Stan Getz: an 8-album guide

Marshall Gu 5 January 2022

Discover the amazing music of jazz saxophonist Stan Getz via our eight-album guide 

In 1965, Stan Getz became a household name when his collaborative album with João Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, took home four awards, including the coveted Album of the Year. That would be the first and only jazz album to win that award for more than 40 years until Herbie Hancock won again in 2008. Thus, jazz snobs may thumb their noses at Stan Getz’s success, unattainable for many of his jazz and bossa nova peers. And it has also become impossible to untangle “The Girl From Ipanema” from decades of overplaying in coffee shops and Hollywood films. So there may be an aura of uncool coming from this former cool jazz artist, but no list of greatest tenor saxophonists is complete if Stan Getz is omitted.

You will instantly recognise a Getz solo because no other saxophonist conveyed springtime as instantly as he did through lush tone alone, backed by an incredible talent for melodic improvisation. Even John Coltrane complimented Getz: "Let's face it—we'd all sound like that if we could,” and as if knowing that he could not sound that way, Coltrane proceeded to carve out his own lane by playing the saxophone the complete opposite way.

This guide presents eight choice albums from across his discography:

Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio (1958)

In the late 1950s, Getz recorded many bebop collaborations with heavyweight artists like Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie and Gerry Mulligan, but it’s the album with the Oscar Peterson trio that stands out because there’s no drummer. Thus, it’s up to bassist Ray Brown to drive these songs, and he rises to the occasion with the aid of guitarist Herb Ellis whose flickering chords have the warm dim glow of living room candles.

The dexterity and strength at which Brown attacks his bass on opener “I Want to Be Happy” verges on the inhuman, and even on “Ballad Medley,” Brown never stagnates. Meanwhile, his patient entrance on “I’m Glad There Is You” (appearing one minute in) feels like a switch has been turned on, nudging Stan Getz along for his intensely yearning solo.

Focus (1962)

Just before Stan Getz embraced bossa nova, he tried his hand at third stream, the merging of classical and jazz traditions by collaborating with orchestral arranger Eddie Sauter. Sauter provides a backdrop of heady and even occasionally foreboding string charts (the classical half) while Stan Getz improvises alone over top (the jazz portion).

Oftentimes, attempts at third stream sound confused by trying to check the boxes of two disparate genres but Getz’s tone fits Sauter’s arrangements perfectly, snapping in like a puzzle piece. Hats off to the rhythm players as well: drummer Roy Haynes adds plenty of snap to opener “I’m Late, I’m Late” while bassist John Neves stitches together the syrupy string harmonies and romantic sax playing on “Pan” with a playful bass.

Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd: Jazz Samba (1962)

In 1961, guitarist Charlie Byrd went to Brazil and brought bossa nova back home with him, and just a month after Focus was released, Byrd recorded Jazz Samba with Stan Getz. The rest, they say, is history: opener “Desafinado” would win the Grammy for Best Jazz Performance, and Stan Getz released a number of successful bossa nova albums after this one.

A case could be made that Jazz Samba is the best among them; with no vocalist, it is less “pop” than Getz/Gilberto and more “jazz”; the improvisations from Getz and Byrd are more engaging because they have to be—there’s no one else to pick up the slack should they falter.

Stan Getz & João Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto (1964)

What’s interesting about this record is that guitarist João Gilberto’s wife Astrud Gilberto plays such a limited role, appearing on only two songs, and yet she steals the show with her shy-yet-expressive vocals. There is so much rhythm and emotion to be found in her stressing and unstressing of “Tall, and tan, and young, and lovely” alone, that it’s hard not to be immediately won over.


Astrud Gilberto, 1966 

“The Girl From Ipanema” stands out among these eight songs, aided by her performance and a stunning solo from Getz that takes the song to its release, but don’t miss “Só Danço Samba” where drummer Milton Banana gives Getz a fleet-footed groove while Antonio Carlos Jobim adds a sprinkle of piano too.

Sweet Rain (1967)

Released in the tail-end of the 1960s, Stan Getz looks back fondly on his bossa nova phase on one cut “O Grande Amor” and otherwise looks ahead to the uncertain new decade on opener “Litha,” which surely ranks among one of the most daring and challenging compositions Stan Getz ever played on.

Thus, keyboardist Chick Corea who composed “Litha” (as well as closer “Windows”) should be regarded as the album’s MVP: “Litha” alternates between surging forward on the muscle of Grady Tate and Ron Carter’s rhythm, and then stepping back to a comfortable mid-tempo, and Getz navigates the two different modes as if they were the same. No matter how fast a song may have been, Getz always seemed to oblige and create melody out of thin air. Ron Carter and Chick Corea would soon be indisposed by Miles Davis, but Sweet Rain presents Stan Getz in one of the most formidable quartets he ever played with and we wish we could have got more records from this group.

Captain Marvel (1975)

In the 1970s, everyone got sucked into the jazz-fusion vortex; it was only a matter of time of when the electric instruments would eventually call out to them. Captain Marvel was recorded in 1972 but not released until 1975, and like his detours into third stream and forays into bossa nova, Getz handles fusion like a natural. Sweet Rain keyboardist Chick Corea is back, linking Getz up with Corea’s bassist Stanley Clarke.

The not-so-secret weapon here is the combined percussion force from Airto Moreira and Tony Williams, the former laying down the Brazilian percussion down thick and the latter using every inch of space he can find to add monstrous but subtle fills everywhere he can.

Pure Getz (1982)

After navigating fusion well on Captain Marvel, Getz floundered when he applied liberal echo to his saxophone on Another World (1978) and Children of the World (1980). Taken in this context, Pure Getz can be seen as a dismissal to any naysayers that he picked up during that period: “That wasn’t pure, but this is.”

Getz performs wonderfully; note especially his uncharacteristic solo on Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count,” striking hard and loud, and then alternating with beautiful soft phrases. It’s a Nirvana song in the form of a sax solo. Bassist Marc Johnson is a little too eager to please, but he’s wonderful on the freewheeling “Sipping at Bell’s” and gets in a great solo in the second half of “Tempus Fugit.”

People Time (1992)

This was Stan Getz’s final recording before he passed away from liver cancer, a generous two-disc set featuring only performances from him and pianist Kenny Barron. You wouldn’t know he was battling cancer: he doesn’t miss a note. Or if he does a mistake, he expertly covers it up by pretending he meant to do that all along.

Getz’s blowing on “Night and Day” is particularly unbelievable in the different places he takes the first solo. Kenny Barron is tasked to not only follow Getz up with his own improvisations, but also play the part of the rhythm section: there’s a rolling drive to “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top”; that’s all thanks to Barron, but he knows when to keep spare and quiet too—it’s his soft harmonies in the background that add great tragedy behind Getz on “I’m Okay.” If two-and-a-half hours of jazz at its most pure isn’t enough, a generous seven-disc set was released in 2009.

This guide covers only eight albums from a long and winding discography, yet demonstrates Getz’s breadth of interest and ability of playing. His early singles were released in the late 1940s, and he made music non-stop until he passed away in 1991: he was active for almost six decades, and during that time, he released over a hundred albums, so trust us when we say, if any of these records won you over, there are plenty more where that came from.

 

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