including the tenor saxophone category of the British Jazz Awards (2011), Jazz Journal magazine, Critic's Choice CD of the Year (2009) and Rising Star in the BBC Jazz Awards (2007).
Simon has previously shared essays on Hank Mobley, Hank with Miles Davis and Booker Erwin on this page.
His energy and enthusiasm for the music is reflected in well-researched and well-written pieces about Jazz and its makers and it is always a treat to have his work up on the JazzProfiles blog.
You may think, as you read the title of this posting, that it is nothing more than a simple statement of descriptive fact, but you’d be wrong, because what follows is a full blown argumentation and debate on Stan Getz’s talent and ability to play the blues. Simon employs a paradigm shift that gives the reader a different angle of acceptance on Stan Getz’s relationship with the blues, a perspective both aurally and narratively which I daresay, you’ve never heard or read before.
Simon has his own website which you can visit via this link.
© - Simon Spillett, copyright protected; all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.
“What's going on in your life comes out in the way you play on any particular day, without even trying.”
- Stan Getz
“A hundred years since the release of the first jazz recordings – or rather since the release of the first records to use the word as a genre-defining selling point – it's hardly surprising that the music's rich history has of late found itself under even greater scrutiny than ever before. Serious scholars of the style's growth and development are nothing new, of course; what we might call first-hand intellectual coverage of the music has been going on since at least the 1930s, the decade when European critics started a trend for regarding jazz as much more than a novel form of entertainment. More recently, what we might now term the golden age of jazz – the 1940s to the 1960s – has slid under the microscope of a new kind of thinking, that of revisionist commentators, some of whose purpose appears to be little more than the grand reveal – telling us that what we thought we knew actually wasn't so, seeking to reframe history for the sound-bite obsessed, post-millennial world.
A centennial marker is always a cue for retrospection, but in jazz, a genre whose development has more or less gone hand-in-hand with that of recording technology, it's doubly appealing; unlike other music, the early practitioners of which were lost to the sands of (pre-recorded sound) time, we can hear virtually all of jazz's pacesetters for ourselves. Minus confusing folk-myth and apocrypha they're all out there on record, the internet and as digital downloads.
We can also continue to benefit from the reflections of the musicians still living who vividly remember their artistic forebears. Thus in recent years Sonny Rollins has talked of his reverential relationship with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Golson has written of the night he watched Louis Armstrong and Clifford Brown lock horns and Cecil Taylor, in one of his final interviews, delighted in revealing that Duke Ellington's personal nickname for Miles Davis was “Inky”,no less. Revisionist thinking cannot be applied quite so readily to these surviving figures as it can their now departed contemporaries – after all a Wayne Shorter is still around to tell it like it was; a Count Basie is not – which is why in this age of ever more forensic examinations of the work and lives of the iconic figures within the music it remains the dead giants who continue to generate the most column inches. It's easy to see the appeal. Theirs are careers that can be easily codified, that are faits accomplis and which, at this distance in time, can be happily dissected by all and sundry, well informed or not. And, as history never ceases to remind us, dead men can't fight back.
Of late there's been a distinctly 21st century-flavoured spin put on all sorts of “revelations” about the good and the great of the music, many of whom are handily unable to set the record straight. A few of the more obvious recent examples include Terry Teachout's biography Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (Gotham Books, 2013), which sought to strip jazz's most elegant of figureheads of much of his mystique, revealing him to be a vainglorious womaniser with a talent for obfuscation. Then there's the utterly peculiar attempt in some quarters to rebrand Tubby Hayes, arguably Britain's most authentic-sounding modern jazz soloist, who died in 1973, as a prototype for the UK's Mod movement of the 1960s, with some contriving to find a link between Hayes' uber-slick Hard Bop and the raw, nihilistic pretensions of The Who, The Small Faces and co.
And, at the time of writing, the internet is ablaze with news of the release of a “lost” Coltrane record, hailed by some as a jazz Holy Grail, the publicity for which has somehow drowned out the fact that the “album”, such as it is, actually wasn't so much lost as discarded; Coltrane himself evidently decided not to sanction these recordings for public issue and simply moved on leaving them to gather dust (and it seems increased commercial value). Conveniently, of course, neither he nor his producer Bob Thiele are around to have their say – in fact, it's not difficult to believe that if they were these tapes might have remained on the shelf.
The Coltrane issue arrived almost in sync with social media giant Facebook announcing a major clampdown on Fake News and data misuse, an ironically timed gesture when one thinks of how much mid-20th century jazz history has been rejigged of late, folklore and facts frequently twisted to tell stories that might not always be quite what those writing them would have us believe. In some instances, it's almost as if the voices of those who were there matter not as much as those now doing the spinning. Indeed, this conceit ignores the value of eye (and ear) witness testimony, the very thing that brings jazz history to life in way that the hindsight of after-the-fact commentators cannot. Striking the balance between objectivity and a personalised “angle” has never been more difficult for jazz writers. It's nothing new though.
Take the example of Stan Getz, a veritable icon of post-war jazz and subject of what must surely be one of the most disquieting of all musician biographies – A Life In Jazz by Donald L. Maggin (William Morrow and Company, 1996) – a retelling published at a time when many of today's icon-topplers had still to lose their milk teeth.
The mid-1990s was early for such a book to appear, but it was already long overdue. In fact, Getz made an especially good choice for any writer looking to do a revisionist study and at the time it appeared Maggin's forensically detailed account divided the jazz fraternity. In some quarters the author was regarded as a heretic, daring to dismantle an unassailable god, to others here at last was a man willing to discount the myth and focus on facts. To his credit though, Maggin had been careful to include plenty of first-hand testimony (including that of Getz's family), and his text steered an accurate and largely non-judgemental course through Getz's life and times. What emerged was the tale of a personality that bordered disturbingly on the psychotic, the saxophonist's musical serenity off-set by binges of violence and monstrously overblown indulgence.
