Stan getz the documentary treatment in Jean-Pierre Larcher’s 1993 tribute to the saxophonist who brought bossa nova to North America.
Made 2 years after his death, this French doc describes how Getz’s Ukranian Jewish family came to settle in New York where Stan grew up in a tenement building in the 1930s. He picked up the sax aged 13, was playing Lester Young solos by 14 and joined Jack Teagarden’s band at 15, playing gigs around town while dodging truancy officers. After stints with Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman and Dizzy Gillespie, Getz recorded a string of successful bossa nova albums before even visiting Brazil. “I think folk music from all countries matches close together.”
Having contributed to a bossa nova boom (and inadvertently helped the Brazilian economy), the tenor player teamed up with the Brazilian genre’s pioneers Antônio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto to record 1967’s Getz/Gilberto. With Astrud Gilberto on vocals, the single ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ became the first bossa nova hit in the States and suddenly you couldn’t move for syncopated samba rhythms. Larcher doesn’t go into detail about how any of this happened, instead letting his interviewees wax lyrical about how Getz’s liquid velvet sound made them feel.
This Focus (also the name of the 1961 Getz record that he considered his favourite) on emotion over biographical detail emphasises how his music touched people’s lives on a personal level, but sidesteps the more difficult aspects of his character. It alludes to his drug problems (if not his gun-related arrests) in vague, sensitive terms, fair enough considering he had just died but far from the full picture. You could easily come away from this film thinking he was a dream to work with, which might have come as news to Chet Baker whom Getz kicked off a 1983 tour because he was jealous of the adoration the trumpeter was getting from audiences.
Like Art Pepper (who found Getz’s playing cold) and Miles Davis these personal demons manifested in a cool, mellifluous tone, always sounding laid back yet brimming with emotion. It’s hard to think of a jazz player who sounded better bathed in strings than the man they called “The Sound”, nor a better version of ‘It Never Entered My Mind’ than the one on 1960’s Cool Velvet. It’s suggested that Getz was too busy chasing women (and robbing pharmacies) to write much music, but his talent lay in improvising solos that surpassed the original melodies.
Great performances spanning his early big band solos to his final concerts with Kenny Barron are intercut with warm reminiscences from the people that knew him (including Jobim, Abbey Lincoln and Arthur Penn), all interviewed in picturesque locations to match the lush Getz tunes. Named after his last album with Barron, People Time is a touching, intimate movie that getz to the heart of Stan’s music.