Stan Getz was best known for his unique lush sound, and that same light-vibrato subtlety of sound is what attracted enough attention early on for him to be tutored by Simon Kovar, gain acceptance into the Julliard School of Music and later by joining jazz trombonists' Jack Teagarden's band in 1943 at the age of 16. Getz stated in a 1986 interview with Mel Martin,"That I never consciously tried to conceive of what my sound should be, I simply tried to get as much of the reed out of the sound as I could". "It's not loudness but pure sound, and brass vibrating, or resonance without reediness."
The 1940's brought Getz critical acclaim while playing along side the likes of Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and "The Four Brothers", Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Herbie Steward. In 1948 his improvisation and solo on Ralph Burn's Early Autumn instantly established himself as a soloist and band leader. He would be the leader on most of his recordings thereafter.
After dominating most saxophone popularity polls and leading his own small groups in the early fifties Stan Getz migrated to the cool jazz scene playing along side powerhouses as Horace Silver, Johnny Smith, Roy Haynes, Al Haig and Tommy Potter and later with Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Jimmy Raney, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Max Roach. Pianist Lou Levy once describeded Getz with these words, "Flawless technique, perfect time, strong melodic sense and more than enough harmonic expertise, fabulous memory, and great ears. Add a superb sense of dynamics, pacing, and format. Top it off with a sound of pure gold and you have Stan Getz."
The mid fities found Getz's career interrupted by legal difficulties steeming from long term drug addictions, all of which culminated in a 1958 move to Europe. Until then Getz had been playing some of the best jazz of his life. His memorable tonal blending on ballads is what separated him from the rest. Upon arriving in Europe he started to work with the best jazz players Europe had to offer, some of which included Lars Gullin, Martial Solal, Bengt Hallberg and US ex-patriots Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke.
Arriving back home in 1961 Getz recorded "Focus" with the strings infused arrangements of composer Eddie Sauter, followed by "Fall" and "The World of Stan Getz". All the while not knowing what lay waiting for him in the very near future.
The early sixties were an amazing time in the evolution of Jazz. Sonny Rollins came down from "The Bridge" preaching his new gospel of hard bop; John Coltrane was progressing from "My Favorite Things" to "A Love Supreme and Stan Getz was establishing benchmarks by introducing Bossa Nova to the world.
With the help of guitarist Charlie Byrd, Getz recorded an adaption of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Samba de Uma Nota So" (One Note Samba) and immediately followed with "Desafinado" which won him his first Grammy award and catapulted him to the top of the Bossa Nova/Jazz scene. The next collective collaborations of Getz, Charlie Bird, Jobim and Joao and Astrud Gilberto on "The Girl from Ipanema" would capture an additional 2 more Grammy's for Getz and company in 1963 while making the title song become one of the worlds best-known and loved Latin jazz songs of all time. Getz's fusion of jazz and bossa nova, over the next few years, would bring a considerable amount of popular acclaim his way. The movement, however was short lived. Getz' affair with Astrude Gilberto brought an end to his musical partnership with her and her then husband and a drift from the bossa nova world back to the cool jazz side was precipitated.
The next period in Getz' life was based on individual evolution and a quest to play more challenging music. His regular group during most of this period consisted of a piano-less quartet revolving around vibraphonist Gary Burton. He also recorded with Bill Evans, Eddie Sauter, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Jimmy Rowles, Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Joanne Brackeen and Andy Laverne. Although not all of the 1966-80 recordings are memorable a few did stand out, and he proved that he was willing to take chances.
Purists were relieved with Getz' 1981 signing by Concord Records and a much anticipated return to his cool jazz acoustic roots. Getz' sidemen during these years included Kenny Baron, Lou Levy, Mitchell Forman and Jim McNeely. Getz also accepted an artist-in-residence position at Stanford University in 1985 and continued to record and tour with Diane Schuur, Michelle Hendricks and Barry Manilow to name a few.
In 1989, two years before his death from liver cancer, Getz entered the A&M Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA booked to record multiple sessions. Herb Albert, in a recent NPR interview by Liane Hansen, was reminded of the 1989 sessions he produced with Getz, Kenny Barron, George Mraz and Victor Lewis that ultimately became the 2003 released "Bossas and Ballads-The Lost Sessions" and his initial reaction was one of sadness. His good friend was gone. "But as I listened to the master recordings, I found something beautiful in each take. What a blessing to know him and to be his friend."
Stan Getz was an important exponent of his instrument and equally one of the supremely melodious improvisers of modern jazz and will always be remembered as such. In 1998 the "Stan Getz Media Center and Library" at the Berklee College of Music was dedicated through a donation from the Herb Albert Foundation.