Looking at the lives of some of his generational peers – read about Art Pepper and Gerry Mulligan to see equally huge egos at work – Getz was hardly alone in his volatility, but what perhaps made Maggin's revelations so much more stomach turning was that they contrasted so incongruously from the image the world knows of Getz's music – that of his artistic consistency, his lyricism edging into the romantic, and his golden tone, a sound that spoke of grace, sophistication and charming refinement. In some senses, these musical assets weren't so much calling cards as false flags. Underneath it all, Getz had guts, musical and otherwise, a tensile-strength toughness that, if you looked hard enough had always hidden in plain sight.
The English pianist Stan Tracey, who accompanied the saxophonist of his first visit to Ronnie Scott's club in London in 1964, saw it instantly. “After you know him – you see the nasty bits in his music,” Tracey told journalist Ken Hyder in 1973. “He's completely selfish and he comes on with the big superior bit.”
Scott himself captured the paradox of professionalism and personality that made Getz such a perplexing study; “During those moving, poignant ballads of his you could hear a pin drop,” he wrote of Getz's appearance at his club in Melody Maker. “And if anyone had dropped a pin, he'd've got a look from Stan's baby-blue eyes which would have felled a polar bear.”
Maggin's book may have upset a lot of people, but at root it told us nothing about Getz that hadn't already long been part of jazz-lore. He was a cussed, stubborn son of a bitch, who, like Chet Baker, offset a personable mien with a hopelessly ugly interior. And you couldn't blame it all on the usual bitternesses that bedevil many a jazz legend – yes, Getz drank and smoked to excess and had, for a time, a serious heroin habit (even serving a short jail term in 1954), but he had never really struggled, not in the starving-artist-in-a-garret way. Nevertheless, even commercial success couldn't quash his inner angst. By the middle-1960s, when Tracey and Scott came into contact with him, he was one of the world's best-selling jazz artists, thanks to the unprecedented (in jazz) sales of the bossa-nova hits Desafinado and The Girl From Ipanema. Consequently, he was also among the music’s most financially sewn-up of performers, owning a capacious mansion in up-state New York. In addition to this, a dashingly handsome man (one writer once compared him to the actor John Garfield), he had a drop-dead gorgeous Grace Kelly-ish wife – his second - whose lineage was that of Swedish aristocracy, and who bore him a clutch of photogenic children who looked more like the personification of young WASP America than the offspring of a third-generation Russian Jewish immigrant and his foreign bride.
At the time the bossa-boom hit, Getz was nudging towards middle-age and, thanks to a lengthy association with jazz impresario Norman Granz, was already one of the most successful jazz instrumentalists of his generation; this new found mainstream stardom seemed a nice mid-life reward for a career of wholesale artistic dedication. (There were other prizes too; at the time The Girl From Ipanema went global, Getz - a serial womaniser - was bedding Astrud Gilberto, the vocalist whose Lolita-like brand of sex appeal had done so much to make the record a commercial success.)
Even earlier he'd clearly had nothing to complain about. Donald Maggin's book has a teenaged Getz being pursued by none other than Ava Gardner (whom he turned down!) and, as Doug Ramsey pointed out in a note for a collection of Getz's earliest work as a leader “at twenty-two, [he] had popular success, fame and the admiration of musicians of all stripes. He was a homeowner with a young son [and] a wife who loved him.”
Nor was his inner conflict immediately apparent to his public. On stage he appeared unshowy and unpretentious, and his softly-spoken voice and quiet humour contained barely a hint of the violent temper which lay beneath. He also left little in the way of written controversy; his many magazine interviews rarely dissed fellow musicians (unlike those of Miles Davis) and he proved to be a remarkably articulate wordsmith, writing witty sleeve notes for a couple of his own albums.
(Another facet emerges when looking at his Three Wishes in the book of the same name, a collection of wish lists from prominent 1950s-60s jazzmen collated by one of the music's greatest patrons, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter [Abrams Image, 2008]. Hoping for Justice, Truth and Beauty, he comes across as almost saintly.)
It sounds like a charmed life, one so smooth that all the usual reactionary clichés about jazz musicians having to suffer in order to create seem redundant. Legend has it that whatever dirt existed in Getz's life, it never ever impinged in his music. Although like most jazzmen he'd play the blues, they couldn't really be said to be a direct conduit to his innermost self. Surely his kind of blues were no more than a formality, a routine, something added to an LP or a live set to balance the programme? To state that Stan Getz was anything other than a functional purveyor of the blues form within jazz now that – that would be Fake News.
Or would it? Like many things with Stan Getz, nothing is quite what it seems. Indeed, if there is one final piece of revisionist thinking to be applied to his life and work it's that he was, even early on in his career, not just a pretty sound but a player with genuine soulfulness, working a pearl of a tone around some deeply embedded integral grit. This, of course, doesn't quite fit received wisdom.
The usual thumbnail sketch of Getz's contribution to jazz goes something like this: inspired by Lester Young he extended and amplified the lyricism of his forebear into ever more romantic dimensions, creating a sound bespoke for the riches within the Great American Songbook and, later still, the Brazilian inventions of the bossa-nova; tone and melody were his strongest suits, ballads his most suitable artistic canvass. He could play hard and fast, yes, but that's not really what he was about.
It's an acceptable enough reduction, but, as with all such encapsulations, it's just that; a cameo rather than the full picture.
That Getz could always swing was never really in doubt (go back to his earliest solo titles made in July 1946 and you may find yourself shocked at how earthly he does so) but that he could be as equally effective exponent of the most basic of all jazz vehicles – the twelve bar blues – is a fact overlooked in virtually every account of his life. But that skill was there too, right from the off. And, as with anecdotes about the other fundamental aspects of Getz' art being firmly in place while still only a youngster – his sight-reading abilities, his perfect pitch, his unfailing knack for standing out in a crowd – one doesn't have to search hard too find a first-hand example.
