The Expatriate Life of Stan Getz

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Stan Getz (1927–1991)

(Photo: Lee Tanner)

The trouble with most of the Danish jazz musicians, however, is that they are hobbyists—though very good ones—for whom it apparently doesn’t pay to play for a living. Perhaps as the interchange of jazzmen increases, the climate will be more propitious for careers in jazz. It is already getting better, as evidenced by the fact the daily press devotes a considerable amount of space to jazz columns and reviews. Denmark also has two regularly published magazines devoted to jazz.

Two of the best jazzmen in Denmark are Jan Johansson, a lean young Swede with a beard and a modest manner, who has been influenced considerably by Horace Silver and Lenny Tristano; and William Schiøppfe, a poll-winning drummer who has learned from the two Joneses—Jo and Philly Joe—and is the only Danish musician who makes a full-time living from jazz.

Both have played extensively with Getz, in the house group at the Club Montmartre.

Johansson recalled his first few nights of playing with Getz and Pettiford: “They were, of course, excellent,” he said. “I was terrible. American musicians like Stan and Oscar not only play better than most Europeans, but in many ways are quite different from us. They have more nuances, they are more forceful, bolder. The rest of us are so busy trying to keep up with them that we rarely reach the great moments. ... European musicians spend a lot of time listening to American jazz on records; we seem to be less independent in our playing.”

Another young musician, Lars Blach, a Danish guitarist who occasionally sits in with Getz and Pettiford, speaks with even greater awe: “Of course, it’s wonderful to be allowed in with such company. At first you think it’s strange that they’ll have you sit in at all. There you sit—small, mean with big ears—waiting for that knowing smile that tells you that you’ve failed. But suddenly you realize that the other guy gets something out of even your worst blunder! ... Then afterwards you rush home with your head full of new ideas and try them out.”

This, then, is the present world of Stan Getz: a favorable, relaxed atmosphere in which he is able to play without pressure, in which his work is able to grow and his influence take root among musicians who need the inspiration he and Pettiford can give. And make no mistake: He is making a real effort to grow as an artist.

He sat down to talk about it one night at the Montmartre.

As it happened, it was one of those wrong nights. The Montmartre was half empty (a rarity), and the first few sets by the group were undistinguished to the point of being restive. Getz had had a bad day. Yet, suddenly he launched into a 12-minute version of “I Can’t Get Started,” during which he poured out his soul with extraordinary beauty and lyricism. The audience was transfixed.

Afterward he seemed to feel better.

“My music gets better when I have time for meditation and working new things out,” he said. “I have been working a lot with my tone over here. I’ve been trying to set it more naturally. I’m trying to get away from too much vibrato. ... I started off the wrong way, learning the practical aspects first. It’s a blind alley.”

To achieve his ends, Getz plans to enroll at a Danish music conservatory to study theory, and learn to play piano. He has, believe it or not, never had a formal music lesson since he began playing professionally in New York at the age of 15.

This devotion to improvement is already paying off. As Gitler detected from the Getz recording, his playing has reached a new maturity. The style has become more lyrical, yet increasingly forceful.

“He doesn’t seem dry and intellectual as he used to,” said one Danish jazz critic. “He has soul in every note he plays. ... Getz demonstrates that the modern school isn’t as bloodless as people have been thinking. He builds up his themes with unerring logic, and it is almost incredible that he can give his tone so much richness and fullness without vibrato ... .”

Getz has no intention of leaving Denmark at this time. Why should he?

He and Pettiford do considerable radio work, mostly with the intelligent planning of Børge Roger-Henrichsen, a jazz pianist who is in charge of jazz programming for the Danish state radio. And there is recording work. Pettiford does some recordings with small European groups for Dyrup, the Montmartre proprietor, who also owns a record firm and distributes American labels such as World Pacific, Savoy, and Roulette. Getz said that he plans to join Pettiford when his contract with Verve runs out.

Getz and Pettiford usually play four nights a week at Montmartre. During the weekends, they either play to one of the hundreds of jazz societies that have sprouted up all over this little country in recent years. Or they hop a flight to some other European city for a weekend gig.

And that is one of the main appeals of Copenhagen to Getz: It is so located that no major European city is more than a few hours away by air.

In point of fact, Getz at this time is away from Copenhagen, traveling the continent with Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe. With him are the Oscar Peterson Trio, Miles Davis—and Jan Johansson and William Schiøppfe. The pianist and drummer—modest in evaluating their roles in the career of Stan Getz—so impressed Granz when he went to Montmartre to talk to Getz recently that he hired both of them to work with the saxophonist on the tour.

When they return, it will be time for Getz to start thinking about the summer. During the summer months, he and his family rent a large home facing Øresund, the sound that separates Denmark from Sweden.

It is an easy drive into town for Getz, who uses a small German car. He explained that he brought a large white Cadillac with him from America, but promptly traded it in. “I didn’t want any notoriety,” he said, grinning.

But chances are that in the vicinity of his home, you’ll find Stan Getz using an even more modest mode of transportation. Adapting himself to the local atmosphere, Getz does what the Danes do: as often as not, he travels by bicycle.

“Yes, I like this life,” the quiet-spoken musician said. “It’s a good life.” DB

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