© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“*****Stan Getz:The Complete Roost Recordings Roost 859622-2 3CD
“So much attention has fallen on Getz's later work that these magnificent sessions are sometimes overlooked. No longer any need for that, now the complete works have been gathered across three generously filled CDs, with three new tunes.
The earliest tracks, from a session in May 1950, catch a young man with his head full of bebop and his heart heavy with swing-era romanticism. Those contrary strains sometimes come together, such as in the headily beautiful 'Yesterdays', in a marriage of intellect and emotion that is rare not only in Getz's work but in jazz itself. These two early dates, one with Al Haig, one with Horace Silver, are little short of electrifying. By 1951, he already sounds like the more settled, invincible Getz, but the short track-lengths (a relic of the 78 era) give the music considerable point and direction.
The live session from Boston's Storyville Club with Jimmy Raney has long been a prized classic, both musicians unreeling one great solo after another. Two studio dates with a similar band are at a lower voltage but are scarcely less impressive. Eight tracks with Johnny Smith, including the achingly lovely 'Moonlight In Vermont', offer Getz the lyricist in fullest flow, while the three with Basie at Birdland are like a fun bonus.
There is so much top-flight jazz in this set that it's quite indispensable, and brought together in one place and remastered to a consistent standard, it's breathtaking.”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
Perhaps, after you’ve read the following, you’ll better understand why I make such a point of, as it states in the blog banner, “... featuring the work of guest writers and critics on the subject of Jazz.”
The best writers on the subject are Jazz Masters in their own right.
For as Peter Keepnews succinctly put it:
“Those of us who have tried writing about Jazz know what a daunting challenge it can be to do it well. Expressing an opinion about a given musician or recording is easy; explaining what exactly it is that makes that musician or recording worth caring about is not.”
And then there are guys like Doug Ramsey, who seem to knock the cover off the ball every time they come to bat [am I mixing metaphors here? -
Nobody does “... explaining what exactly it is that makes that musician or recording worth caring about …” better than Doug, and he’s been doing it consistently well for a very long time.
So when I started to dig around my Stan Getz collection after reading John Coltrane’s reference to Stan to wit - “Let’s face it, we’d all sound like that if we could” - I was determined to find a written description of what John meant about Getz’s sound.
I didn’t have to look far, for ‘lo and behold,’ there were - you guessed it - Doug Ramsey’s insert notes to Stan Getz:The Complete Roost Recordings Roost 859622-2 3CD which took me exactly where I wanted to go in terms of a detailed explanation of what made tenor saxophonist Stan Getz - “The Sound.”
© - Doug Ramsey, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with permission.
“On May 17, 1950, Stanley Getz from the Bronx was about to record with a world-class rhythm section. He was 23, an age at which many young men are wondering what to do with their lives.
Even al that early stage, his life had not been easy, but he never had a doubt about its path. As a junior high school bassist, he discovered that he had perfect pitch and perfect rhythm. His sight-reading developed as if by magic. His remarkable mind photographed music. In the words of his biographer, Donald Maggin, "he possessed musical gifts which are missing in ordinary mortals." [Donald Maggin, Stan Getz A Life in Jazz, William Morrow 1996.]
After a stint with the bassoon (lessons from Stanley Kovar ol the New York Philharmonic). Stanley switched to the alto saxophone and practiced eight hours a day. He joined the musicians union at 14. When he was barely 15 he was playing tenor sax with the Dick Rogers band at the Roseland dance emporium in Manhattan. While his mother was visiting relatives m Philadelphia, he talked his father into letting him go on the road with Jack Teagarden. The pay was 70 dollars a week, double what his dad made when he was able to find work as a printer. When the New York State truancy laws caught up with Getz and Teagarden in St. Louis, the great trombonist was able to keep his young saxophonist in the band by signing as Stanley's guardian. Getz never returned to school, but he got an education from Teagarden.
"In my early years, working with Jack Teagarden had the most effect on me," Getz told a reporter in 1964. "That was a very good introduction to professional music for me. Teagarden was a great musician. His playing is timeless - and it's logical. He adopted me. and he taught me a lot, especially about bending my right elbow.”
Precocious in music, Getz was precocious in life. Teagarden, one of the great drinkers of his time, introduced Stanley to booze. Shortly after, Getz took up nicotine. In his nine months with Teagarden, Getz became a chain smoker and chain drinker. His introduction to heroin was just down the road, in the back of Stan Kenton's band bus. A classic addictive personality, he was immediately hooked, virtually for life. He was unable to leave heroin behind until he was in his sixties.
