Writings About Music

Beyond Forgetting: Stan Getz Ascends

Stan Getz is a champion of Shringara, Veera and Shanta Rasas, while here we see that Hasya Rasa is part of him, too.

 

Evolution is what happens to musicians and composers, myself no exception. Not only our own music, but also the musical tastes for others we develop.

In recent years, I’ve found that the saxophonist I listen the most to is Stan Getz. Even more, I’ve revised my previous opinion that Lee Konitz represents the pinnacle of jazz, and have replaced him with Stan Getz. The reasons are evident, specifically Getz's sound, swing, being always emotionally and intellectually in the moment with total focus, and almost always playing with the finest musicians of his time. This is not a slight towards Konitz, as being second best (in my opinion) is hardly a diminution at all, including excelling in all the areas listed above, too. The points I'm making are fine ones; ones that many will not understand or relate to, including passing over the heads of most. Some will understand these points while disagreeing, of course. As previously discussed in my original piece arguing for Lee, I feel that Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie are the others in this conversation. While I know and love their music (and other greats) as well and as much as anyone, Stan Getz possesses an ineffable musical quality, inner and outer, that appears unparalleled.

Stan Getz (far left), Machito (behind Getz) and Charlie Parker (far right)

 

A big part of my growing admiration for Getz certainly comes from my immersion into the classical music of India. While all great Indian musicians have sublime instrumental or vocal sounds, my favorite wind instrument player amongst them is Hariprasad Chaurasia, who plays the bansri, a wooden flute. Getz’s golden, perfectly tuned timbres are definitely on the same rarified plateau. While listening to Getz, I simultaneously feel like I am experiencing the very best tonal qualities of Indian classical music. But it’s more than just the instrumental sound. It’s also the way he develops his improvisations in uncannily brilliant fashion, including capturing the rasa, or expressive essence, of both the song he’s playing, and the moment. Additionally, in many ways Getz remains among the most truly avant-garde (a term often misused in music) of jazz musicians, including existing on the razor’s edge always in terms of spontaneity/intensity, and with occasional, perfectly timed instrumental shouts/screams that still startle/frighten on primordial levels.

Rollan Masciarelli was the person who introduced me to the For Musicians Only album while in high school. Sure enough, the level of musicianship is astounding here, and I've long felt that Stan Getz plays the dominant solo on the album's finest track, "Bebop", included above. (When Dizzy Gillespie reappears for a second solo, this time unmuted, that subsequent utterance does at least match what Stan played.) Lou Levy once told me during a conversation outside LACMA that Stan Getz was the greatest jazz artist who ever lived, an opinion that seemed overreaching to me at the time. Lou is no longer with us, but I'm glad to find myself eventually agreeing with him.

 

Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz and Ella Fitzgerald, she appearing enraptured by The Sound; one of the names Stan was known by. One way to describe Getz's sound would be to say it has the highest "thread count".

 

My earlier article, Transcendental Consolidation, goes into great detail about my admiration for Stan Getz, including myriad fantastic photos, so I refer you there, and also to my referenced tribute to Lee Konitz titled Beyond the Crowd.

Since writing Transcendental Consolidation, it has become evident to me that Benny Goodman's influence on the young Getz was equally as profound as that of Jack Teagarden. Thus, both Stan and Lester Young were deeply touched by Goodman's playing, while Getz benefited greatly from Young's influence, too, as is commonly known. The extraordinary Benny Goodman is someone I hope to write about eventually, his true significance and value often obscured by his tremendous fame.

The quartet of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Getz and Lee Konitz is a remarkable story of Jewish American jazz musicians descended from Russia who were among the essential creators of jazz itself, all emerging in its formative years, providing a different vision of jazz compared to the great African American artists of the same eras. And the repertoire of jazz, the songs used as a basis for improvisation, analogous to the ragas of Indian classical music, were primarily created by Jewish composers and lyricists descended from Russia and Eastern Europe. Together with the equally essential blues forms that arose from African American culture, these songs helped provide a musical compass for our collective masters of improvisation.

Stan Getz almost always hit a home run every time he stepped up to the mike in public and the recording studio, a remarkable consistency that brings to mind Shivkumar Sharma. For a composer/performer like myself, this is a model of exceptional value. Getz's musical utterances transport us beyond the mediocrities of mundane existence onto a distant star of perfection extolling the finest qualities of Jewish culture, including assimilating and absorbing synergistic elements of his African American and Brazilian contemporaries and collaborators whose innovations helped chart a course for the pursuit of individual intellectual and spiritual attainment. Indeed, Shringara Rasa, the central aspect of Indian classical music, representing both the romantic/erotic and the creative spark of life itself, overflows in the music of Stan Getz.

Subsequent to writing Transcendental Consolidation, Stan's oldest daughter, Bev, told me that her father never practiced at home (or anywhere else) except to sometimes try out a new reed. Bev said her Dad would sometimes enjoy singing the lyrics of jazz standards around the house, and confided that Frank Sinatra was his favorite vocalist; it being a dream of his that never came true to record with Sinatra, something never actually pursued. (There does exist a stunning rendition of "Out of This World" with Getz and Tony Bennett.) One of Bev's stories that especially touched me was hearing how her father would love to sing nursery rhymes when she was a little girl going to sleep.

Stan Getz and the songs of Antonio Carlos Jobim are an immortal combination, including completely smiting the notoriously critical and nearly impossible to please Miles Davis. This interpretation of "Favela" ("O Morro Não Tem Vez") breathes an exquisite sensuality comparable to the fourteenth-fifteenth century Indian poet Vidyapati. But be reminded that Stan's justly famous Brazilian collaborations are but one phase of a multi-tiered career.

 

Stan Getz and Miles Davis

 

It’s believed that Johann Sebastian Bach is survived by about half of the music he composed, the rest of it lost forever. With Stan Getz we have a tiny smidgeon of what he played during his lifetime captured on recordings, and whenever a new live recording comes to light his legacy grows, such as an unbelievably inspired concert he gave accompanied by none less than the Bill Evans Trio in 1974. Or imagine being there at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan also during 1974 when his incendiary Captain Marvel album band performed for months on end, including Chick Corea, Tony Williams, Stanley Clarke, and Airto. For Stan Getz, like the song says: "You Are Too Marvelous For Words." If you were fortunate enough to witness Stan playing in an intimate jazz club, as I was on one occasion, like another song says, that was a night "beyond forgetting."

- Michael Robinson, July 2018, Los Angeles

 

© 2018 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).