Stan Getz at the Village Gate


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In 1956, tax problems compelled Stan Getz to move to Denmark. He wasn't alone when it came to sizable tax bills and a European escape. After paying their sidemen immediately after gigs, many jazz leaders didn't or couldn't set aside a portion for Uncle Sam. Other musicians spent all of their gross pay to cover drugs, alcohol, cars, failed marriages and other expenses. And most didn't have savvy financial planners and accountants.

Depending on what you read, Getz either dodged the tax bill entirely by living in Denmark or paid the IRS back incrementally by mail from Copenhagen. Whichever story is accurate, Getz returned to the U.S. on January 19, 1961. The only way he could have avoided arrest is if he had paid off the debt or worked out a payback deal with the IRS in advance of his arrival.

Part of Getz's motivation to return to the States was the September 1960 death of bassist Oscar Pettiford, who also lived in Copenhagen. According to Donald Maggin's Getz biography, the tenor saxophonist took Pettiford's passing hard and needed a recharge: “Pettiford was the only musical intelligence with whom Stan could consistently explore the American innovations, and his feelings of artistic isolation increased dramatically when Pettiford was taken away from him."

Once back in New York, Getz was in for a jolt. New York club audiences were thin. With the rise of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and other saxophonists who had a freer, more aggressive attack, Getz's smooth, high-register approach influenced by Lester Young seemed dated. Fortunately for Getz, he had a friend in Verve producer Creed Taylor, who had loved his sound since his college days at Duke University. Creed may also have worked out a deal with the IRS or advanced Getz the money owed when the saxophonist signed with Verve. 

Throughout 1961, Getz, with Creed's guidance, worked methodically to rebuild his credibility and reputation in New York. In July, Creed had him record Focus, a more abstract album than Getz was used to. Getz then recorded Stan Getz/Bob Brookmeyer in September. In November, Getz was taped live at Birdland with pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Roy Haynes. The result was released on a Fresh Sound recording.

Now, a second tape from November 1961 has been found and released by producers Zev Feldman, Richard Seidel and Ken Drucker on Universal Music's Verve label. This one was recorded at Art D'Lugoff's Village Gate on November 26, with bassist John Neves replacing Garrison. The album sounds fantastic and is Getz's most interesting recording of 1961. Here's why:

  • Kuhn's piano is astonishing. His playing was refreshingly distinct and his block chords and Bud Powell-influenced runs lean forward with a future feel.
  • The same is true for Roy Haynes, whose drumming has already crossed over into the 1960s.
  • Though Getz is still playing like Getz, you can hear him taking risks on the saxophone in an effort to revive his brand and re-establish his name at clubs.
  • The Village Gate gig came three months before Getz and Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba, an album that would lead to a string of revolutionary bossa nova albums by Getz and produce several major pop hits such as Desafinado and The Girl From Ipanema.
All of which fills in a blank. Getz never cared much for his bossa nova recordings, despite the fame and fortune it bestowed on him. For one, he felt bossa nova was pop and feared he'd be viewed by peers and fans as a sell-out. For another, Getz had a burning desire to remain atop the jazz heap and rival Coltrane. Getz was intensely competitive. This new album provides a powerful glimpse at Getz at a critical and uncertain moment in his career just before his Brazilian Faustian bargain.

JazzWax clips: Here's It's All Right With Me. Dig Kuhn's piano against Roy's drums...

And here's Yesterday's Gardenias. Dig the elegance of Getz and the rest of his group...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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