Sunday, October 8, 2017

Stan Getz - East of the Sun: The West Coast Sessions - The Ted Gioia Notes

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


“Flawless technique, perfect time, strong melodic sense and more than enough harmonic expertise, fabulous memory, and great ears. Add a superb sense of dynamics, pacing, and formal. Top this off with a sound of pure gold, and you have Stan Getz.


He was a charismatic musician. His music actually affected the course of people's lives. They fell in love with his music. They fell in love because of his music, and they made love to his music.


My association with Stan started in Woody Herman's Second Herd, the "Four Brothers" band. Stan was already in the band when the Jimmy Giuffre original "Four Brothers" was recorded for Columbia Records. But the real breakthrough came with the recording of Ralph Burns' "Early Autumn" at Radio Recorders in Hollywood for Capitol Records. By that time I had become a band member. I was fortunate to work with Stan from that time on — playing, recording, and traveling together in the Forties. Fifties, Sixties. Seventies. Eighties and, finally, in 1990.


After Stan left the Woody Herman band in 1949, he made a string of important recordings, including Jazz At Storyville,  the "Moonlight in Vermont" series with Johnny Smith Focus with Eddie Sauter and the huge success, Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa novas "Desafinado” and "The Girl From Ipanema".


When Verve first asked me to contribute to this presentation. I accepted without hesitation. Then the tapes arrived. Listening to previously released material was great, but a lot of the unissued takes became further proof of the unfaltering quality of Stan's playing.


These recordings contain many outstanding solos by Slan. but if I had to choose one. it would be the lengthy solo on "S-h-i-n-e". This has been a topic of conversation since it was first released. It is Stan in full stride.


When an artist leaves a legacy of recordings such as Stan's, it is overwhelming. But when the artist affects the lives of his audience, he is then in a class with a chosen few. Such an artist is Stan Getz.


On the bandstand and in the studio he brought out the best in those who played with him.


And I for one say, "Thank you. Stanley."
- LOU LEVY, Jazz pianist


The insert notes to the Verve three CD set Stan Getz - East of the Sun: The West Coast Sessions [314 531 935-2] by the distinguished writer Ted Gioia were made a hash of when they were formatted into the booklet.


I’ve rarely seen a more garbled mess disgrace such important Jazz recordings.


The irony here is that Ted is the penultimate all-things-West-Coast-Jazz historian and was actually contracted by Verve to produce these notes!


What a waste.


But fear not; the editorial staff at JazzProfiles contacted Ted and he gave his blessing to having his notes developed into manuscript form so that they can be clearly read as presented on these pages.


“I remember how unhappy I was with the layout of liner notes in the booklet, which made it almost impossible to read the text. I'd be very happy to see them made available online.”


Nothing like making one of the best writers on the subject of Jazz “happy.”


© -Ted Gioia, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.


“Stan Getz always equivocated about the West Coast jazz scene. During the late 1980s, when he lived in California. I frequently had the opportunity to talk with him about various jazz musicians, both current and historical. He was bluntly honest during these informal discussions. Typically sparing in the compliments he paid other performers (except for a handful of figures he clearly admired), he seemed especially reserved about many of the prominent West Coast names. Getz kept a safe distance from the local scene during these years, and he almost always had a rhythm section flown in from New York for important gigs. Even while soaking up the sun and enjoying the ambiance of West Coast life, Getz seemed an inveterate East Coast character in his attitudes, mannerisms, language, and temperament


Imagine my surprise at his reaction, when I told him one day that I was researching a book on West Coast jazz. He looked at me in silence for a moment, puzzled, then asked.  “Do you include me in West Coast jazz?" For all his aloofness, he knew how strong his ties were to the California scene, not just in the Eighties but also during the glory days of West Coast jazz in the Fifties. Yet looking at his career in retrospect, he honestly didn't know if he was a West Coast jazz musician.


Was he? These recordings from the mid-Fifties include the most powerful statements in defense of Getz as a major exponent of jazz on the dream coast. Joined by some of the finest players on the Los Angeles scene. Getz participated in a series of memorable sessions. The title of the initial LP release of some of this material left little doubt about the intended marketing angle: It was simply called West Coast Jazz.


This was a long way from Getz's Philadelphia birthplace and childhood in the Bronx. He often dismissed the impact of these formative years on his career, offering snippets of information or relating a meandering anecdote about his first performance on the harmonica. Yet the evidence clearly shows that Getz was a phenomenal talent almost from the start. The late Shorty Rogers mentioned rehearsing in a band with Getz when the latter was barely in his teens and had only been playing saxophone for a few months But even then. Getz was garnering a reputation as a sax prodigy attracting the attention of bandleaders. He lasted for only one year of high school, but had he persisted he might well have fulfilled his teacher’s dream of attending Juilliard. Getz’s primary instrument was the bassoon at this point and he quickly earned a coveted spot in the all-New York student orchestra.


