A saxophonist is nothing without a signature sound. John Coltrane had his, so did Paul Desmond. And so did Stan Getz, 64, who died Thursday. "His sound was incredible," said pianist Kenny Barron. "He was one of the last of the masters whom you could recognize by the first few notes."
Stan Getz received his initial training in Jack Teagarden's biband, then graduated to Woody Herman's Second Herd, where he became one of the celebrated Four Brothers in the saxophone section. The 1948 recording of the ballad "Early Autumn" established Stan Getz's warm, lyrical styling, yet a few years later he was a man on the run.
A failing marriage, a heroin bust, problems with alcohol and law, a suicide attempt, six months in a California jail, an auto crash that almost killed one of his sons, a near-fatal case of pneumonia. His life a mess, Stan Getz fled to Copenhagen in 1958. He started a life as a jazz missionary, touring Europe with the legendary Jazz at The Philharmonic.
A few years later when he returned to the United States, he came to a foreign land. The likes of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman had shaken and revolutionized the whole jazz scene. Stan Getz was not intimidated by those stylistic innovations and wanted to experiment further on his own terms.
In 1962, he and Annapolis guitarist Charlie Byrd recorded an album of Brazilian tunes, "Jazz Samba." It launched a bossa nova craze, turning Mr. Getz into a pop star and putting jazz on the pop charts. "The Girl from Ipanema" was his biggest hit. (A good sampler of that period is his 1976 album, "The Best of Two Worlds," with guitarist Joao Gilberto and percussionist Airto).
During his career, Stan Getz won 11 Grammy Awards. In th1970s, he was a frequent visitor to Baltimore, playing engagements at the Left Bank Jazz Society and appearing at open-air concerts at Charles Center. In 1987, Mr. Getz was discovered to have cancer, yet he kept performing and recording to the last months of his life.
Mr. Getz was an inspiration to legions of musicians, including Chick Corea with whom he recorded extensively. He was a saxophonist who was able to reach beyond conventional jazz audiences. "He played in a way that was expressing his own self -- very emotional, very personal and very beautiful," said guitarist Barney Kessel, a long-time friend. "In a world of angry sounds, he came out with pure beauty."