In one of the most revealing anecdotes in Maggin's biography, trumpeter Shorty Rogers recalled his first encounter with a fourteen year old Getz, both men playing in a hastily formed dance band somewhere in the Bronx. Within a few years they would be featured soloists with one of America's leading big bands, that of Woody Herman, eventually becoming icons of 1950s modern jazz, but back in 1941 they were little more than enthusiastic kids, except that in Getz's case youthful élan went hand in hand with God-given genius.
“I listened, and to my amazement he never made one mistake,” remembered Rogers of that first gig. “We did a Glenn Miller thing, 'In The Mood', and he stood up and played Tex Beneke's solo...with the same sound and everything. And I said 'what's going on with this guy?' And then we played 'One O'Clock Jump' [and he] did Lester Young's solo. Just perfect.”
A teenage gift for mimicry is superficially the most impressive aspect of Roger anecdote, but a little deeper in comes the realisation (one that few other observers seem to have twigged) that Getz was already well familiar with the patterns of the blues. In The Mood and One O'Clock Jump – veritable signatures from polar opposites of swing – are both based on the blues; Getz may have been using the solos of other men as his template at this point but the fact remains that in learning Beneke's and Young's choruses by rote he wasn't just showing a precocious ability to get with the two main approaches of jazz tenor in the early 1940s – Coleman Hawkins (filtered through Beneke) and Lester Young – he was showing how the blues was already a key part of his musical DNA.
One has to be careful not to overstate this point; for some jazz musicians the ability to play a convincing blues is itself a sort of litmus test (Dexter Gordon once said “If you can't play the blues you may as well forget it”), for others, it's something they've never really got to grips with or consider important. However, in Getz' generation such a skill was very much looked upon as necessary in all schools of jazz, even among those radically reinventing the music; just look at Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and even Cecil Taylor, all of whom used the blues as a base from which to explore the outer reaches.
On the surface, Stan Getz appeared to be the most unlikely blues player on the planet, especially during the first years of his career-ascent immediately post-Woody Herman. His watercolour-like contribution to Herman's recording of Early Autumn – the record that effectively launched his stardom - had seemingly set out his palette; a tone so airy and light that it could at times be more alto- than tenor-like; a penchant for achingly lyrical delineations of melody and a technique so clean as to be polished. None of these musical brush strokes seemed to indicate the base-level virility of the blues.
Another Getz biographer, Richard Palmer, noted how this kind of delivery instantly set Getz apart, creating “[an] apparent distance from the 'red-blooded' school of tenor-playing most obviously associated with [Coleman] Hawkins, Lockjaw [Davis] and such as Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon”, the inference at the time being that only men playing with the huge, boiling tones of Hawkins, Gordon and co. could generate any musical heat.
But before Getz there was an alternative method of getting hot, ably demonstrated during the 1930s by Lester Young, the first tenor saxophonist to suggest a viable alternative to the large-bore method that Hawkins had pioneered (amplified to a certain degree by all the above named players).
Young's playing had a sidelong quality to it; it charmed and insinuated where Hawkins' pushed and probed. It was more like musical foreplay than a full-blown consummation; it suggested rather than outlined; and it showed another way with the blues.
As a black southerner, Young was well aware of the primacy of the blues, and yet, as in everything else he achieved musically, he took to the form with subtlety as well as emotional candour. Great blues improvisations are littered throughout his discography, from those contained on his sides with Count Basie during the late 1930s and early 1940s (which Getz would have known only too well) to a surprising number of triumphs within the format in the years supposed to represent his creative decline, post-World War Two – DB Blues (1945, with the added wrinkle of an eight bar bridge), Back to The Land (1946), Jumpin' with Symphony Sid (1947), Blue 'n' Bells (1949), Undercover Blues (1951), Red Boy Blues (1955) and the late-in-the-day masterpiece Pres Returns (1956).
It's unsurprising therefore given the titanic impact Young made on all other areas of his style that his influence should also be felt keenly whenever Getz tackled the blues. In fact, it was very often when playing a simple twelve-bar that the younger man would doff the cool-school façade in favour of a series of direct references back to Young. By no means was his alone in this practice – contemporaries like Zoot Sims and Al Cohn did much the same thing - as did Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon - when playing a blues. However, what men like Getz, Sims and Cohn didn't have was the direct, overarching link to the black urban R& B traditions that players such as Gordon and Gray possessed (and which was present in a more overt way in the work of tenors like Lockjaw Davis and Gene Ammons as well as in that of other, far lesser, R&B journeymen).
The formative learning forum of black jump music would also help shape the playing of a great many of the leading Afro-American jazz tenorists to emerge in the wake of Gordon and Gray – among them John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin and Junior Cook. Getz hadn't attended this kind of finishing school so how on earth could he play a convincing blues solo? Surely his approach was – to put it bluntly – all too white and too polite?
In this, it's impossible to avoid the hoary contention of race – the old “can white musicians play a black music?” argument. Tired as this debate now is, if only to clarify Getz's qualifications as a great blues improviser, it's worth briefly reviving it here.
A numbskull view of jazz history sees two streams of post-war development; a black, blues-infused flow of hard-hitting jazz which encompasses the waves of Bebop, Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, and a largely white-dominated tributary that delivered cool, West Coast jazz and the more cerebral experiments of the 'Third Stream', the avowed aim of which was to marry jazz and classical techniques. This imbecilic viewpoint sees no connection – and absolutely no cross-over – between the two streams, leading to such idiotic statements as Hard Bop is a solely black music and white men can't play the blues. Like all oversimplifications of jazz progress, this leaves plenty of musicians stranded in actuality; Art Pepper and Zoot Sims played the blues to the manner born yet both were white; Miles Davis could be cooler than an Arctic evening yet he was black; Benny Golson wrote compositions and arrangements as finicky as any West Coaster; Richie Kamuca grooved more than plenty of New York tenors; the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, cool jazz's first supergroup, had a black drummer, and so on. In short, it simply doesn't work.
