On Friday, November 14, 1952, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz caught a break. The demand for tickets to a Carnegie Hall concert celebrating Duke Ellington's 25 years in the music business was so strong that a second midnight show had to be added. Fortunately for Getz, he was given a 40-minute slot on stage in each of the two shows, ensuring maximum exposure for him and his quintet.
Earlier that year, in March, Getz had recorded a jazz-pop jukebox hit. Playing behind guitarist Johnny Smith, they recorded Moonlight in Vermont, a gentle, pulse-beat rendition that crossed over and resonated with the easy-listening market. At Carnegie Hall in November, Getz would provide a rendition of his hit backed by guitarist Jimmy Raney, pianist Duke Jordan, bassist Bill Crow and drummer Frank Isola.
On stage, Getz and his group took Moonlight in Vermont at a faster clip than his earlier recording. No more playing second fiddle to Johnny Smith. This concert version was all Getz. The song attracted prolonged applause and caught the ear of producer Norman Granz [pictured]. After the concert, Granz signed Getz to his Clef label, starting a relationship that would result in some of Getz's finest recordings.
Now Hip-O-Select at the Verve Music Group has issued Stan Getz Quintets: The Clef & Norgran Studio Albums. The three-CD set features Getz in the 10-inch LP era on the two labels Granz started before he launched Verve in 1956. The pairing of Getz and Granz was perfect. By the early 1950s, Granz had come up with an ingeniously simple recording formula. By signing top jazz artists with enormous stamina and a seemingly endless well of ideas, Granz would have them record American songbook classics. They would start out playing the melody and then improvise their hearts out on the chord changes. The purpose was to widen public support for jazz and attempt to eat into the lucrative pop market.
Many of the tracks on this new set have appeared on collections in the past. What makes this box special is the pristine sound of the tracks and handsome packaging. What comes through your system is so clean and distinct that you can hear Getz's saxophone pads clicking away as he jets through songs. The liner notes by Ashley Kahn appear as a book, and the CD sleeves are reproductions of the original 10-inch LP covers. The same appealing format was used recently for the label's Oscar Peterson and Dinah Washington packages.
This set is unofficially divided into two parts—Stan's quintet with guitarist Jimmy Raney and his quintet with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer (though there are a few tracks without Bob).
The first disc features Stan Getz Plays and The Artistry of Stan Getz, both recorded at the tail-end of 1952. From the opening track, Stella By Starlight, Getz takes your ear by storm. You're reminded once again how remarkable he was on virtually everything he played. By adapting Lester Young's cool phrasing and Charlie Parker's drive, Getz's tone was caressing and his ideas seemingly endless. On the Raney section of the box you realize how gifted Duke Jordan was as an accompanist.
Throughout this first disc—Time on My Hands, 'Tis Autumn, The Way You Look Tonight and on and on—Getz flies through as though as though hydroplaning, effortlessly inventing one fresh alternative melody after the next. His sense of swing was spellbinding and machine-like in its precision and duration.
The second and third discs feature Getz competing playfully with Bob's [pictured] valve trombone. The union is as smooth as can be, with Getz offering high-register tenor solos following by Bob's morse-code valve trombone. Lyrical tracks include The Nearness of You, Tangerine, Feather Merchant and the perky Pot Luck. Their polished counterpoint was the cool jazz version of Dixieland—and the East Coast approach to what Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker were developing in California.
You listen to these recordings, and it's hard to believe that the married Getz during this period was a heroin addict and recklessly promiscuous. How music so wonderful could come out of a soul so dysfunctional and self-destructive is impossible to fathom. But there it is, and this set reminds us that Getz could be both beautiful and baffling without missing a beat. [Photo: Herman Leonard/CTSImages.com]
JazzWax tracks: Stan Getz Quintets: the Clef and Norgran Albums (Hip-O-Select) can be found at iTunes or here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Getz and Bob Brookmeyer in 1953 on Crazy Rhythm. Note that the recording used here is not from the new box...