Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2011: Rufus Reid

Stan Getz (1927-91):
Getz/Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim

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Stan Getz coaxed the most sorrowful, sentimental sounds from his tenor saxophone. As jazz critic Whitney Balliett once said, he had “a lovely tone, the kind of tone one would want to go home to.”

No doubt about it, Getz was a troubled individual. At seventeen, he was already an alcoholic and, not long afterward, became addicted to heroin. He did not stop using until he was sixty and attempted suicide several times over the course of his life. His mood fluctuation was cause for concern for many and was the impetus for Zoot Sims’ description of his friend: “Yeah, Stan’s a nice bunch of guys.”

Getz started playing professionally in New York City when he was fifteen. Just one year later, he was playing with grown men in Jack Teagarden’s group. He then had steady employment in the big bands of Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman. It was while he was with Woody Herman that he and the other saxophonists in the band, Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims, and Al Cohn, were nicknamed the Four Brothers. Getz’s resplendent sound made him the most popular of the four, and he soon struck out on his own.

Getz’s supreme accomplishment is the masterpiece Getz/Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim [Verve #3145214142]. Originally released in March 1964, this partnership between Getz and guitarist João Gilberto is one of the few jazz albums to reach number one on the pop charts. It spent almost two years there and won four Grammy Awards. Several of the songs, including “Desafinado, “Corcovado,” and “Girl from Ipanema,” have become jazz standards. Their familiarity inspires both love and hatred amongst jazz fans.

Getz/Gilberto is one of those rare albums of musical magic that is bewildering to listen to. Several elements combine to bewitch the listener: Getz’s genius for playing the shapely, imaginative melodies composed by the father of the bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim (who also played piano on the session); João Gilberto’s exotic guitar playing and his bittersweet Portuguese vocals; and Gilberto’s wife Astrud’s detached, icy reading of “The Girl form Ipanema” and “Corcovado,” which still seduces. Astrud’s singing is made even more charming because her presence on the hit record was a fluke. Stan asked her to sing at a rehearsal because she was the only Brazilian he knew who could speak English. Her performance was so sensual Getz asked her, over protests from Antonio and João that she wasn’t a professional singer, to sing on the album. It was a smart move because her English interpretation of the Portuguese lyrics helped make the songs accessible for a North American audience

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