Tenor saxophonist Stan Getz was jazzdom's transcendent melodist. And though he passed away last year at age 64, "The Sound" still stands alone at the summit of improvisatory lyricism.
Getz was nothing less than "the Mozart of jazz." His solos, like the compositions of Amadeus, always embodied the quintessence of artful design, classically proportioned balances, dramatic shifts between tension and release, and the kind of seemingly effortless and virtuosic brilliance that, while loved by man, also had to have been loved by the Creator.
Like Mozart, Getz was never an innovator in the sense of coining radically new "compositional" strategies. Instead, Getz was a consolidator, a gifted "synthesizer" who welded the lyric tenor saxophone heritage of Lester Young with the dazzling bebop technique of Charlie Parker.
GETZ HARDLY ever wrote "original" lines. Rather, he took the great tunes of the American Popular Song tradition and left his mark through countless solos whose grace, invention and classic symmetries evoked nothing less than the gamut of human emotions.
Though he sometimes claimed to be an untutored player, his impeccable musicianship belied an intelligence and intuitive compositional gift that gave his work the authority of genius. He was a "natural" whose poignant sound, faultless rhythmic finesse and virtuosic technique inspired everyone whether black or white, young or old, hipster or moldy fig.
Getz's soaring powers were amazingly consistent. Indeed, I can't think of a single Getz performance, live or recorded, that failed to transport his audience, his fellow musicians, and even (I think) himeself, to the realm of the sublime.
The Olympian Getz, who literally led hundreds of recording sessions, is well represented in several superbly produced reissues which capture the tenorist's nonpareil sound and style.
THE ARTISTRY OF STAN GETZ, VOL. 1 (Verve 314 511-468-2): This masterfully assembled two-disc sampler of Getz's work for Verve commences with a haunting 1952 version of "Stella By Starlight," when Stan was still fresh from highly successful tenures with the big bands of Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and Benny Goodman, and Norman Grantz's traveling jazz caravan, "Jazz at the Philharmonic." It concludes with his 1967 landmarks, "Con Alma" and "Sweet Rain."
In between are the bossa nova hits with Antonio Carlos Jobim from the early 1960s, "Desafinado" and "Girl from Ipanema," which put Brazil and its langorous rhythms into the American musical mainstream. There are samples of other classic collaborations including a rousing "Tour's End" with pianist Oscar Peterson, "You're Blase" with the "Queen of Scat" Ella Fitzgerald, "A Ballad" with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, "Here's That Rainy Day" with vibraphonist Gary Burton, and "Melinda" with pianist Bill Evans.
In each of the 25 tracks, Getz waxes ecstatic. And he swings. Indeed, though the tenor titan was sometimes typecast as a balladeer par excellence, he could also cook with the very best as he does on a rare original, "Blues for Mary Jane," from the aptly titled 1956 album, "The Steamer."
MOONLIGHT IN VERMONT, Johnny Smith featuring Stan Getz (Roulette CDP 7977472): These indelible sessions from 1952 and 1953 put Getz in tandem with guitarist Johnny Smith. Here, Smith, a master melody-and-chords stylist, and the incomparable Getz mesh perfectly. Indeed, their melodic doublings epitomize a rare hand-in-glove rapport that reveals as much about their extraordinary discipline as it does their capacity to create spontaneously.
In addition to the sumptuous ballads "Moonlight in Vermont," "Where or When" and "A Ghost of a Chance," there are tightly coiled flights of fancy such as "Tabu" and "Jaguar." Getz Lives!