It's also worth remembering that the first name jazz musician to take notice of the teenage Getz, and the man who employed him in his first fully professional job, trombonist Jack Teagarden, was another player who didn't fit the accepted wisdom about white and black jazz. A white man born in New Orleans, who refused to recognise the racial barriers of his day (a radical and at times dangerous attitude during the 1920s and '30s, especially for a southerner), Teagarden had a big impact on his teenage charge. Not only did he play with a free-wheeling aptitude for improvisation rare among white players of his generation, he also identified deeply with the blues. His sound too served as something of a blueprint for Getz: a ringing, singing tone which in its sheer beauty could convey a wide-range of emotional colours. And like Bix Beiderbecke, he was among the first to display what writer Gary Giddins identified as the white jazzman's gift for “swinging with melancholy” (this lineage would eventually grow to include Artie Shaw, Lee Konitz, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Bill Evans and others, including Stan Getz).
“Teagarden, now there was a man with a beautiful tone,” Getz said of his former boss in the early 1970s, “a full and human sound.”
In Getz's case, it's ironic that the very thing that was (and has remained) his most talked of virtue – his sound – has done more to bury the lead of his being a great blues player than promote it. And yet it is Getz' sound – that far reaching, emotion-packed tone that could vary from a goosebump-raising purr to a seizing cry – that contains his most fundamental and profound link to the blues. Actually to talk of one sound where Getz is concerned is disingenuous. As Dave Gelly (another Getz biographer) once wrote it was never simply one thing, instead “gradually evolving from the delicate lightness of his youth to the broad, almost operatic proportions of his last few years.” That said, it's usually the sound of Getz in the early-to-mid-1950s that is conjured in most listeners minds when his name crops up – a smooth, almost blanched tone, in which every note has an evenness of articulation and is perfectly in tune, “completely poker-faced, expressionless, a study in cool,” as Gelly describes it.
Such uniformity of delivery doesn't sit well with the old idea of the jazz horn player trying to capture the nuances of the human voice - those smeared inflections and off-pitch asides that make, say, Johnny Hodges, one of the most easily identifiable of all jazz saxophonists.
Getz saw the connection though and was never shy about how his own unique tone fitted the proposition.“The saxophone to me is a translation of the human voice,” he once said, citing Lester Young as the first player to truly realise this ideal. Yet to some listeners, his clear-toned, even-keeled consistency had less of the human, blues-drawn quality to it and more connection with the classical tradition. “Everything was very precise, even when [he] was playing fast,” says Grammy-winning classical saxophonist Robert Black of Getz. “You never heard the horn being 'slid around' on. Every note was in place, which is very much in the style of classical composition [and w]hereas many sax players go more to the reed to get the buzz that's part of their sound, Stan got that buzz from the vibration of the brass – from the saxophone itself.”
One might therefore believe that minus a reedy rasp – and think of how well the word rasp applies to the note production of many a convincing blues tenor from Ben Webster through to Wilton Felder – Getz would be a non-starter in a blues-setting. Not so. Like all great jazzmen, he made his gift fit the context not the reverse. And, as when playing a ballad, when playing the blues Getz was a master of emotional contrast, this musical tool surely somehow connected to the fractured, many-sided personality he displayed off-stage. Some who knew the tenorist personally found him to be nothing but a mass of emotional contrast and contradiction (his long term friend Zoot Sims once summed Getz up as “a nice bunch of guys”), however there was one thing which united these sometimes alarmingly disparate strands – the saxophonist's ability to outline a musical narrative.
Getz' knack for telling a melodic story is central to his legend, and whether they be tales told at top speed (1955's astonishing Shine) or at near heart-stopping stillness (hear his 1966 account of When The World Was Young) these stories were always cogent, convincing and full of a sure sense of intelligent musical architecture, attributes all the more impressive for being improvised rather than scripted. He also had a talent for getting to the meat of whatever he was playing, the very reason why, when guitarist Charlie Byrd was looking for someone to feature on an album of new Brazilian material he planned to record in 1961 – the record that was to become the best-selling Jazz Samba - he chose Getz. “[I] looked for some kind of voice to be a little like the use of the human voice in these songs,” he later recalled. “It had to be someone who could play jazz, but with sensitivity. Stan was perfect.”
No lesser figure than Miles Davis agreed, complementing the saxophonist on how “other people can't get nothing out of a song, but he can, which takes a lot of imagination.” Davis was talking of the bossa-nova, a music which, at its most elemental has a wistfulness and longing that is very much connected with the blues tradition (the same mix of melancholy and pride which Davis had earlier found in the canto honco of Spain, as documented in the album Sketches of Spain), but he could have been speaking equally about Getz' work within a more traditional twelve-bar sequence. Indeed, from this tiny musical kernel, would flourish some of his most luxuriant creations, a dozen of which comprise this collection.
Like virtually every other jazz figure of note from his generation, Getz found various ways in which to use the blues. Early on in his career – on what was one of his very first recording sessions as leader – it was used as format to display his incredible technical command. The Prestige 78rpm of Crazy Chords was nothing less than an exercise in casting down an intimidating technical gauntlet, Getz and his band of young boppers taking the blues through all twelve major keys (jazzmen rarely play anything in B, E or A, for example, even the most simplest of material). The impact of Charlie Parker on Getz had been a shade less seismic than on many of his contemporaries – after all both he and Bird were coming from the same source, Lester Young - but if he took anything from Parker at all, it was the altoist's sense of general musical liberation; bebop per se it might not be, but one can hardly imagine a pre-bop tenor player so offhandedly moving through the modulations as Getz does on Crazy Chords.