The jazz life had already beckoned and the tenor sax replaced the bassoon as Getz’s horn of choice. Truant officers were tracking him down at the Roseland Ballroom bandstand. So before long Getz bid adieu to James Madison High School choosing to go on the road with trombonist Jack Teagarden. The tenor saxophonist was so young that Teagarden had to be named his legal guardian. Stardom also came at an early age. Getz was barely out of his teens when he dazzled jazz fans with his celebrated playing on Early Autumn with the Woody Herman band.


Getz gravitated to the West Coast in his early career At age sixteen, he traveled to Los Angeles while still with Teagarden. He returned to California as an 18-year-old bandleader in 1945, leading a trio at the Swing Club in Hollywood, but he soon left to go on the road with Benny Goodman. He returned again some time later and parlayed a gig at a Mexican ballroom into a celebrated stint with Herman.


At Pete Pontrelli's Spanish Ballroom, the unlikely staging ground for this movement, Getz participated in the development of a completely new jazz style, one that came to be known as the "Four Brothers' sound". The band's repertoire on this gig consisted primarily of stock arrangements of Mexican and Spanish tunes, supplemented by an occasional jazz chart. But arranger Gene Roland was working on a new way of voicing the sax section, which Jimmy Giuffre took and refined further for the Herman band. The result was a lightly swinging ensemble featuring three tenor and one baritone saxophones — with Getz helping to recreate the sound from Pontrelli's in his new role as a Herman sideman. The recording of “Four Brothers,” from the close of 1947, exhilarated listeners — so much so that jazz fans were soon calling this edition of the Herman orchestra the "Four Brothers band".


By this time. Getz had developed the translucent tenor tone and softly swinging style that gave an airy lightness to the Four Brothers' sound and would distinguish his mature work. Getz's debt to Lester Young in this regard has often been cited, and Getz was the first to admit he admired the older tenor saxophonist. Yet Getz brought a more overtly modernist sensibility to his playing that sharply distinguished it from Young's. Although Getz was never an ardent bebopper, he had listened carefully to Charlie Parker and brought a deep understanding of modern jazz into his own, cooler style.


This influence is especially marked on these West Coast sessions, where Getz draws uncharacteristic inspiration from bop-inflected tunes, such as Gillespie's A Night in Tunisia and Woody 'n' You, and offers a tour de force solo on S-h-i-n-e. These progressive leanings were evident throughout Getz's career, as seen by his constant use of young sidemen with new musical ideas. One recalls with admiration how, more than a decade after these sides, Getz was careening over Phrygian scales and navigating through some of Chick Corea's most complex material on another Verve release, the seminal Sweet Rain. On that record he showed a daring unmatched by any other Young disciple from the postwar years. Or listen to another Verve outing, the justly celebrated Focus, which finds Getz engaging in a marvelously intricate dialogue with a string section. The claim that Getz merely commercialized a variant of the Young sound falls to the ground after even the most casual listening to these recordings.


But what Getz did learn from Young was his essentially melodic approach to improvisation. Throughout most of the history of jazz, the prevailing approach to the tenor sax has stressed the harmonic possibilities of the instrument. Substitute changes, intricate cadences, unusual modes that imply equally exotic harmonies — a range of techniques has been used in the paradoxical attempt to extract a chordal texture from this inherently monophonic instrument. Getz, like Young, never got caught up in this quixotic pursuit. Instead both adopted an unabashedly linear approach, unapologetic in its lyricism There was an almost brutal honesty in this style. No shiny ornaments were hung out to distract attention from its melodic core.


"Players like Stan and Al Cohn (another Young follower from the period] thought about the song more than other jazz musicians," pianist Lou Levy remarks. "The melody line was important to them. I suspect that Stan paid attention to the lyrics as well. I remember giving him the music to the song “No More” — one of the pieces that Billie Holiday used to sing. Stan looked over the sheet. 'It's a good story,' he said, and we went on to play it." His solos had the flow of a well-paced narrative. Yet the structure never got in the way of the music's emotional immediacy. Few players of any generation could construct solos of such logic and rigor while maintaining a depth of feeling and, at times, such poignancy.


