Born in Philadelphia in 1927, Stan Getz is widely considered to be one of the titans of the tenor saxophone and one of the undisputed Kings of Jazz.
His unique and breathy tone was like a cool breath of fresh air in his be-bop phase and became the much-imitated iconic sound of the more subdued “cool jazz” sound which he helped pioneer the mid-1950s. But it was his foray into the South American bossa nova music with 1962’s “Jazz Samba”, recorded with guitarist and collaborator Charlie Byrd, which would catapult him into worldwide stardom.
Getz’s early love for the saxophone landed him a spot in the All City High School Orchestra in 1941. Before he was 20, Getz was playing alongside mammoths of popular jazz like vocalists Nat King Cole and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. After stints with Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey’s big bands, Stan set out on a solo career and acted as bandleader on nearly every recording he released.
Getz began his journey with be-bop in Scandinavia in the mid-1950s while in the military, playing with other luminaries of the genre like Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and Oscar Peterson who were also enlisted. Although no less dexterous or complex than these established masters, Getz’s more calm and collected approach lent a palpable counterpoint to an extremely ambitious and demanding song form.
He began to hone a more subtly inflected and nuanced approach to jazz after coming back to the States and settling on the West Coast, where he and like-minded artists like Chet Baker began to define a new, smoother sound called “cool jazz”. Still as sophisticated as be-bop, the relaxed atmosphere generated a wide appeal with listeners and gave them a less frantic and more accessible lens into jazz.
Bossa and Beyond
Getz’s biggest commercial appeal would come with a fusion of jazz and Brazilian bossa nova. In 1962, Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba” introduced the world to the distinct, vibrant colors of bossa nova. It combined the cool aesthetic with the playful harmonies and percussive flair of South American pop music. The follow-up collaboration with Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto called “Getz/Gilberto”, became a cross-over hit on the pop charts and undeniable international sensation.
Getz would go on to solidify his sound’s idiom in jazz throughout the rest of his career, working primarily in the cool jazz and bossa genres and helping garner wider appeal for both jazz and world music for generations.
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