In a sort of sequel to this signal achievement, the following year he waxed Navy Blue, another performance in which his clear-eyed delivery sits atop a distinctly boppish rhythm section, this time helmed by one of the first in a long line of Getz discoveries, pianist Horace Silver.
With a player as funky as Silver present, it was small wonder that Getz was now starting to generate reviews that praised his middle- and up-tempo work almost as fulsomely as they did his ballads. In some quarters there was genuine surprise at this; one French jazz book of the 1950s declared with a hint of novelty that “on occasion he can be a great swingman,” almost as if this side of his gift were a lesser talent that ought not to detain listeners.
For the saxophonist himself, there was no need to be so cautious. “I can play different styles,” he told Metronome magazine the same month he'd recorded Navy Blue. “I'm not trying to shove any style or sound down people's throats. It's fun swingin' and getting 'hot' for a change instead of trying to be cool...I can be a real stompin' tenor man.”
In the same interview, he declared “I don't want to become stagnant,” which in retrospect sounds like an announcement of a slight shift in his emotional spectrum. As the sides with Silver had shown, he was equally capable of mixing fire and ice to good effect, very often demonstrating this new found alchemy most stunningly on simple, blues-based pieces. Even at the height of his “cool” period – the early 1950s – he continued to find a use for the most fundamental of jazz devices. On an atmospheric live recording made at Boston's Storyville jazz club in 1951, he and guitarist Jimmy Raney contrived to blend Lester Young's anthem Jumpin' With Symphony Sid with a new blues written by a young alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, Eleanor (this latter theme has gone uncredited on all previous issues of this performance; it is the opening unison line played ahead of Young's better-known melody). The effect was a Janus-faced celebration of jazz old and new, Getz and Raney telegraphing their initial swing era influences – Young and Charlie Christian – into the world of “modern” jazz.
The blues also made a handy meeting point for Getz and the other Norman Granz-signed soloists he “met” on various Norgran/Verve recordings during the mid-to-late Fifties. On the rocketing Impromptu, taken from a 1953 Diz and Getz summit with bop founders Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach, the trumpeter goes hell-for-leather, while Getz generates all his heat and excitement through pin-sharp articulation and an unflappable sense of time, regardless of the tear-arse tempo. “Dizzy really wanted a piece of Stan bad that day,” remembered the session's pianist Oscar Peterson in his autobiography. “Dizzy was out for blood.” Rather than a pugilistic fight to the death though, the ebullient bopfather got an ice-out, with Getz proving utterly impassive.
On another Granz-staged conference, recorded in 1955, while both headliners were in Hollywood shooting The Benny Goodman Story, Getz went head-to-head with veteran vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. The rest of Hamp and Getz was dominated a go-for-broke accounts of such warhorses as Jumpin' At The Woodside and Cherokee, but a single blues theme, Hampton's gently unfurling Gladys (named for his wife) struck a more modern note, its sequence utilising a subtly altered variant of the descending blues harmonies pioneered during the 1940s by Charlie Parker. Rather than coming undone in the heady star-on-star ambience both Getz and Hampton sound like the very souls of restraint.
1957 marked Getz's most concentrated period of recording to date, culminating a a series of Verve projects taped in the summer and autumn of the year, including albums cut with Gerry Mulligan, Ella Fitzgerald, J. J. Johnson and others.
Chocolate Sundae dates to an August (and august) session – aptly titled Jazz Giants '58 - uniting the saxophonist with a cross-generational phalanx of swing and post-bop stars, ranging from trumpeter Harry 'Sweets' Edison and drummer Louie Bellson to Gerry Mulligan and the Oscar Peterson trio. Despite Granz's on-sleeve declaration that “Mulligan'[s] deftly set head arrangements [give] more form and direction than in the usual improvised album” there is precious little to show for them on this track, which after bassist Ray Brown's solo opening takes more than a few minutes to find its groove. Of the horn soloists, Edison and Getz come out best, the tenorist also having the very last word.
A month later and Getz and the Peterson trio were in the middle of country-wide tour with Granz's Jazz at The Philharmonic package, pairing them with bop trombone pioneer J. J. Johnson. Two of the show's stop-overs were captured on tape with this version of Charlie Parker's blues Billie's Bounce (with Bellson on drums again, not Connie Kay as was stated on the original LP issue) coming from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, a location immortalised on an earlier Getz LP.
Although much of the novelty of this performance comes from hearing Johnson removed from his usual hard bop confrères (his own band's drummer at this time was Elvin Jones, a world away from Louie Bellson), it is Getz who steals the performance, offering up an improvisation at once heated and emotional, its whole tied together with a tone at times searingly hot. He's harmonically more daring too, casting about various superimposed chordal substitutes which, had they been played by a saxophonist with a less endearing sound, might well have made more ears prick up (another of Getz's gifts was his ability to sell you an angular or off-the-wall idea with you hardly noticing, the secret being to wrap the phrase up in a velvet tone).
Several nights later and Getz and three-quarters of his Shrine accompanists (this time minus a guest drummer) taped what must surely rank as one of the saxophonist's most relaxed albums, Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio, its contents shot through with an almost palpable sense of relief that a months' worth of nationwide plane and bus rides were now over. Donald Maggin characterised it as having “the easy, laid-back quality of a group of old friends jamming in a back room”. Indeed, there's a positively “after hours” feel to much of the proceedings, even on a piece originally left off the album, Blues For Herky, which begins with Peterson showing off his boogie-woogie chops. Guitarist Herb Ellis's back-country twang adds to the vibe, while Getz reveals a sense of time and pacing second to none. “It is one of the most enjoyable recordings I ever made,” he wrote of this session in 1980. “How refreshing to play with these pros – no drums needed, nor missed.”
If his solo on Blues For Herky were notably down-home then Getz's contributions to Ellis' own blues-themed album, taped the following day, were almost primeval. Nothing But The Blues is a gem of a record, playing to its leaders strongest musical suit (a sort of bluegrass-meets-bop folksiness) and enhanced greatly by two other deciding factors: the recruitment of Getz and trumpeter firecracker Roy Eldridge as a front-line to die for and the choice to omit a piano (an Oscar Peterson could have overcooked things here, for all his brilliance).
Recorded on the West Coast, the album might also have a loaded subtext; packaged in a cover design that could almost be a Blue Note pastiche and including a playlist that included such venerable choices as Royal Garden Blues, it may have been a nod to the prevailing mood of old time “funk” then emerging from New York, where players like Horace Silver and Sonny Rollins were drawing on jazz's back pages to come up with fresh themes like The Preacher and Doxy.
Nevertheless despite its excellence, Nothing But The Blues has always remained something of an obscurity, rarely if ever mentioned by Getz fans, waiting an age to receive a CD reissue, and still leaving his various biographers divided. Dave Gelly called it “a good idea that didn't quite come off”; Richard Palmer thought it “a splendid album” proving “[Getz] a man with real fire in his belly.” Donald Maggin loved the record too. “The session moves right down 'into the alley'”, he observed, “[and] Stan fits in beautifully as he leaves the complexities of bebop behind and wails plaintively in a traditional blues mode.”
Maggin could well have been writing specifically of Blues For Janet (written for Ellis' daughter), which to this writers ears contains one of Getz' finest solos of the era, quite a claim considering that it dates to a time when the saxophonist had set the bar especially high. It's not just the earthiness of his improvised lines that make it so; his tone too is warmer and fuller, somehow plugging the sonic gap left by the absence of a piano. Those in the studio with saxophonist that day certainly felt he'd excelled himself. “[He's] playing the greatest I've heard him,” remarked Roy Eldridge after the session. “He comes from the old school too, you know, and he proved it on that date. Most of the younger cats can't get with but one thing; Getz can fit into something like this too.”
Interviewed by Nat Hentoff the following year, the tenorist offered a little explanation as to how he'd grown of late. Playing with a quartet had helped, making him realise that a variety of approaches was the best way in which to escape the potential pitfalls of cool school monotony. “I can branch out into different areas of feeling,” he believed. “I can still be lyrical but also I play guttier and more basic… I've had to increase my control and take hold of my horn and myself and play in the widest scope of emotions.”
Getz made these comments in the sleeve notes to one of his least-known on-record trysts with a fellow jazz star, trumpeter Chet Baker. Perfect partners on paper, in real life the two famously detested each other (Getz's 1980's drummer Victor Lewis's summary of their relationship was delightfully understated; “they weren't exactly bosom buddies, that's for sure”) and as a result their Stan Meets Chet LP was less a summit of equals and more of a forced coalition. Even the one thing that might have saved the date – a friendly sounding blues – was absent, with Getz seemingly choosing a programme designed to make his “partner” sound as floppy as possible.
Yet 1958 was an especially good year for Getz on record, a fact masked by the usual dilemma of when and how record labels decide to issue their product. Alongside the Baker album (which had some stunning playing from the tenorist, tempered only by a wooden rhythm section), there was a session with various European musicians taped in the saxophonist's new adopted home of Copenhagen, to which he had moved that summer and, among his final US album dates, a collaboration with vibraphonist Cal Tjader, taped a week prior to his disastrous match with Baker, and one of the few sessions of this period to have been recorded outside of the umbrella of Norman Granz.
This time the idea of pitching two modern jazz stars together worked and the resulting album is a consistently rewarding recording, noted as much for the presence of two new jazz names in bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Billy Higgins (both of whom had been working a San Francisco engagement with Getz just prior to the session) as for the glorious ballad work of its two principles. It wasn't only the personnel that contained a hint of the future: Tjader's Ginza Samba looked ahead to the bossa-nova years, but, as original annotator Ralph J. Gleason observed the biggest kicks came on titles like Crow's Nest on which “you can hear [the headliners] as down low and funky with the best.” Alongside the leaders solos, LaFaro has a contribution that again points up the fact that jazz innovations always have one foot firmly in familiar territory.
Two classic Getz blues performances from the 1950s deserve to be mentioned in isolation from those discussed above, not because they are radical departures from the general emotional tenor of the preceding titles but because they illustrate – possibly more graphically than any others – the indelible stylistic connection that runs directly from Lester Young's conception of the blues to that of Getz.
The first, a 1954 version of Buster Harding's Nails, with Getz out front of the Count Basie Orchestra is the more overtly Young-like, doubtless due to the fact that both he and his idol were guesting with Basie that night, on a Carnegie Hall show also showcasing Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan. “Playing with Basie for a jazzman is the equivalent of a classical musician playing under Toscanini,” he later said.
At what is surely the most perfect of tempos, Getz unwinds two and a half minutes of pure jazz invention, telling a story in a vernacular that pays an explicit homage to his hero (hear those repeated Pres-like honks) while retaining his own identity. Performances like this flesh out Shorty Rogers recollection of the saxophonist being able to dip into whoever's bag he liked at will.
The spirit of Young also hovers over the magisterial Blues For Mary Jane, the highlight of Getz's iconic 1957 quartet album The Steamer, a name bestowed on the saxophonist by Oscar Peterson after a JATP show in which he had “battled” Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt, Illinois Jacquet, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt and Flip Phillips (“You ain't from the cool school you! You're The Steamer!”).
Named for Norman Granz's secretary, one Mary Jane Outwater, the performance is a masterpiece that exemplifies the best of jazz saxophone, complete with a refreshing use of two especially Young-like devices; an unaccompanied tenor introduction which playfully hints at a minor key before revealing the true tonality, and the inclusion of stop-time (in which the rhythm section outline only the first beat of every two bars of the twelve-bar framework, leaving Getz to fill the remainder).
