Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Two-Fer-Tuesday: Stan Getz, pop star?

As you probably know by now, Herbie Hancock's latest album River: The Joni Letters (the subject of last week's Two-Fer-Tuesday) broke a way-too-long losing streak at the Grammy's by winning Album of the Year Sunday night.

The last time a jazz album captured the biggest award in the music industry? In 1964, when Getz/Gilberto managed not only to win the Grammy but actually displaced the Beatles from the top of the Billboard charts.

It might be stating the obvious, but this is a wonderful album, full of classic tunes such as "Corcovado," "Desafinado" and (of course) "The Girl from Ipanema." I'm not embarrassed to say that my whole obsession with Brazilian culture started with this album. It's why I took Intensive Portuguese during my senior year at Georgetown and later developed a fascination for some of the most important figures in Bossa Nova and MPB: Tom Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Elis Regina and Chico Buarque.

At some point, I might devote a post to why this album is so essential and why Stan the Man was the perfect person to bring Brazilian music to the masses. But not today.

Today, I'm going to talk about Stan Getz, the 80s pop star.

Thankfully, we're not talking about heavy eye makeup, mullets and fingerless gloves. But towards the end of his life, Getz and his exquisite tenor saxophone playing found themselves in a few unlikely places.

The first was the debut album of blind vocalist Diane Schuur, whom Getz was instrumental in discovering and bringing to the attention of GRP Records after watching her sing "Amazing Grace" at the 1979 Monterrey Jazz Festival. Though Schuur would later become more of a classic jazz singer, recording with the likes of the Count Basie Orchestra, her 1985 debut Deedles attempted to cast her as a multi-genre vocalist – sometimes to embarrassing levels, as with “Can’t Stop a Woman in Love,” which sounds like a Flashdance outtake with all its synthesizers and programmed drums. As a whole, the release also suffers from the era's sterile production values, which were developed to showcase the cleanness of the still-new CD format.

Then there is "New York State of Mind," which showcases Schuur's ability to make pop standards her own. But that's not all. At the 2:45 mark, Getz kicks in with a majestic solo. Even people who are bigger fans of the Billy Joel original might wonder: How much more spectacular would it have been if Getz was the one playing the solo on Joel's Turnstiles (1976) album instead of Richie Cannata? Oh well.

Play "New York State of Mind" by Diane Schuur (featuring Stan Getz)

A few years later, Getz had reestablished himself in the San Francisco area as a result of a teaching position at Stanford University. And he was asked by Huey Lewis to play on his 1988 record Small World. To Lewis' credit, Getz didn't just get a perfunctory few notes to blow on his horn. Instead, the almost entirely instrumental "Small World (Part Two)" was built around Getz, who rises to the occasion and overcomes the fair to middling material.

Play "Small World (Part Two)" by Huey Lewis and the News (featuring Stan Getz)

There was almost something even bigger. One of the biggest pop stars in the world at the time, George Michael, reportedly got in touch with Getz because he wanted him to play on his next record. To bring this post around full circle, Michael was a professed big fan of Getz/Gilberto – so much so that he insisted on playing the entire album for Rolling Stone journalist Steve Pond during a 1988 interview. The pairing never came off, either because of poor timing, Getz's reluctance or his health problems. (Getz would die of liver cancer in 1991). Later, Michael would partially get his wish – duetting with Astrud Gilberto on a surprisingly credible "Desafinado" for the Red Hot + Rio (1996) benefit album

Just for this week, I will make this a three-fer. That's because I feel bad about giving Getz the short shrift in terms of his massive contributions to jazz. Here's a version of "The Peacocks" featuring Getz playing with Bill Evans. Getz played on the original version of this lovely jazz classic with composer Jimmy Rowles, but this 1974 cut from the live album But Beautiful certainly does the trick as well.

Play "The Peacocks" by Stan Getz and Bill Evans

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