Born Stanley Getz, February 2, 1927, in Philadelphia, PA; died of liver cancer, June 6, 1991; son of Alexander and Goldie Getz; married Monica Silfveskiold, 1956 (divorced, 1987); children: Steven, David, Beverly, Pamela, Nicholas.

Best known for his relaxed, melodic improvisations, Stan Getz was one of the most celebrated jazz musicians of his time. He first broke into the public consciousness as "The Sound" during his tenure with the big bands in the 1940s; he became an important figure in the "cool" movement of the 1950s; and, in the 1960s, was the primary disseminator of bossa nova, a mixture of jazz and Brazilian samba rhythms. He remained a primary force in modern jazz throughout his life. As Joseph Hooper said of Getz in the New York Times Magazine, "Inarguably he is one of that ever-diminishing handful of geniuses who have shaped jazz since the 1940s, about half the music's natural life."

Getz practiced tenor sax and bassoon as a child, although he had only six months of lessons and never studied music theory or harmony. In order to contribute to the family finances, he quit school in the ninth grade to get work as a musician. Two years later, in 1942, he was given the chance to play with Jack Teagarden, the best jazz trombonist of his day. He then joined Stan Kenton's big band, contributing to the hits "Eager Beaver" and "Tampico." After stints with Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, in 1947, Getz found a spot in Woody Herman's band as one of the original Four Brothers, the sax section that gave the band its unique sound. He established himself as a lyricist with his improvisational solo "Early Autumn," which he recorded with Herman.

With his reputation established, Getz left Herman's band in 1949 to front a quartet. Once the guitarist Jimmy Raney joined the group, the quintet solidified their following among be-bop fans. Jack Sohmer of Down Beat describes Getz's versatility in a review of The Complete Recordings of the Stan Getz Quintet with Jimmy Raney: "Such tracks as 'The Song Is You'... and 'Budo' will immediately belie the notion that Getz was only comfortable with ballads and, somewhat later, lilting Latin melodies. On these selections, as well as many more throughout, Getz proves himself an early master of cookery, 52nd St.-style." Getz collaborated with a number of jazz greats in this period, including Oscar Peterson, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bob Brookmeyer. His 1957 concert with J. J. Johnson resulted in one of his most highly acclaimed recordings, At the Opera House.

Getz's cool style and his self-destructive desire to live on the edge made him a hero of the beat generation. As Hooper explained, "It was no accident that Getz rose to stardom in the '50s, the decade of Dean and Brando, of cool surfaces and passionate, roiled interiors." However, alcohol and drugs played an important part in the lives of jazz musicians at the time, and Getz's life was no exception. His increasingly expensive addiction to heroin led to his attempt to steal narcotics from a Seattle drugstore in 1954. After his arrest and a six-month prison term, he jumped back into his musical career, resuming his pattern of frequent appearances and record dates, with his fame undiminished. He headlined for Norman Grantz's Jazz at the Philharmonic in 1958 and toured with them in Europe. The same year he moved to Copenhagen, where he stayed until 1961.

When Getz returned to the United States, the "cool school" of jazz was out and John Coltrane's aggressive tenor sax style was in. However, rather than cater to popular opinion, Getz continued to play in his own relaxed style. His self-knowledge paid off: His improvisations over Eddie Sauter's compositions for strings on the album Focus received widespread praise from critics. It has been considered one of the only successful with-strings jazz albums ever produced.