Getz had a combative manner and an insatiable ego. Combined with the instability and deviousness of the addict, they established a behavior pattern that made him few friends even among fellow musicians who loved his playing. He was a walking psychiatric casebook. Zoot Sims voiced the nearly universal assessment of Getz the man: "Stan's a real nice bunch of guys.”
Getz was 17 when he was with Kenton. He quit after he asked the boss what he thought of the improvising of Lester Young, whose playing the fledgling tenor star adored. Kenton offended him by telling him that he thought that Young's work was too simple. Getz went on to Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Buddy Morro, Randy Brooks, Herbie Fields and Butch Stone. He worked in a Los Angeles band led by Tommy DeCarlo and arranged by Gene Roland and Jimmy Giuffre. The band was the incubator for a new saxophone section sound, four tenors rather than the traditional combinations of tenors, altos and baritone.
In 1947. on the verge of reorganizing. Woody Herman heard DeCarlo's four-tenor sound and liked it. Herman hired Getz, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward, experimented with the blend and ended up substituting Serge Chaloff’s baritone sax for Giuffre’s tenor. After Al Cohn replaced Steward, the section of Getz, Sims, Cohn and Chaloff was featured in a Giuffre's composition called “Four Brothers.” The name of the piece became the name of the section, quite likely the most famous ever in a big band. The Four Brothers sound came to identify Herman's Second Herd.
Herman's December, 1948 recording of Ralph Burns "Early Autumn' featured a lyrical solo by Getz. By the time the record came out in 1949, Getz had left the band and was in New York supporting his family by playing odd jobs, including parades. The popularity of his work on "Early Autumn” made him, at the age of 22, one ot the best known jazz artists in the world. Parades were a thing of the past.
Now it was a year later and he was in the studio for Roost Records, in charge of a rhythm section frequently employed by Charlie Parker, the most admired and emulated saxophonist in modern jazz. Seven Roost sessions during 1951, '52, and '53 would produce recordings that extended Getz’s fame and made a wide audience aware of his qualities: a pure tone that often soared into the range of the alto saxophone; an instinct for melodic beauty; an ear for subtle harmonic possibilities; senses of time and timing that invested his playing with compelling swing and interior rhythms He melded elements of Parker and Young with a poignancy that spoke of longing and loss and pierced listeners' emotions. Getz's solid, blue-eyed. Ali-American good looks added to his appeal.
"He was a good musician, I'll say that. He could play the hell out of a melody." Drummer Roy Haynes was speaking in 1997, six years after Getz’s death. 47 years after the first Roost session.
"I had been playing for Lester Young,” Haynes told me, "and I had become one of the favorites of a lot of the tenor players. Brew Moore and Wardell Gray were two I recorded with. Al Haig and I had played together with Tommy Potter on other dates as well.
Haynes said the music with Getz was rewarding, the working conditions were daunting. "He could play his ass off, but he’d get into his drinking and his drugs and all that, as a lot of the artists did. So he was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You had to be ready to deal with whatever the situation was. Sometimes he could be like an angel for a few minutes, a sweet guy. One time we were flying down South, drinking and being jolly. We were having fun. There were a few moments like that when we had a lot of laughs. But it never lasted long. He could be that way for 15 minutes, but for the rest of the hour he would be a terror."
Haynes' section mates for the May, 1950, date were Haig and bassist Potter. Getz and the pianist had recorded together in 1948 for a fly-by-night label with the original, if unmarketable, name of "Sittin' In With," and in 1949 and early 1950 for Savoy and Prestige. Getz called Haig. "the best accompanist in the business." Harmonically adroit with quick reflexes and exquisite placement of chords. Haig was also a favorite of Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Haig's liquidity and Getz's clarity are immediately evident in "On the Alamo." The alternate take is a bit unsettled, and the ending doesn't quite work. In the next take, Getz's rhythm is firmly centered. The beginning of his second solo demonstrates that he and Paul Desmond were affected by the same aspects of Lester Young.
The depth and openness of Getz’s tone at the beginning of "Gone With the Wind” are far from the alto sound of his upper register. Following his sweet paraphrase of the melody at the end of his chorus, he eases through a coda full of modulations and downward-spiraling phrases, each with its own propulsiveness The execution is exquisite.
'Yesterdays," one of his classic performances, is the essence of Getz the ballad artist. His Ravel-like abstractions in bars 17 and 18, a minute and twenty seconds into the track, constitute one of the most stunning moments he ever put on record.
