TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Saxophonist Stan Getz came up at the very end of the swing era, a star soloist with Woody Herman's orchestra in the late 1940s. From the start, Getz was known for his rapturously beautiful ballad-playing, much admired by peers like John Coltrane. A new Getz nightclub recording from 1961 is out for the first time. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Getz sounds like he has something to prove.
(SOUNDBITE OF STAN GETZ QUARTET PERFORMANCE)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Recording at New York's Village Vanguard at the tail end of Thanksgiving weekend in 1961, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz may have been feeling the heat. Three weeks earlier, John Coltrane had played an explosive stand at the Village Vanguard. Coltrane's label would milk that week's recordings for decades.
Then the New Yorker ran a big story announcing the eagerly awaited return of tenor colossus Sonny Rollins after a two-year break. Those guys were Getz's contemporaries, but since he'd started recording earlier, at a time when things were changing fast, next to them, he could now seem old-fashioned. At the gate, Stan Getz pushed back against that idea.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "IT'S ALL RIGHT WITH ME (LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961)")
WHITEHEAD: On the album "Getz At The Gate," the great interactive drummer Roy Haynes stokes the beat as John Venes flies over the bass. It's hard to overstate what a terrific tenor saxophonist Stan Getz was and is because there's nothing dated about his style. He had a light, gorgeous tone that might convey great tenderness. He made swinging sound utterly natural and necessary. And he had an enviable melodic imagination as an improviser. His inspiration Lester Young famously said a good solo tells a story. And Getz could spin a tale. This is from Harold Arlen's ballad "When The Sun Comes Out."
(SOUNDBITE OF THE STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "WHEN THE SUN COMES OUT (LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961)")
WHITEHEAD: That's about as gorgeous as it gets. But on this occasion, with the tapes running, Stan mostly came to blow on the modern cats' own terms. Pianist Steve Kuhn had been in Coltrane's quartet. Kuhn could play in the linear bebop idiom Getz came up alongside and in Coltrane's splashier, new modal style. You can hear the pianist code switch from one to the other in the middle of a solo with so little fanfare, you could miss it altogether.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "52ND STREET THEME (LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961)")
WHITEHEAD: The tape rolled that Sunday in New York, and the music sounded great, despite lopsided stereo separation. But the new double CD "Getz At The Gate" marks this music's first issue. The Verve label shelved it because soon after recording it, Stan Getz fell into a lucrative career as the American standard bearer for a new musical fad, Brazil's bossa nova, even before he scored big with "Girl From Ipanema." Suddenly, Steaming Stanley really was out of step, replaced by his own more laidback self. He still improvised solos like a poet. But with so many tenors and others jumping on the bossa nova wagon, now everyone was copying him. So much for being old-fashioned. For all that, Stan Getz never gave up blowing a whole barrelful of tenor, the way he at the Village Gate, Thanksgiving weekend, 1961.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "BLUES (LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961)")
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "Getz At The Gate" featuring saxophonist Stan Getz recorded live in 1961.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll hear the story of America's first black sports hero, Major Taylor. He broke racial barriers by becoming the world's fastest and most famous cyclist at the height of the Jim Crow era. Our guest will be Washington Post investigative reporter Michael Kranish, author of a new book about Major Taylor called "The World's Fastest Man." I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. My thanks to Dave Davies for hosting last week while I took the week off. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE STAN GETZ QUARTET'S "BLUES (LIVE AT THE VILLAGE GATE, 1961)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.