Tenor saxophone great Stan Getz dies at age 64

June 07, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, who set off the bossa nova rage of the early 1960s, reviving a career that was almost shattered by drugs a decade earlier, died at his Malibu home yesterday.

The noted 64-year-old musician had been in and out of St. John's Hospital and Health Center in suburban Santa Monica for treatment in a battle with liver cancer over about five years, his son, Steve, said.

With his feather-light, seemingly effortless style, Mr. Getz had been a major jazz figure almost from the first, as a teen-age sideman with various big swing bands in the 1940s.

However, he seemed doomed by a destructive heroin habit that led him to jail and a near-fatal overdose. But he fought off the addiction and, in the early 1960s, returned from living in Denmark to record "Desifinado," the tune that revived his career, enriched him and launched the bossa nova fad in the United States.

He soon recorded an even bigger bossa nova hit, "The Girl from Ipanema," with Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto. It won a Grammy Award for best record of the year, a first for a jazz performance. His "Jazz Samba" album, with guitarist Charlie Byrd, made his comeback complete.

From there on, Mr. Getz rarely performed without hearing requests for "Desifinado," "One Note Samba," "Corcovado" or one of his other bossa nova hits.

He called bossa nova "a great hybrid, the true samba blended with cool jazz" and said it "is just like a man and a woman getting together."

Born in Philadelphia on Feb. 2, 1927, Mr. Getz was the son of a tailor and his wife, who had shortened their name from Gayetzsky when they immigrated from Russia. The family moved to the Bronx, where Mr. Getz played the bass and bassoon before finally settling on the tenor saxophone.

Mr. Getz was a disciple of the great black tenor man, Lester Young, but developed his own warm, easy style.

A heroin addict since he was 18, Mr. Getz hit bottom in 1954, when he was arrested in a bumbling effort to hold up a Seattle pharmacy. Hours later, he was found unconscious in his cell of acute heroin intoxication.

After six months in jail, Mr. Getz took up his saxophone again and eventually resumed his musical career, finding bossa nova and enduring fame as he recorded with Brazilians Antonio Carlos Jobim, guitarist Joao Gilberto and the latter's wife, Astrud.

In addition to his constant appearances at clubs and jazz concerts, he began in 1981 teaching during summers at Stanford University. "I think jazz music is mostly a black man's art," he once said. "But there happen to be a few whites who can play it just as well, just as originally as any black man. Not many, but I know I'm one of them."

Mr. Getz, who was divorced, is survived by five children.

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