Since the original Roost issue, "Sweetie Pie" has often been credited to Getz. but it was written in 1934 by John Jacob Loeb and recorded in that year by Fats Waller. Typically, Waller had fun with it, Getz does too, and adds to the playfulness a dimension of lyricism. Haig echoes Getz’s 16th-note flurries. Haynes executes a classic bop ride cymbal pattern that makes the swing irresistible, as it is in Cole Porter's “You Go to My Head." The 16-bar coda to the Porter song contains, among other things, an illustration of why horn players lined up to play with Al Haig: his comping behind Getz's ruminating modulations.
The pre-"Shadow of Your Smile" Johnny Mandel played bass trumpet in Getz's band for a short time and contributed a few pieces to his book. "Hershey Bar" is representative of Mandel's well-crafted tunes. Following Haig’s solo, Getz makes his memorable re-entry with an idea from "Paper Moon."
For the December, 1950 and May, 1951 dates. Getz brought aboard a rhythm section headed by the young pianist Horace Silver. Silver's accompanying style, rolling and buoyant, is immediately evident and may have had something to do with the slightly harder edge in Getz's solo on "Tootsie Roll" and his aggressive one in "Strike Up the Band." As he opens his own "Strike Up the Band" solo, Silver, a quotemaster, alludes to "The Hut-Sut Song."
When I talked with Silver about his days with Getz, I started to tell him that I wouldn't ask him to repeat the famous story about how Getz discovered him in 1950 when Silver was 21. Before I could get the words out of my mouth, he was off and running.
"I was playing at the Sundown Club in Hartford. Connecticut. Thursday, we had jam session night. It wasn't the regular band. It was my trio. Walter Bolden on drums and Joe Galloway on bass and myself on piano, and cats would come in that night and jam. So they invited Lucky Thompson up one Thursday night. The next person they brought up, maybe a month or two later, was Stan Getz as the guest artist, and we backed him up. He liked our rhythm section. He said that he was thinking about using us. And we said. 'Ah, he's just being polite.’ Two weeks later, though, the phone rang and it was Stan. He said, look I'm going to Philadelphia to play the Club Harlem and I want you guys to join me.' We went, we joined him and I stayed with him about a year."
Silver, one of the most successful musicians of his generation, still sounds awed by Getz nearly half a century later. "Playing with him for that year made me realize what a truly great musician he was. They don't come like that every day. You know, he could play in any key fluently, any tempo, and he covered his horn from top to bottom. He hit the high notes and the low notes with ease, and he could read his ass off. He was just a really great musician."
Silver seems to have learned to live with the Getzian storms that Roy Haynes described. "I had great admiration for his talent, and he was a beautiful person, too. You had to understand him. He had his moods. He could be a little ornery or evil sometimes. But he was a Gemini. One minute they're smiling and the next minute they've got a frown on their faces. When he got in those kinds of bags where he didn't want to talk or acted kind of weird or something, I'd just kind of bow out or keep quiet, or go somewhere else or not be around. And then when I saw him smiling and he was groovin,’ I'd go around him and try to hang with him. You just have to understand, that's the Gemini personality.
"I always tell everybody, thank God Stan Getz took me out of Hartford."
In the quartet dates with Silver. Getz is notably relaxed. The alternate take of "Imagination" can be considered a rehearsal for the brilliantly realized version that follows. Getz's tone at the end is a startling replication of that of the great clarinetist Irving Fazola.
Although quoting was not a major component of his style, Getz seems to have escalated it in Silver's company. In "'’S Wonderful," he summons up "Surrey With a Fringe on Top." In "It Might as Well be Spring." there's a lovely use of the main phrase of "Darn that Dream." He throws in a bit of "Old Man River" during "For Stompers Only," the first take of the blues also known as "Navy Blue." During the course of the two blues tracks alone, Silver borrows from "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." Mendelssohn's "Spring Song." "The Irish Washerwoman" and "Bill." In "Out of Nowhere." he manages snatches of "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down." "Willow Weep for Me" and "My Man." all in an abbreviated solo that achieves continuity despite its disparate elements. Silver is a superb craftsman. He and Getz were a felicitous combination.
Getz and Jimmy Raney comprised one of the great front-line partnerships in all of jazz. They recorded together in Getz's quintet for 16 months ending in April. 1953. Nearly five decades later that band is still a model of swing, precision, daring and empathy. The excitement it generated was captured in live recordings made at Boston’s Storyville club on October 28,1951.
Raney, the son of a Louisville newspaper editor, was seven months younger than Getz. In photographs taken during the Storyville engagement, the two look as if they could be working their way through high school. Al Haig was at the piano. The bassist was Teddy Kotick. much prized by Charlie Parker. The powerhouse drummer was Tiny Kahn, also a respected composer and arranger.
