A candle burns brightest just before it goes out.
That well-worn expression describes so much of the final dizzying flurry of work of many of the greatest jazz artists over the decades that it has slipped beyond the grasp of simple cliché into the realm of saddening truism. To make matters worse, these stories are often rendered maddeningly tragic by the self-destructive slant the lives of these artists commonly took.
Stan Getz’s career, from it’s precocious beginnings with the Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman and Woody Herman big bands to his final European run, is marked by that rare trifecta of critical acceptance, peer influence, and commercial success. Tempering his ascent to the forefront of the “cool jazz” movement in the 1950s—recording with likes of Gerry Mulligan, Lionel Hampton, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Horace Silver, and Oscar Peterson, to name a few—was a very hard-fought struggle with drug abuse.
After a temporary respite in Europe, Getz returned to America in 1961 and teamed with Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim to bring the bossa nova into vogue, culminating in the incredible success of 1963’s “The Girl from Ipanema”. Another plunge into the depths of addiction followed a few years later along with another retreat to Europe.
In 1971, Getz returned to recording and touring, remaining active and prolific for the remainder of his career. Twenty years later, in June of 1991, Stan Getz passed away after battling with liver cancer off and on for four years. Considering his chronic alcohol and drug problems, it was surprising to some that Getz had survived as long as he did.
The summer prior to his death, bolstered by a fanatical devotion to his own health and a Chinese macrobiotic diet, Getz was extensively touring Europe in support of Apasionado, his latest album. The Final Concert Recording, the most recent posthumous release licensed by Getz’s estate, documents a single night in the last few months of his life. Recorded at his July 18th, 1990 concert at the Munich Philharmonic Hall, it is a remarkable two-disc chronicle of one of the final masterful displays by the great tenor saxophonist.
Bassist Alex Blake and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington provide the rhythmic foundation for the carefully assembled sextet while the incomparable work of Kenny Barron at the piano provides a harmonic foundation for Getz’s clean and characteristically clear tenor tone. Eddie Del Barrio and Frank Zottoli contribute layers of synthesizer for added color on the more contemporary funk/fusion flavored tunes.
The first disc opens with “Apasionado”, which carries a distinctly contemporary feel. Getz’s tenor swoops and soars against a gentle backdrop of string-like synthesizers and a lightly swaying bossa feel. Later cuts like “Espagnira (Espanola)” and “Coba” revisit this feel. All in all, these tracks carry their more modern face gracefully without degenerating into smooth jazz pabulum and feature Getz at his technical best. The most inspired cuts of the entire recording also originate on the first disc with a sweetly swinging version of “On a Slow Boat to China” and the Miles Davis original “Seven Steps to Heaven”. These traveled classics, along with Johnny Mandel’s “El Cajon”, are amazingly fresh as Getz furiously asserts their importance along side his newer material.
On the second disc Getz takes a decidedly more acoustic approach, including the Thad Jones ballad “Yours and Mine”, a gently sizzling rendition of “People Time”, and Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count”. His tone is intoxicating and assured, offering clear proof as to his reputation as the sax player’s saxophonist. Even Coltrane, it has been said, attempted to emulate the breadth and quality of Getz’s sound. A turn on the standard Cole Porter classic “What is This Thing Called Love?” (complete with a solid drum solo introduction and blistering turns by both Getz and Barron) as well as a version of Barron’s own original “Voyage”, exemplifies Getz’s immense improvisational facility.
The Final Concert Recording exemplifies the tremendous legacy of Stan Getz: an unmistakably breathtaking sound and the chops to back it up. Unfortunately, the quality of this recording is compromised by questionable moments of engineering and mixing at times, a fault of either the source recording or the mastering process for this release. Yet, the distractions are fleeting and the album still manages to capture Getz’s inspiring essence.
The fact that Stan Getz remains as one of the most prolific jazz saxophonists, having produced over 300 recordings over the course of his career, is a tribute to not just his own sheer physical stamina but also his supreme talent on the horn and widespread appeal. Capturing some of these final flashes of creative brilliance is a rare gift for generations of players and aficionados to come.