I WAS lucky enough to hear and ultimately meet Stan Getz during those “nice” years that Wall Street Journal critic Will Friedwald speaks of below. I’d heard all of those rumors as well, but there was the much re-told Zoot Sims quip that kicked around in my head the most: “Stan Getz? He’s a nice bunch of guys.”
Shortly after I’d read about Getz’s cancer diagnosis, I began to travel to gigs up and down the coast. Sat in grand-gilded auditoriums and sweaty nightclubs with quarter-sized tables. Most nights, he didn’t look well but always played with an astonishing honesty and depth. During those years he unfailingly hit a cycle of songs — “Blood Count,” “Yours and Mine” and “First Song” — which always brought up goose-flesh. Then he’d switch it up, making fun of all those bossa nova years by announcing the samba medley by jumping off with “Dis Here Finado.”
One August night, I sat way up close to see the completely-in-sync quartet featuring Getz with Rufus Reid, Victor Lewis and Kenny Barron at the old Loa in Santa Monica. J.P. and I, pushed through a horrible tangle of traffic crosstown from Echo Park to Santa Monica and sat stewed on Pico. We rush inside and from the front hostess stand, I could hear the first few gauzy phrases from that singular tenor. Behind the stand, the owner began ever-so-meticulously inching down the press/media list, but something made her look up, but not at me, just beyond — a sort of daybreak smile crossing her face. From behind, I heard a voice — somewhat familiar, but not quite placeable: “We’re all with the media here, but I believe she was first.” I spin around to find Clint Eastwood standing there. Smiling. Thanks Double D for this head’s up.
Stan Getz’s Last Hurrah
By WILL FRIEDWALD
“One should always listen closely when people are saying goodbye,” Katherine Hepburn tells us in “Stage Door.” Likewise, Stan Getz, the great tenor saxophonist, found a way to make sure that people would be listening closely when he experienced what would be his last hurrah. Just a few months before his death, Getz (1927-1991) decided to make a live album with the pianist Kenny Barron. Getz and Mr. Barron—who had just spent five years performing with the bassist Rufus Reid and the drummer Victor Lewis in what was quite possibly the best quartet of Getz’s career—formed a sort of band within a band, working four nights in front of a live audience (and a recording crew) at the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen. Shortly after Getz’s death, 14 of these tracks were issued on a two-CD album titled “People Time.” Now, Universal Music France is issuing the complete recordings—48 performances on seven discs that amount to as moving a last will and testament as I have ever heard by a major musician.
Beginning in the late 1980s, there was a rather incredible rumor circulating around the jazz world—all of a sudden, Stan Getz was acting “nice.” Up to that time, the jazz icon was generally regarded as being infamously callous and cold toward almost everybody, a personality issue no doubt related to his lifelong addictions. One famous lyricist who knew him well told me, “Stan plays all these tender love songs like he really cares, but he hurts people more than anybody.” When the saxophonist was diagnosed with cancer, he famously said “I’m too evil to die.” But as a result of that diagnosis, Getz started doing the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and he reached the point where he needed to make amends to people he had wronged over the years. Such old acquaintances as the trumpeter Shorty Rogers started receiving caring, apologetic calls from Getz, who was determined to work the program and purge himself of his demons and the disease.
The seven Café Montmartre discs are a window into the turbulent soul of a great artist. As Gary Giddins observes in his splendid liner-note essay, the material consists of 24 different songs, which are fairly evenly divided between jazz standards that had begun life as pop songs (“East of the Sun” and “There Is No Greater Love” among them) and compositions by jazz musicians (such as Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” “Whisper Not” and “I Remember Clifford”). Getz and Barron play one Broadway standard, “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” four times, but many other numbers, such as the semiclassical “Hushabye” and “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” are heard only once.
Whether by accident or design, most of the pop-derived standards are in medium or up tempos—even the ballad “End of a Love Affair,” famously done as a slow torch song by Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, is exuberantly extroverted here. Getz saves his more profoundly introspective moments for the jazz originals, particularly Thad Jones’s “Yours and Mine.”
Thanks to the sheer firepower of the Getz-Barron duo, the fast numbers really rock, and one never notices the absence of bass and drums. Getz flies over the chords to “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” and his two treatments of “Night and Day” are even faster and more irreverent than the famous Art Tatum-Ben Webster treatment of 1956. Throughout, Mr. Barron plays with Getz as an equal, attaining a level of empathy that’s beyond telepathic. Telepathy implies communication between two distinct individuals, whereas Getz and Mr. Barron play like right and left halves of the same brain.
On the fast tunes, Getz almost seems to be playing with the idea that the best defense is a good offense. But on the ballads he really lets his guard down. Getz tells the audience that “I’m Okay,” the first tune of the first disc, was written by Brazilian keyboardist Eddie Del Barrio shortly after the composer had prevented a friend from committing suicide; Getz seems to be conveying multiple emotions at once, as if depicting both sides of the argument, and is simultaneously melancholy and optimistic in the best tradition of his primary inspiration, Lester Young. At times he seems like he’s resigned to his fate, while at other points, he throws punches like a boxer pushed into a corner, refusing to give up. Like most jazz waltzes, “Allison’s Waltz” (by pianist Alan Broadbent) conveys a subtle feeling of nostalgia for innocence lost. “First Song,” heard three times here, immediately ranks as a Getz masterpiece, played with lucid intensity.
Benny Carter’s “People Time” is also heard three times, and it’s the loveliest, most moving work of the package. I like to think that Getz himself chose “People Time” for the original album title (though he didn’t live to see it come out) for a very good reason. For all of his 63 years up to then, Getz had made time for music, for notes, melodies and chords, and he had made time to become one of the most celebrated and successful jazz musicians in history. Getz had also made time to chase after drugs and sex. He had made time, in fact, for everything but people. With this album, Stan Getz was serving notice that he planned to make the most, God willing, of whatever people time he had left.
—Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz for the Journal.
Yours and Mine: