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The Smoothest Operator: 1951-1952 Boston/New York

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Album Review

In this attractively priced, good-sounding four-CD box, JSP does a decent job. Covering just six years in Stan Getz's half-century career, the label focuses on Getz's earliest period as a bebop bandleader (at the ripe old age of 19 after already playing with Jack Teagarden, Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman) and into the beginning of his stature as a true jazz star with Norman Granz's Clef label. Over 98 cuts, which include some of his now legendary Roost recordings, listeners journey through Getz's unique abilities as a true stylist. No matter what he played — as this material attests — he had the ability to create music that walked a very fine line between intense artistic imagination and creativity and commercial viability, without sacrificing his soul. Getz may have been an acolyte of Charlie Parker, but before that he had been a true disciple of Lester Young's playing. He integrated both approaches and found his own sound on the tenor: warm, full, and lyrical with incredible speed and dexterity. This box, with better than decent sound, reveals how quickly Getz's development as a leader happened — even though during many of these sides Getz was still under employ to other bandleaders like Goodman and Woody Herman. The first two tracks on disc one ("Opus de Bop," "And the Angels Swing") are under the name the Bebop Boys — Getz, Curly Russell, Max Roach, and Hank Jones — who became by tracks three and four ("Running Water" and "Don't Worry About Me") the Stan Getz Quartet. Yes, race may have played its part in this, but it is also true that Getz was the musical equal of every man in that band.

In any case, disc one also includes the legendary "Five Brothers" recording with Allen Eager, Brew Moore, Zoot Sims, and Al Cohn, who also did "Battle of the Saxes" and "Four and One Moore." Disc one nears its end in 1949 with his signature solo on "Pennies from Heaven" as a member of the Al Haig Sextet with conguero Carlos Vidal, bassist Gene Ramey, and guitarist Jimmy Raney. Disc two was all recorded in 1950 under the revolving door known as the Stan Getz Quartet. Some of the players who played under that moniker included Horace Silver (though it was Silver's trio Getz had invited to record with him in New York), Roy Haynes, Tommy Potter, Percy Heath, Walter Bolden, and Joe Calloway. The disc opens with "Stardust," featuring Junior Parker on vocals, and includes thoroughly lovely renditions of "cool" jazz standards such as "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Imagination," "You Go to My Head," and "Out of Nowhere." Disc three begins and ends in 1951 and covers Getz's first European period, with saxophonist Lars Gullin as a worthy foil with pianist Bengt Hallberg's Swedish All Stars. There are seven sides from Sweden, all of them curious and interesting, even if some of them are a bit wooden. It also covers the early live sides in Boston with Haig, Raney, Teddy Kotick, and Tiny Kahn, but not before another session in New York with Silver's group, this time with bassist Leonard Gaskin; "Melody Express," "Yvette," "The Song Is You," and "Wildwood" all come from August of 1951 in New York.

The final disc in this fine collection continues in Boston in October of 1951 at the Storyville club, where Getz netted two LPs' worth of live material. There are some rather workmanlike sides of Getz playing with the guitarist Johnny Smith in 1952 here as well. They account for eight tracks, including the hit "Where or When," but all of them can be skipped to proceed on to the set's concluding sides cut for Norman Granz and his Clef label as the Stan Getz Quintet. The lineup included Raney, pianist Duke Jordan, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Frank Isola. These final tracks include Getz's hit versions of "Stella by Starlight," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Body and Soul," "Stars That Fell on Alabama" (a cut Getz first played with Teagarden and recorded earlier himself, but this is the definitive read of it by him), and "Lover Come Back to Me." Other than the Johnny Smith sides — on which Getz is terrific, by the way — most all of this music remains compelling, engaging, and sometimes even awe-inspiring. For the money, this is a fine collection for any serious jazz fan interested in filling out his Getz shelf, or even for the enthusiastic beginner who has gone back to the bop and cool eras, as there is adequate documentation of session dates and players, though Drew Kent's liner notes — written to fit the format of these booklets, no doubt — are a bit sketchy in places.


Born: 02 February 1927 in Philadelphia, PA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

One of the all-time great tenor saxophonists, Stan Getz was known as "The Sound" because he had one of the most beautiful tones ever heard. Getz, whose main early influence was Lester Young, grew to be a major influence himself, and to his credit he never stopped evolving. Getz had the opportunity to play in a variety of major swing big bands while a teenager due to the World War II draft. He was with Jack Teagarden (1943) when he was just 16, followed by stints with Stan Kenton (1944-1945), Jimmy...
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