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Stan Getz

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Stanley (1927-1991) Tenor saxophonist and leader

Stan Getz started playing professionally at the age 15 in New York, and when he was only a year older made his first recording, as a sideman with Jack Teagarden. After playing in several important big bands, including those of Stan Kenton (1944-5) and Benny Goodman (1945-6), in 1947, he joined Woody Herman's Second Herd, where with his fellow saxophonists Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, and Herbie Steward he formed the famous reed section known as the Four Brothers. In 1948 his ballad improvisation on Ralph Burns's Early Autumn established him instantaneously as a major improviser in advanced swing style. After leaving Herman the following year Getz began to lead his own small groups and immediately, started to dominate jazz popularity polls for his instrument, as he did for many of the next 25 years.

In the mid-1950s Getz's career was interrupted by difficulties associated with his addiction to drugs. He spent the latter part of the decade working from Scandinavia, where he performed and recorded with local musicians and with other American expatriates such as Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke. After returning to the USA in 1961 he attempted a comeback with the album Focus, which included outstanding arrangements by Eddie Sauter. In the following year, with Charlie Byrd, he initiated a fusion of jazz and bossanova which captured the public's fancy and brought Getz a considerable amount of popular acclaim. The movement, however, was short-lived. Although Getz continued to lead jazz groups, and helped to launch the careers of Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, Chick Corea, Tony Williams, Airto Moreira, and other promising young musicians, he was out of sympathy with the free-jazz and rock movements, and he spent the years 1969 to 1972 in semi-retirement in Europe. His album Captain Marvel (1972) marked his return to playing jazz on a regular basis. From that time he has led a number of small groups with such important young musicians as JoAnne Brackeen. In the mid-1980s he worked regularly in the San Francisco Bay area and taught at Stanford University.

Getz was an important exponent of his instrument and one of the supremely melodious improvisers in modern jazz, with a style deeply rooted in the swing period. Drawing his light, vibrato-less tone and basic approach from Lester Young, Getz developed a highly personal manner which, for its elegance and easy virtuosity, stood apart from the aggressive bop style of the late 1940s and 1950s. His justly celebrated performance on Early Autumn (1948), with its characteristically languorous melody and delayed rhythm, captured the imagination of many young white jazz musicians of the time and helped to precipitate the "cool" reaction to bop in the years that followed. Although ballad renditions of this sort were the basis of Getz's popularity, he was also among the few jazz musicians who could remain lyrical even at very fast tempos, thanks to a secure technical command of his instrument; performances such as Crazy Chords (1949), a breakneck rendering of the blues in all 12 keys, set new standards of virtuosity for jazz improvisation on the tenor saxophone. His fusion of jazz and bossanova, though not as novel as was claimed at the time, was instrumental in restoring jazz to a large popular following, and paved the way for the later influx of Brazilian music and instruments into jazz in the early 1970s.

A collection of transcriptions of Getz's solos, Stan Getz: Improvised Saxophone Solos, has been published by T. Kynaston (Hialeah, FL, 1982).

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For personal, non-commercial use only. Copying or other reproduction is prohibited.
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