The Storyville tapes captured some of the most intricate playing ever heard from a jazz group. "Thou Swell" introduces the concept. "The Song is You" makes it unmistakably clear. With musicians of the technical capabilities of Getz and Raney. intricacy did not come at the cost of drive and emotion. Like his friend Miles Davis. Getz was tagged with the cliche label, "cool." Like Davis, he could lay back, but each could also generate heat, not that of a conflagration but of the blue flame from a gas-fed torch. There is no better demonstration of the empathy and fire that Getz and Raney shared than "The Song is You." For all of its counterpoint interaction, this is a hot performance. In Raney's bitonal ending, it concludes in some of the risk-taking this band loved.
This collection includes superb previously unissued versions of "Signal." "Budo" and "Wildwood." discovered by producer Michael Cuscuna shortly before final production of the album. When I played them for the bassist Clipper Anderson, he said, "Good heavens, these are outtakes?"
“Mosquito Knees," one of several tunes in the Getz book by alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, is a prime recorded instance of unison playing in which Getz's saxophone and Raney's guitar breathe, phrase, and think as one. Their unity is as complete as that of Parker and Gillespie. Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. Art Farmer and Jim Hall.
Raney sits out "Pennies From Heaven." Getz solos all the way and has a great rubato coda buoyed by Kotick's bowing The empathy of Kahn and Kotick is especially evident in this performance.
“ Move" is a bit too fast for Raney and Getz to cleanly execute all of the jumps in the melody, but their solos and Haig's proceed with dexterity. So do the exchanges of fours with Kahn. Kahn's solo elicits a famous-and nicely placed-"yahay-eeee" from a member of the Storyville audience. "Parker 51" is named for Charlie Parker and based on "Cherokee." which he established as a bebop staple. It is faster than fast, but Raney and Getz play the complex head as clean as a whistle The blowing choruses are torrid.
Mandel's ' Hershey Bar" is a nice romp abruptly ended, perhaps by a slip of the engineer's finger or the tape running out. Frank Rosolino’s minor-key "Rubberneck" continues the up-tempo adventures leading to Raney's unusual "Signal," 48 bars of descending harmonies. Haig's genius at accompaniment eases Getz and Raney through this challenging material. Kahn’s skill with brushes and cymbals is essential to the success of the expedition.
There is more of Getz's ballad magic on Matt Dennis's "Everything Happens to Me" and Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays." He pays tribute to his mentor with Lester Young's “Jumpin' With Symphony Sid." Getz and Raney, in flawless unison, precede the "Sid" theme with one written by Gigi Gryce. In later years the line came to be called "Stan's Blues." It was in Getz’s repertoire until at least the late 1980s. In his solo, Getz employs a few of Prez's devices, including a series of false-fingered Cs. Raney picks up Getz’s final phrase to begin his own solo. Following solos from Haig and Kotick, both melody lines are reprised and the blues closes with an ending appropriate for a concert at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The originally issued take of "Budo" and the new one of "Wildwood" end the Storyville date, a momentous evening in the annals of music recorded on location.
The quintet studio recordings that preceded the Storyville engagement by three months included Horace Silver, Roy Haynes and bassist Leonard Gaskin. They observe the time limits dictated by 78rpm singles but do not want for excitement, as Gryce's "Melody Express" makes clear. Getz's solo opens with a phrase epitomizing the tonal qualities that earned him the nickname. "The Sound." He all but swaggers through two choruses. Raney and Silver are equally propulsive, and Haynes surges behind the out-chorus.
Getz and Raney do their Castor and Pollux act on Gryce's "Yvette" and Silver's "Potter's Luck." The short time permitted "The Song is You" doesn't allow the band to build up the head of steam they were to generate in the Storyville version, but the counterpoint is thrilling. "Wildwood." with its surprise melody transition to the bridge, wraps up the session.
For Getz's December 19,1952, Roost date, Duke Jordan was the pianist; Getz and Parker had an affinity for the same accompanists. Frank Isola was the drummer. Bill Crow the bassist. Crow, then and now a stalwart of the jazz scene, recently recalled Getz's style of leadership.
"I think we only rehearsed a couple of times in all the months I was with him," Crow told me. "The first group, we didn't rehearse at all. Jimmy Raney showed me a couple of chord changes on tunes that I didn't know. I was lucky in those days: the style of drummers was light, so I could hear myself and I could hear what everybody was doing. It wasn't until some years later that everybody started pouring on the volume. It seemed like Stan just chose musicians that he was comfortable playing with and picked tunes he liked, and we played. There weren't any particular requirements to do anything more than that. You had to play his hit once in a while, “Moonlight In Vermont.” But other than that, he was in the best position of anybody I knew at that time to do whatever he liked and still fill the house."