These virtues made Getz a natural participant in the West Coast scene that gained notoriety in the early Fifties. The influence of Young was especially prominent among the Los Angeles saxophone players of this period. The emerging cool-Jazz style, which Getz had helped promote with his early work, was also making waves near the Pacific. Getz's Los Angeles-based band with Bob Brookmeyer reflected this side of the West Coast aesthetic, with a formalist compositional approach somewhat akin to the Mulligan-Baker group efforts from the same period. (This similarity was perhaps more than a coincidence, since Getz-Brookmeyer were working at the Ambassador Hotel when Mulligan-Baker were gracing the bandstand across the street at the Haig.) Getz later joined Mulligan on a celebrated Verve recording in 1957, and he occasionally collaborated with other leading West Coast players. Yet these tended to be exceptions to the rule. Getz spent most of the Fifties in musical pursuits far afield from the West Coast jazz scene: in heated jam sessions with Jazz at the Philharmonic; in exceptional recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, and other bop masters; and leading a variety of ensembles under his own name. Many of these settings no doubt resulted from Getz's relationship with record producer Norman Granz. Granz had only a limited interest in the burgeoning West Coast scene, and his projects with Getz mostly reflected this attitude.


But by the middle of the decade, the West Coast label had proved to be such an effective marketing device that even Granz was taking notice. Getz and Granz were now determined to make a more dedicated foray into the West Coast scene. On July 27, 1955 Getz made the plunge when he kicked off an engagement at Zardi's, a major Southern California jazz club on Hollywood Boulevard, fronting a new West Coast quintet. This combo was essentially a pickup group, organized specifically for the Zardi's gig. But the quality of the musicians more than compensated for the lack of rehearsal time. Audiences were dazzled by the new California combo. By the time the quintet entered the studio, some two weeks later, to undertake the first of the sessions included here, it sounded like a veteran unit.


Getz drew on some of the finest players on the Los Angeles scene for these sessions. Levy had played with Getz in the Herman band and had recently relocated to California from his native Chicago. In an interview from the period, Getz pointed out that Levy was “more than a two-handed pianist. He plays with all ten fingers.” Levy's orchestral approach and harmonic ingenuity is well-documented on these recordings. Listen to him move into a polytonal mood midway through his solo on There Will Never Be Another You, pushing the chord changes to their limits. Although Levy has often been labeled a bebop pianist, his roots go much deeper. His earliest models in the jazz world were, in fact, the big bands that he heard in his native Chicago. The pianists he listened to were especially diverse. "I heard Al Haig before I heard Bud Powell, and before them I heard Nat Cole. But I was listening to Teddy Wilson long before that. And of course there was Art Tatum who was in a category of his own.”


“The most prominent sound in the the rhythm section on these Getz sessions is Leroy Vinnegar’s bass,” explains Levy with characteristic modesty. “You can hear its strong rhythmic presence.


“Leroy is always there, his time is as solid as a rock, and everyone plays off him." Like so many of the Indiana natives who made their mark in modern Jazz (Carl Perkins, the Montgomery brothers. Freddie Hubbard), Vinnegar boasts an uncanny knack for swinging effortlessly, for propelling a Jjzz band without any wasted energy.


Shelly Manne, who worked with Vinnegar in many settings over the years, lets the bass serve as the pulse of the band, using his drum kit to supply color and deepen the textures of the ensemble sound. "Shelly took more chances than most other drummers," Levy adds. "He was always interested in trying something different, in experimenting.  While Stan Levey, on the later sessions, was more of a bebopper, a terrific drummer with an outstanding modern-jazz feel."


Conte Candoli, who joined Gelz in the front line, was another transplanted Indiana native and one of the hottest trumpeters on the West Coast scene. In a jazz environment where subdued or cerebral approaches to the horn received more publicity, Candoli took a different tack. His improvised lines generally burst forth with exuberance and vitality. His work with Getz on this date is surprisingly subdued, but on “S-h-i-n-e” he lets loose with the compelling devil-may-care brashness that is very much his trademark.


Despite the Los Angeles sidemen and the marketing of these sessions as West Coast Jazz, I have always felt that there was something incongruous about this whole project. In fact, I'm half-convinced that Getz was slyly trying to subvert the West Coast marketing label attached to his new approach. The opening track on the original West Coast Jazz album was East of the Sun — was he making a little joke here? And why did he make such a point of drawing on East Coast composers for the band's repertoire? There is enough Gershwin material from these dates to make a whole theme album. (Hmm. Gershwin….wasn't he a New York boy who made most of his best music on the East Coast, but came out West to make money with some blatantly commercial efforts?)


