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Birthday Wrap for the Stan Getz Catalog and a Few New Felicitous Match-Ups

January 27, 2002|DON HECKMAN

Stan Getz would have been 75 on Saturday. But he never came close to reaching that milestone, dying of cancer on June 6, 1991, in Malibu. Sixty-four years may seem considerable for a jazz life, when one considers the more brief spans of Charlie Parker, Lester Young and John Coltrane, to name only a few. But few artists ever have enough time, regardless of what they are allotted, to fully fill in the details of their creative visions. Getz, perhaps more than some, appeared to have difficulty reaching the potential of his enormous natural gifts.

That's not to say he wasn't successful. The tenor saxophonist first came to the attention of the wider jazz audience with a single remarkable solo on the Woody Herman Orchestra recording of Ralph Burns' "Early Autumn." His improvisation, twining down from the upper reaches of his horn, was an emotional revelation for many listeners, a sweetly accessible connection with the then-newly arriving sounds of bebop. Only barely out of his teens, Getz found his own synthesis of Young and Parker, blending it into an instantly recognizable sound and almost immediate jazz prominence.

That sound and those sweet qualities were most often sustained, throughout his career, in his ballad work. Anticipating the anniversary, Verve has gathered a far-ranging collection of performances in that genre into a single CD release, "Getz for Lovers" (****). On Feb. 26, Verve will follow with "Getz Plays Jobim: The Girl From Ipanema" (****), and on March 12 with "The Very Best of Stan Getz" (****). All this material has been released in various forms in the past by Verve, which has thoroughly mined its Getz catalog, dating from the early '50s to the late '60s. But there's no denying the appeal, and the usefulness, of the thematic collections, given the atmospheric, mood-setting qualities inherent to Getz's finer efforts.

"Getz for Lovers" displays his superb balladry, with its vocal-like phrasing and warm links with the melody, in songs such as "I'm Glad There Is You," "But Beautiful," "Here's That Rainy Day" and "Little Girl Blue." A few bossa nova numbers are added--an especially lovely "Corcovado" with Joao Gilberto--and, less appealingly, a few numbers are over-weighted with heavy string arrangements.

The Jobim album includes selections from the five bossa nova albums Getz recorded for Verve in the early '60s, among them the breakthrough "Jazz Samba" and "Getz/Gilberto," winner of four Grammys. The "Very Best" album takes a broader look, sampling tunes from Getz's tenure at Verve.

Although the Verve years obviously represented a major segment of his life as an artist, Getz made many other recordings, before and after. Many are available as catalog items--his Roost recordings, for example, have been re-released by Blue Note, and post-Verve material is available on Columbia and Concord, among others.

Still, despite all the recordings, despite the occasional spikes of success--most notably the bossa nova outings--despite his acknowledgement as a major artist virtually from the time he passed beyond his teens, there is a sense of unfulfillment in the Getz catalog. Donald L. Maggin's penetratingly informative biography, "Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz" (William Morrow), suggests, at least by implication, that monstrous quantities of ego and entitlement--supplemented by drugs and alcohol--may have been the roadblocks that impeded Getz's progress toward a more productive and fulfilling creative life. But that's only speculation, of course, since others--Parker immediately comes to mind--were seemingly undeterred by similar obstacles.

Nonetheless, the music still remains. If it is not as good or as expansive or as deep as it might have been, it still deserves an honored position in the lexicon of jazz accomplishments. Presumably, the 75th anniversary will trigger the release of Getz material from other sources, but no advance notices have yet arrived. Stay tuned for further developments.

January is never an especially prolific month for new releases, but a few attractive items have slipped through the post-holiday haze.

Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner, "Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner" (***1/2, Verve Records). Available Tuesday, the match-up of harmonica master Thielemans and pianist Werner is their first recording together, after years of scintillating live performances. The encounter brings together an extraordinary amount of musical firepower. Thielemans has recorded with an amazing array of artists, from Joni Mitchell to Charlie Parker, provided the sound for numerous films, television scores and commercials, and written music for "Sesame Street" as well as "Midnight Cowboy." Werner is a gifted educator, composer and orchestrator, as well as author of the fascinating book "Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within."

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