Gary Burton remained with the Stan Getz Quartet for three years, from 1964 to 1966. Even after the group's sound gelled, Getz was an emotional handful for Gary. Off stage, Gary went out of his way to avoid triggering the saxophonist's dark side. After Gary left Getz in 1967, he formed his own quartet and prepared to record an album unlike any other previously released. The concept was a jazz album that incorporated elements of rock—a radical concept in April 1967.
At the time, Gary was a big fan of the music recorded by the Beatles and other rock groups. He also sensed that the electric guitar was quickly overtaking the saxophone as the dominant front-line solo instrument with younger audiences. The result was Duster, an album with guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Roy Haynes. As anyone who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls, the album was a turning point in jazz and remained a big college seller for years.
In Part 4 of my four-part interview with Gary, the vibist talks about coping with Stan Getz, forming his own quartet and the thinking behind Duster:
JazzWax: Picking up where we left off on the Stan Getz Quartet, how did the initial tour in Canada work out in 1964?
Gary Burton: The group was pretty settled in terms of our sound. Astrud [pictured] joined because of the popularity of The Girl From Ipanema. She had been with us for just six weeks when we recorded live at the Café Au Go Go in New York.
JW: Is six weeks too soon?
GB: I would have waited a little longer before doing a live album. As it turned out, we had to re-record two of the songs at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio: Telephone Song and It Might as Well be Spring.
GB: We didn’t know the Telephone Song well and the live vocals were off. At Rudy’s, we re-recorded the songs and mixed in an audience sound.
JW: What did the vibes add to the bossa nova sound?
GB: It think the vibes gave the tracks a younger, hipper more mellow sound.
JW: How long was Gilberto with the quartet?
GB: Astrud was with us for about a year. Then she left to record on her own, and we were back to a quartet. Gene Cherico replaced Chuck Israels, and then Steve Swallow replace Gene, and Roy Haynes joined. This gave us a more traditional jazz group.
JW: What did you make of Getz?
GB: Stan was bipolar or something. There were two personas there, and he had no control over either one of them. He would either be a guy who was too nice or a mean vicious, angry, paranoid character. You’d try to avoid anything that you thought would trigger either one. And you’d try to head off all things that might upset him.
JW: Were you successful?
GB: Sometimes, but it didn’t matter. He could be mean verbally or completely inappropriate and obscene at will. At other times, he shouted, glared or insulted. People would dismiss his behavior because he’s an artist, just like with Miles Davis. So Stan got away with it. But you learned quickly to steer clear of him.
JW: For example?
GB: We had just finished a concert in Europe in the 1960s. Stan would frequently say obscene things just for kicks. I remember we were standing in a reception after the concert. We were talking with a government official and his wife and a minister’s wife. Stan made an open, lewd remark about one of the women’s breasts.
JW: Was Stan’s wife Monica there at the time?
GB: Yes. She just said, “Oh Stan.”
JW: What was the reaction by the officials?
GB: The dignitaries looked as though someone had shot someone. They quickly stepped away.
JW: Was Getz’s behavior simply for shock value or was he unable to control the thoughts in his head?
GB: Stan was always chasing after women on the road. He was very insecure. I think it was his way of building himself up. He would also challenge a friend or anyone who loved him to prove they cared. Stan didn’t use drugs when I knew him. He was drinking heavily. He was a terrible alcoholic. The mental thing was probably with him from his youth. Either way the comment was crazy. [Photo by Lou Levy]
JW: How did you come to record Duster?
GB: I had just left Stan and started my own band. I knew I needed to get a record done to promote my new quartet. I had met Larry Coryell [pictured] at a jam session in New York and invited him to join. Eddie Gomez and Joe Hunt were in the group as well. We worked in Boston and at Café au Go Go in New York. Then I started looking around for new material.
JW: What was the vision?
GB: I wanted to merge country, rock and classical into our jazz quartet. Steve Swallow joined the group, but the drum chair was unsettled for a while.
GB: I wanted Roy Haynes but he was still with Stan and wanted to wait until I became more established.
GB: To be sure the job would last [laughs]. But Roy came over soon after, and we went into the RCA studio in April 1967.
JW: What was your concept?
GB: To bring in outside influences. It was a scratching of the surface of what would become jazz-rock fusion. My creative partner in this was Steve Swallow [pictured]. He got the drift right away and helped me write tunes and make choices.
JW: Who photographed the unusual cover?
GB: Tom Zimmerman, a photographer friend who did several of my covers. Tom had taken a picture of a storm. The image described the mood of the album but not too directly. I wanted the cover to be creative and it was. A duster is what they call a tornado in the Plains states. Tom also had photographed the cover of my 1966 album The Time Machine.
JW: Did you realize that Duster was going to be special?
GB: Not at the time. I didn’t see the album as a groundbreaking thing. It was just another record. For the first year or two, my quartet was the Lone Ranger, playing this new music that we called jazz-rock. We were really the only ones doing this at that point. Others were beginning to, like Gabor Szabo. Not until later in the 1960s and early 1970 did Miles Davis, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever advance the concept.
JW: Did you listen to rock at the time?
GB: I was a huge Beatles fan. I discovered them through saxophonist Steve Marcus [pictured], a friend. I was fascinated by what they were doing musically. As each album came out, I became more of a fan. When I left to start my own thing, I knew I had to find my niche. I looked at what Stan had done. He had combined Brazilian music with jazz. I asked myself, “What do I relate to emotionally?” The answer was rock and country.
JW: Were you also trying to reach younger listeners?
GB: I think so. Audiences for Stan were twice my age. I had this sense that straight jazz was not a good long-term set up. I wanted to connect with listeners my own age, and I was digging the new rock that had arrived. It seemed natural to incorporate them into my band.
JazzWax tracks: Unfortunately Gary Burton's The Time Machine (1966) with Steve Swallow and Larry Bunker is only available as an LP. Duster (1967) is available on CD but it's out of print and is pricey. You'll find a copy here. Why both of these classic albums aren't at least downloads is beyond me. Gary's latest album, Quartet Live, is available here.
JazzWax clip: Here's a rare clip of Gary playing a solo performance of No More Blues, which he recorded on The Time Machine in 1966. If you're unfamiliar with this clip, you're in for a huge treat. Gary's technique and ideas are absolutely breathtaking...