Getz's choice of sidemen was equally telling Candoli, Vinnegar, Levy, and Manne or Levey — they were all West Coasters, more or less, but not one was a native Californian. Each one had started back East or in the Midwest. And why was Getz playing, in addition to Gershwin, all of these East Coast bebop tunes — so rare for him — on a project that supposedly celebrated the West Coast?


Maybe I am reading too much into the tenor saxophonist's choice of material. But his wry sense of humor was just the sort that would delight in this type of cryptic playfulness. I recall a similar ambiguity from Getz's later years, when he had given up drink and was an ardent participant in Alcoholics Anonymous — yet seemed to play a booze song, “Lush Life” or “Sippin' at Bells,” at every concert! Indeed Getz always had an irreverent attitude toward song titles — who else would introduce his mega-hit “Desafinado” as "Dis Here Finado" (this coming on the heels of such soul-jazz tunes as “Dis Here” and “Dat Dere,” then the rage), then add offhandedly, "This is the song that is going to pay my kid's college tuition.”


"This was not a West Coast Jazz session," Levy asserts confidently. He notes that the most celebrated performance from this project, “S-h-i-n-e,” counters any stereotype of laid-back West Coast playing. "Everybody always liked this one." Levy continues. "Stan really forges ahead. His intro is clear as a bell He plays those eight bars unaccompanied, but with a real momentum and swing. Then — bam! — the band comes in and he's off. He really lets loose on this piece, and never falters, charging all the way through to the end."


Yet there were many moments on these sessions where Getz was the consummate lyrical soloist, very much in the vein of the West Coast sound. In fact, these sessions include some of the most effortlessly graceful performances of Getz's career. He is low-key on “Like Someone in Love” where he kicks off his solo with a deliciously lazy break and follows up with a richly melodic solo. His work on “Too Close for Comfort” is equally noteworthy and could serve as a case study in relaxed improvisation. The two complete lakes of “Our Love Is Here to Stay” are both masterly examples of thematic improvisation. The unreleased version is an especially brilliant example of how Getz could weave baroque lines while continuing to hint at the contours of the melody. And even when Getz tackles a stop-time interlude, as on “Blues for Mary Jane” or “How About You?” his playing retains an elegant sureness, a calmness even in the most fiery surroundings.


Not that the experimental side of Getz's playing is totally absent here. On “Woody 'n' You” Getz plays atypical, polytonal games with a simple motif. This interlude sounds like a parody of Coltrane's A Love Supreme. It couldn't be, of course, since the Coltrane performance was still a decade in the future, yet the resemblance is uncanny. Other feints and jabs — an occasional bebop lick in double-time, a judicious bit of bluesiness, a tongue-in-cheek quote — are dished out in sparing doses, showing how much Getz always kept in reserve, waiting for the right moment to let it loose.


Yet if we ultimately grow wary of associating Getz too closely with West Coast jazz, it is only because he kept a safe distance from all of the passing fads and fancies of the jazz world. Although he was linked to the cool jazz sound, Getz played some of his hottest music during the years when cool was in its ascendancy. And his collaborations with other leading cool players were surprisingly rare. Years later. Getz was equally detached from the stardom he attained when crossing over with his bossa nova recordings. He could have made a whole career from this popular, Brazilian-inflected style, but he ultimately abandoned it for other projects and approaches. His work with Chick Corea anticipated the fusion craze, but Getz soon left that format behind as well. One is forced to conclude that even when Getz jumped on the bandwagon, he was always among the first to jump off.


And so it is with these West Coast sessions. For a brief period, Getz met West Coast jazz at least halfway. But there were no compromises here, no banal attempts to find a commercial sound. The music was Stan Getz, plain and simple, with all the beauty and richness that he brought to every performance, whichever the coast.


“Playing with him was like a music lesson," Levy remarks. "He had a sense for the right tempo, the right volume, the right way of sequencing the solos. He knew when to stretch out and when to hold back. He knew when to let the bass and drums sit out and when he’d bring them back in. He had such great time and technique, and [he] could react to anything. He would even make the wrong chords sound right. He could lake i small combo and make it sound like a symphony."


And Getz does just that on these performances. Was Getz a West Coast player? That question may well remain unanswered. Was he one of the greatest soloists to play the saxophone? Of that there can be no doubt. The more than three hours of music on these discs provides compelling evidence and a persuasive account of one of the jazz masters in top form.”


Ted Gioia


[Ted is a pianist, a jazz historian and the author of West Coast Jazz: Jazz in California, 1945-1960, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.]



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