Stan Getz

By: Brian Berger
February 2, 2011

“There are lots of people who think STAN GETZ (1927-91) invented jazz,” observed Gilbert Sorrentino, “but academics don’t count.” The novelist’s tone is here sarcastic; that of the tenor saxophonist was everywhere a marvel of fluid sincerity. Getz grew up poor in the Bronx, took his first professional job in December, 1942 — and was busted for truancy soon after. Impressed, Jack Teagarden became Getz’s legal guardian, educating the teen in the blues and alcoholism. Joining Stan Kenton in 1944, Getz made $125 a week and the acquaintance of heroin. Already devoted to Lester Young’s visionary “cool,” mastery of be-bop made Getz complete: he could do anything, brilliantly — except, in 1954, hold-up a Seattle pharmacy. For that, he was arrested. A 1960 film of Getz and John Coltrane jamming Thelonious Monk proves everything. Jazz Samba, Getz’s 1962 collaboration with guitarist Charlie Byrd featuring “Desafinado,” was a hit; “Is Bossa Nova The New Twist?” Billboard wondered. Getz rode the craze well but wasn’t constrained by it: albums like Sweet Rain (1967) and Captain Marvel (1972) re-proving his progressive empathies. What Getz couldn’t master were his addictions, at least not until terminal liver cancer, diagnosed in 1988, forced the issue. Yet Getz’s final performances (duets with pianist Kenny Barron), recorded just three months before his death, are among his finest. What did it mean, Getz’s last redemption in art? To jazz critic Larry Kart, he was a “solitary, pensive, ultimately courageous figure.”


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: James Joyce.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist generation (1924-33).


HiLo Heroes, Jazz, Music

What do you think?

  1. Um, a sort of unavoidable secondary takeaway here is that Gilbert Sorrentino dickishly disdained Stan Getz. It’s not true. He had a lot of Stan Getz in his rather extensive jazz collection. I don’t think he valued him as much as he valued Lester Young or Dexter Gordon or Sonny or Coltrane (which shows pretty good discernment, if you ask me), but he liked him. This “observation” is not actually an argument made or developed to any degree in an essay on jazz, but a throwaway line in a novel. And I think we can indeed agree that, good as he was, Stan Getz did not, in fact, invent jazz.

  2. FWIW, I didn’t read this quote as Gilbert S. dissing Getz, but rather Gilbert S. dissing clueless jazz buffs.

  3. Chris–

    My editor, Mr. Glenn, read it as I intended. Were I not extremely constrained by space in HiLo format, I might have elaborated, and likewise wondered if Gil and Stan ever met while Getz was Artist-in-Resident at Stanford.

    You can say I might have written a Gilbert Sorrentino “character” or “narrator” observed but I hoped that was implicit by referring to Gil there as novelist, not– as he also was– critic or writer.

    Also, while we’re here–

    Thanks for reading.

    Hail Lester!

  4. I really do like the LP pictured. Originally I picked it up as it looked like Return to Forever featuring Stan Getz. It turned out to sound much better than I could have hoped for.

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