The effect of the latter device shifts Getz up a gear, however is the general air of concentrated invention that impresses most. Across a solo lasting no fewer than twelve choruses, around three and a quartet minutes in length, the tenorist come up with a fund of newly minted yet unpretentious ideas, succeeding in tying each into an interconnected narrative. If anyone at the time had thought to examine this solo under the rigours of the then newly emerging practice of jazz transcription, as Gunther Schuller most famously did with Sonny Rollins' blues epic Blue 7, taped five months earlier, then Getz might well have found himself similarly tagged as a “thematic” improviser. What he plays here is anything but a mash-up of throwaway licks, each phrase suggesting the next and revealing a highly acute musical mind creating pure, unadulterated improvisation. “This is timeless music, unattached to any particular jazz fashion or movement or school”, wrote Dave Gelly of Blues For Mary Jane, putting his finger smack on what made Getz every bit as engaging on a blues as on a ballad (Oddly, Donald Maggin awards The Steamer a mere six lines in his biography, and fails to mention any of its six performances individually).
Timeless though his music may well be, Getz the man was a mere earthbound mortal, a person whose conflicting emotional facets left even those close to him bewildered as to who might be the “real” him – each left under the spell of another kind of Getz-generated blues.
“He was a very complex person,” remembered his friend the pianist Lou Levy, whose skilful accompaniment had added greatly to the success of Blues For Mary Jane. “A complete musician with a quite simple approach, a great instrumentalist, creative, with great time, and a sound like an angel.”
Along with the angel, though, came a demon, the ire-spitting beast who'd think nothing of using his fists to get his way, even on those he loved. It was this Getz, the contrary, ego-driven narcissist, that led many to treat him with kid gloves, or, at worst, to grow ever more disillusioned with their one-time idol. “How can a guy play so beautifully and be such a bastard?” mused one admirer, the English saxophonist Peter King, while Ronnie Scott characteristically used humour to mask his mixed feelings for his hero. “I got a slipped disc bending over backwards to please Stan Getz,” he would famously quip, a flippant line encapsulating the cocktail of deference and exasperation that would flavour their on-off relationship.
There's no doubt that Stan Getz left a trail of upset, confused and unhappy people in the backwash of his brilliance – lovers, promoters, fellow musicians, fans – all of whom experienced a conflicting melange of emotions when exposed to his art/personality dichotomy. There's no doubt too that he knew exactly what he'd done, only expressing true contrition when his health began to fail in the 1980s, by which time he'd burned far too many bridges.
Late in his life, with the cancer that was eventually to kill him in remission, he sought to mend his ways, forging a new, almost Born Again character that displayed humility and sensitivity as never before. Among those he reconnected with during this time was Shorty Rogers, whose own religious rebirth had led him to becoming a cornerstone (and leader of a community band) at Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California. Close to the end, Getz began dropping by.
“We had a lot of people there praying for him and he was very grateful and asked if he could come to one of the rehearsals,” remembered Rogers. “He brought his horn and they had a little blues arrangement and he just got up and blew a bunch of choruses with the guys. When he was done, he said, 'Can I just sit down and read the saxophone parts?' - and he played the rest of the rehearsal that way. Just playin' in the section.”
Full circle then: Getz rising out of a nondescript saxophone section to astonish Rogers and his fellow musicians with an outstanding blues chorus. It could have been 1941 all over again, only it wasn't; it was 1990 and Getz was on borrowed time. After his death in the summer of 1991, aged just 64, it fell to Rogers to arrange the scattering of his ashes in the Pacific ocean. “I thought before it happened that someone would say a prayer or something,” recalled Getz' old friend, “but the music said it all. Stan spoke to us all through the music.”
The stories Getz had told through the music, in a career stretching forty-five years, were many and varied, woven around all manner of material, stretching from Broadway ballads and the Sixties kitsch-beats of Burt Bacharach, to the Brazilian waves of the bossa-nova and the bedrock of American jazz, the blues, in all its hues.
On the surface, he'd led a life that refuted many of the deepest embedded clichés in jazz: he had more than his share of vices, but he'd led a commercially successful life whose trappings enabled him to by and large hide their impact. The wider world rarely, if ever, saw Stan Getz down or out. Those who still hang onto such romantic constructs as the questing, crestfallen artist finding greater truth and meaning following catalogues of professional failures won't find much to fuel their argument in Getz's life. The fact remains that Stan Getz the peerless artist was for most of his life in harness to Stan Getz the shrewd business brain. There was no hard-line subscription to the idea that great art cannot come from anyone who makes money; he made both, consistently. Indeed, he stands close to the centre of a select coterie of generational peers (Brubeck, Mulligan, Miles Davis) who could counter the half-joked claim that “millionaires can't play the blues”. He could and he did.
But somewhere, deep within the twisting, interlocked and yet separate characters that made up the public edifice called Stan Getz there lay a melancholy and a sadness that was every inch a match for that within the rural blues of the south, or the urban blues of Chicago or Kansas City. Where this came from is anyone's guess. Dave Gelly postulated that it might have been part of Getz' Jewish heritage – a sort of cantor cry transplanted to jazz; others from his less than comfortable upbringing in New York's East Bronx. Wherever it stemmed from, it's certain that the raging contradictions of pride and sorrow – the very schism that make the blues work as a consistently dignified expression of the human condition, regardless of idiom – were already in play within him as a young man. And they never left him: just hear his valedictory album People Time to hear a performer using his own tragedy – in this case, that of impending death – to colour his work a still deeper shade of blue. To some, this is simply too much, the moment when melodrama slips irretrievably into pathos, as it Getz were tooling his mortality into an on-stage gimmick; these are very likely that same people who'd earlier sold him short, as merely a pretty-boy talent who had it all and who treated those around his like dirt simply because he could.
Others might maintain that locked away inside of him was a nice guy – one of the “bunch” Zoot Sims spoke of – buried beneath years of selfishness and ego-bound destruction, and that, in the end, the warmth of his art was matched by that of his persona.
The reality is that Stan Getz – like all of us – was only human, and within his being had all the same inconsistencies and contradictions that we all have, only in his case these seemed to be exacerbated by what he called “a taut inner spring” which he maintained “propelled me to almost compulsively reach for perfection in music, often – in fact, mostly – at the expense of everything else in my life.” When the spring snapped, Getz could be a monster and the suffering - not only for those around him but for himself - was unconfined. Without that buckling inner coil, though, he mightn't have left us such immortal music – who can say for sure?
It's all too easy, too neat, far too poetic to close by saying something perfunctory like “Stan Getz played the blues so beautifully because he suffered” and leave it at that (Spike Milligan once compared the saxophonist's torturous mental state to that of Vincent Van Gogh). However one chooses to dress it up, and regardless of what may have been his motivation, the fact remains that he did so with all the passion and humanity that permeated all the other great musical achievements throughout his career, from his sui generis work with strings Focus to his pioneering essay in jazz-rock Captain Marvel, and beyond. On the surface, the blues may appear simply one tiny part of his language, a default dialect overshadowed by his brilliance at the ballad form and his innovative fusion with the bossa-nova. Actually, it was more akin to a mother tongue.
Indeed for Getz, blues playing wasn't ever a box-ticking exercise or a stylistic affectation; he was always – as they say these days - “present”, consistently choosing what Shorty Rogers called “real pretty notes”. There's no real revelation there; the statement “Stan Getz Played The Blues” is nothing new – it can't be spun or trumpeted as Fake News, nor has any publicly available data been manipulated to create such an idea. It's not even artful piece of post-millennial revisionism. It is what it's always been; the truth.”
Sleeve notes to Acrobat ACMCD 4398
Sleeve notes to Acrobat ACMCD 4398
1. Crazy Chords (Getz)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Al Haig (piano); Gene Ramey (bass); Stan Levey (drums)
June 21st 1949, New York City
Originally issued on 78rpm New Jazz/Prestige 811
2. Navy Blue (Getz)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Horace Silver (piano); Joe Calloway (bass); Walter Bolden (drums)
December 10th 1950, New York City
Originally issued on 10” LP Roost RLP 2258 – Stan Getz: The Getz Age
3. Jumpin' With Symphony Sid (Young)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Jimmy Raney (guitar); Al Haig (piano); Teddy Kotick (bass); Tiny Kahn (drums)
October 28th 1951, Storyville, Boston
Originally issued on 10” LP Roost RLP 411 – Stan Getz: Jazz at Storyville, Vol. 2
4. Impromptu (Gillespie)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet); Oscar Peterson (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Ray Brown (bass); Max Roach (drums)
December 9th 1953, Radio Recorders, Los Angeles
Originally issued on 10” LP Norgran MGN 18 – More of the Dizzy Gillespie/Stan Getz Sextet #2
5. Nails (Harding)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); with the Count Basie Orchestra
Wendell Culley, Renauld Jones, Thad Jones, Joe Newman (trumpets); Henry Coker, Benny Powell, Bill Hughes (trombones); Marshall Royal, Ernie Wilkins (alto saxophones); Frank Wess, Frank Foster (tenor saxophones); Charlie Fowlkes (baritone saxophone); Count Basie (piano); Freddie Green (guitar); Eddie Jones (bass); Gus Johnson (drums)
September 25h 1954, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Originally issued on 12” LP Roulette RE-126 – Count Basie, Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan: Echoes of An Era
6. Gladys (Hampton)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Lionel Hampton (vibraphone); Lou Levy (piano); Leroy Vinnegar (bass); Shelly Manne (drums)
August 1st 1955, Radio Recorders, Los Angeles
Originally issued on 12” LP Norgran 1037 – Lionel Hampton-Stan Getz: Hamp and Getz
7. Blues For Mary Jane (Getz)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Lou Levy (piano); Leroy Vinnegar (bass); Stan Levey (drums)
November 24th 1956, Radio Recorders, Los Angeles
Originally issued on 12” LP Verve MGV 8294 – Stan Getz: The Steamer
8. Chocolate Sundae (Peterson, Getz, Edison, Mulligan)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Harry 'Sweets' Edison (trumpet); Gerry Mulligan (baritone saxophone); Oscar Peterson (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Louie Bellson (drums)
August 1st 1957, Capitol Tower, Los Angeles
Originally issued on 12” LP Verve MGV 8248 – Jazz Giants '58
9. Billie's Bounce (Parker)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); J. J. Johnson (trombone); Oscar Peterson (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Louie Bellson (drums)
October 7h 1957, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
Originally issued on 12” LP Verve V6-8490 – Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson at The Opera House
10. Blues For Herky (Getz)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Oscar Peterson (piano); Herb Ellis (guitar); Ray Brown (bass)
October 10th 1957, Capitol Tower, Los Angeles
Originally issued on 12” LP Verve MGV 8348 – Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan/Stan Getz and The Oscar Peterson Trio
11. Blues For Janet (Ellis)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Roy Eldridge (trumpet); Her Ellis (guitar); Ray Brown (bass); Stan Levey (drums)
October 11th and 12th 1957, Capitol Tower, Los Angeles
Originally issued on 12” LP Verve MGV 8252 – Herb Ellis: Nothing But The Blues
12. Crow's Nest (Tjader)
Stan Getz (tenor saxophone); Cal Tjader (vibraphone); Vince Guaraldi (piano); Eddie Duran (guitar); Scott LaFaro (bass); Billy Higgins (drums)
February 8th 1958, Marines Memorial Auditorium, San Francisco
Originally issued on 12” LP Fantasy 3266 Cal Tjader/Stan Getz Sextet