In 1962, guitarist Charlie Byrd suggested to Getz that they collaborate on an album that would incorporate a new sound he had heard in Brazil. This sound, a combination of traditional folk samba rhythms with jazz improvisation, was called bossa nova, or new wave, by the Brazilians. Getz's and Byrd's collaboration, released in 1962 as Jazz Samba, became one of the most popular jazz albums ever recorded. It included the hits "Desafinado" ("Slightly Out of Tune") and "Samba de Una Nota So" ("One Note Samba"), which were composed by the Brazilian pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Jazz Samba initiated a bossa nova craze in the United States, and many jazz and pop artists attempted to cash in on the enthusiasm with their own bossa nova recordings. Most were considered far inferior to Jazz Samba and Getz's subsequent releases, Big Band Bossa Nova and Jazz Samba Encore, which were both artistic and commercial successes. By 1964, bossa nova had been overplayed and was falling out of favor with the public. However, Getz revived the form's popularity with Getz/Gilberto, a collaboration with the Brazilian innovators of bossa nova, singer-guitarist Joao Gilberto and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Because Gilberto sang only in Portuguese, his wife, Astrud Gilberto, sang a few of the pieces in English. Although she had never before sung professionally, her seductive rendition of "The Girl from Ipanema" combined perfectly with Getz's wafting, lyrical sax playing, making this song phenomenally successful. It won the 1964 Grammy for best record, and the National Academy of Recording Artists voted Getz/Gilberto the best jazz album of the year.

After concentrating on bossa novas in the mid-'60s, Getz returned to playing more traditional modern jazz. Many talented musicians emerged from Getz's groups, including Jack De Johnette, Steve Swallow, Tony Williams, and Chick Corea, whose famous "La Fiesta" first appeared on Getz's Captain Marvel album. Getz also encouraged young composers. He was one of the first to recognize and use the talents of Eddie Sauter and Lalo Schifrin.

Although Getz made approximately 130 records throughout his career, he never applied that expertise in playing to composing. As he explained to Down Beat's Josef Woodard, "I'm a sad-ass writer, a lazy writer. Everytime I did try to write something over the years, I'd get up the next morning and change it and the next morning change it again and the next ... until I'd finally rip it up. It's because I'm a player, and players play something different every time."

Getz signed with Columbia in the 1970, and, according to Down Beat's John McDonough, "felt subtle company pressures to 'broaden his audience' in the manner of Miles Davis." Getz complied by experimenting with electronics and rock rhythms, particularly in his album Another World, but returned eventually to his traditional acoustic rhythm section. As he told Woodard, "For my taste, there's really nothing in the whole world better than an acoustic rhythm section when it's popping. It seems to vibrate inside your body. You seldom get it, but when you get it, that can be felt....A lot of times, listening to electric music just feels like I'm taking shock treatments."

Getz released several critically acclaimed jazz quartet albums in the 1980s, particularly Anniversary and The Stockholm Concert. Of Anniversary, Down Beat reporter Kevin Whitehead said, "His tone had deepened a little bit, but at 60 he was playing as elegantly as ever. If anything, his ballads ... may be even richer and more beautiful." The Stockholm Concert is considered equally resonant and Getz's playing perhaps even more emotionally complex.

The last album Getz released before his death from liver cancer in 1991 was Apasionado, which included aspects of most of the major styles of Getz's career: the melodic balladry, the Latin rhythms of his bossa nova days, even hints of the big band sound. He departed from the acoustic quartet format he had been using for the last several years in order to improvise over the synthesizer compositions of Eddie de Barrio. The album was received enthusiastically by jazz fans, reaching the top of the jazz charts. Although critics claimed that the album as a whole did not compete with his best, his improvised solos achieve the lyrical beauty, emotional depth, and spontaneity one would expect from a musician whose work has been enjoyed and admired for half a century.

by Susan Windisch Brown

Stan Getz's Career

Played with the big bands of Jack Teagarden, Stan Kenton, and Benny Goodman, 1942-47; played with Woody Herman's original Four Brothers sax section, 1947-49; leader of various quartets, beginning in 1949; toured Europe and lived in Copenhagen, 1958-61; recorded Jazz Samba, 1962; signed with Columbia, c. 1970; returned to leading traditional jazz quartets, 1980s.

Stan Getz's Awards

Grammy Award for best recording, 1962, for "Desafinado," and 1964, for "The Girl from Ipanema"; National Academy of Recording Artists' best record of the year for "The Girl from Ipanema," 1964; ranked at the top of Metronome and Down Beat readers' polls every year throughout the 1950s.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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