The similarity of Getz's conception to Al Cohn's in places on "Lullaby of Birdland" was no coincidence, according to Crow.
"I know he admired Al Cohn's inventiveness, melodically. and felt that he had gotten a lot of ideas about how to approach jazz from Al. He felt badly that Al had never gotten the recognition that Stan felt he deserved."
The ending Raney suggested for "Lullaby of Birdland" has been copied by musicians around the world. The two takes of "Autumn Leaves" and the one of "These Foolish Things" recall an observation Getz made to tenor saxophonist Don Lanphere when Lanphere described the effect on his wife of Getz's ballads: "Oh, I know that there are those who might swing harder than I, but I'm very big with the ladies."
"When Duke Jordan came on the group." Crow says. "Stan mentioned that he thought Duke's intros were wonderful and he encouraged him to play something on almost every tune." Samples of Jordan's introductions are provided on the two takes of "Fools Rush In." He has a brief solo on "Lullaby of Birdland."
During his tenure with Getz, Raney became increasingly disturbed by the leader's behavior stemming from drugs and alcohol. Crow, an invaluable chronicler of the jazz life, wrote in his book, From Birdland to Broadway (Oxford) about seeing Getz nearly kill himself with an overdose. Author Gene Lees knew Raney during Lees' days as a newspaperman in Louisville, before he became editor of Down Beat He recounted to me a story Raney told him.
"Stan went through one of his periods of cleaning up. The group had about a week off before an opening in St. Louis, so Jimmy went home to Louisville to spend time with family. When he reached St. Louis, he went to Stan's hotel room and knocked on the door. Stan answered, conspicuously stoned. Jimmy said. 'Ah, Stan, what're you doing that for? The group's getting work, we're making a little money, and you're stoned again.'
"'Who. me?,” Stan said, which was his famous line. I’m not doing anything.' "'I just have to look in your eyes.' Jimmy said.
"Stan vehemently denied he was doing dope." Finally, Jimmy said," ‘Look, Stan. I can see your works in there on the dresser.'
"And Stan indignantly said. 'And you've let me stand here and lie for ten minutes?'"
Raney gave Getz notice in December of 1952. after a disagreement at a recording session for Norman Granz's Clef label. He finished the record, and he and Getz recorded together for Prestige under Raney's name the following spring, but Raney went on to work in a duo with the inventive pianist Jimmy Lyon.
"Moonlight in Vermont" was indeed a hit for Getz, but it was Johnny Smith's record. The guitarist used Getz in a series of exquisite chamber music recordings in 1952. An amazing technician, one of the premier guitarists of his day, Smith was as respected as Raney and Tal Farlow. His and Getz's dazzling unison work on "Where or When." "Tabu" and "Jaguar." equaled that of Getz and Raney. Smith's group, particularly in its fast pieces, was inspired by the sextet of Benny Goodman, with whom both he and Getz had worked. In the days when popular music was often good music, their "Moonlight in Vermont" was a fixture on radio stations and juke boxes for months, and it greatly added to Getz's popularity.
The final three tracks of the collection were recorded at Birdland. Getz's frequent New York headquarters, for Roulette, which inherited the Roost catalogue. The occasion was an engagement of Count Basie's amazing swing machine of the mid-1950s, with Getz as featured guest. Birdland's omnipresent greeter, Pee Wee Marquette, makes the introduction. Getz tackles Neil Hefti's "Little Pony" and Buster Harding's blues, "Nails," both originally recorded by Basie's 1951 band with Warden Gray as tenor soloist. His piece de resistance, however, is "Easy Living." in which his solo flows with the beauty of Lester Young. The beginning of his second chorus is pure Pres.
Getz went on to musical triumphs and to prodigies of self-administered pain. His 1961 collaboration with Eddie Sauter, "Focus," was one of the glories of his career. His bossa nova successes, "Desafinado" in 1962 and "The Girl From Ipanema" in 1963, made him wealthy. They were also two of the last cases in which music of uncompromising artistic quality made the hit parade. Through the 1970s and '80s, Getz continued to make bewitchingly beautiful music even as he left behind the wreckage of his life and the lives of his family.
It is said that in his last year or so, Stan Getz found a semblance of peace. For his contribution to the art of the twentieth century, he deserved it.
Doug Ramsey is the author of Jazz Matters Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers (University of Arkansas Press) and a regular contributor to Jazz Times. Doug is also the author of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond [Parkside Publications, 2005]. You can visit with him on his blog via this link.