Stan Getz

Getz/Gilberto

Getz/Gilberto ***** A watershed, “Best Of…” record on many lists, this album popularized Bossa Nova to the world, solidified the already impressive careers of guitarist/composer/singer João Gilberto, saxophonist Stan Getz and composer/pianist António Carlos Jobim, and made an international star out of Astrud Gilberto. Not only was the album a critical and popular success, but three songs from the album, The Girl From Ipanema, Corcovado, and Desafinado would become jazz/popular standards and would even find their way to Gypsy Jazz canon in the coming decades. Also it became an instant fine-living, travel to far-flung locale, international party hit helping to shrink a world that was already becoming much smaller as the 20th century rolled along. World music? Possibly. How many people have partied, broke bread, danced, strolled, loved, and lost to the sounds of this album? Incalculable, I would think. A innumerate number of good times and broken hearts, but…it’s the way of the world, isn’t it?

João Gilberto’s very unique style for guitar and voice had its origins in Brazil in the late 1950s where he wrote his first bossa-nova song, Bim-Bim. Originally based on the samba, Gilberto’s music eschewed the over-the-top musical elements and instrumentation usually found in that music in favor of quiet, insistent and rhythmically percussive self-accompaniment on an acoustic guitar. This became an instantly recognizable and popular style, especially given the material that Gilberto had to work with. Jobim’s compositions are the purest examples of suave, sophisticated harmony that lends itself to a sparse romantic music and he was involved in writing all but one of the tunes on the album (Para Machucar Meu Coração). Everyone has heard Girl from Ipanema and many have heard Corcovado and Desafinado. The melodies linger long after the songs have ceased playing and all three have a nostalgic reflective tone in addition to their other splendid qualities. The playful Doralice samba and Só Danco Samba instill a groovy dance vibe and Getz’s sax, brings some absolute gorgeous tones as the songs build during his solos, yet the rhythmic center that defines the tunes is never lost.

The first popular album of bossa-nova in the United States was actually performed by Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd a few years before Getz/Gilberto was recorded and the positive reviews and reactions led to a legendary concert at Carnegie Hall to promote the style. Out of that concert, came this album. I’ve already reviewed another killer album that Stan Getz was a party to — Moonlight in Vermont with the amazing Johnny Smith. People can talk about Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, but Getz may have been the best-sounding (mellifluous) saxophonist who ever put lips to…er mouthpiece. When someone of Coltrane’s caliber describes your sound as, “Let’s face it—we’d all sound like that if we could,” you’re probably doing something right. Getz’s presence on this album is just as important as Moonlight in Vermont and what’s interesting is that both albums are guitar albums. Different kinds of guitar albums in terms of music, style, focus and execution, but it is the guitar that really drives both discs.


The combination of Gilberto’s quiet comping, Jobim’s sparse piano, Getz’s lyrical, very resonant sax and the laid-back rhythm section of Sebastião Neto on bass and Milton Banana on drums was a winner and still makes for a very beautiful sound and album. Astrud Gilberto, who had never sung before, brings a relaxed, very femininely melodic presence to two songs, Girl from Ipanema and Corcovado. On both tunes both Gilbertos sing and Getz plays in the same very lagged, easy manner with subtle adjustments to the melody each time through. There isn’t that much in the way of crazy improvisation; substitutions, speed, volume or drive that one usually hears in jazz or pop soloing, but that helps with the cohesiveness of the album. On Getz/Gilberto all of the songs stand alone, but also reflect beautifully on each other. The continuity is also a result of Gilberto’s guitar style, which is the antithesis of what most later guitar players (and other soloists) would play (or over-play) later when covering these tunes. That is a “thing” and certainly a group like the Rosenberg Trio has taken Jobim material and made it amazing as only they can, but this album is a study in the beauty and effectiveness of restraint and control in music, performance, and emotion and how that can be amazing as well. It produces a sound that instantly puts one drowsy on a languid beach, kissed by the wind and the tang of the ocean, rolling off the quiet swells of the deep blue sea, wrapped in the warm glow of the sun and waiting for the quiet stars of the quiet nights and the moonlight on the mountains…

All That Jazz

I got a message this week that said, “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, but that back-order of discs you’re expecting? Ain’t gonna happen. Remember… to order from us again…then you’ll begin to make it…better…” The discs in question were from the order that included the Howlin’ Wolf and Davey Graham CDs I’ve already reviewed…and yes being the guy I am, I did make it better, but not at the same online retailer. We haven’t finished with the replacement for the broken Wolf discs yet…so it’s best to proceed cautiously. But there was a bunch of music listening done this week so here are a few down-and-dirty reviews.

Moonlight in Vermont ***** This album was probably the high point of Johnny Smith’s career and is viewed as one of the most influential guitar classics of the period by many, including prominent guitarists such as Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and Jimmy Bruno. Charlie Parker was also rumored to be a huge fan. The album is still a great disc to listen to because of its high level of musicality and the emotional romance that music of this period contained. The material on the album was actually a compilation drawn from 2 10-inch discs that Johnny had recorded while at NBC during the early 1950s (It was the song, Moonlight in Vermont, not the album, that was jazz magazine’s Downbeat #2 song of the year (in 1952). The album Moonlight… was released in 1956 and Smith picked his band from a group of fellers he met while was on staff at NBC. This group included the incomparable saxophone superstar Stan Getz, who is the perfect foil for Smith on this album as the two of them drive each other to thrilling and precipitous heights on several cuts. It’s easy to imagine that in lesser hands what is attempted would fall apart spectacularly, but they both had a level of mastery that enabled them to play cleanly, clearly, and brilliantly no matter the tempo or difficulty of the musical passages; a reason many of the performances on the disc are flat-out breathtaking, even by today’s standards.

Many reviews of Moonlight in Vermont allude to Smith’s chord melody style having the quality of a piano and his single line playing recalling the great saxophone lines of someone like Lester Young, and this is true. He also had a pure, very crystalline tone delivered either on an Epiphone or Guild archtop and there is at times a very distinct Western Swing vibe and a nod or three to the great Chet Atkins. Throughout the album there is a very Lush Musicality, that is well supported by the great rhythm section and piano players that appear on the disc. Moonlight in Vermont includes the original composition Jaguar with Smith and Getz playing the dual lead head and middle passages at breakneck tempo. Then there is the Caravan-esque Tabu with its bebop harmonies and dark guitar tone…also a dual lead by Smith and Getz. Smith’s picking is clean and forceful and he has said he imagined that he would have to execute lines in the same smooth fashion as a violin player (going from a bottom note all the way to the top in one crescendo movement). The breakdown middle during the solo choruses of Tabu illustrates this very well with both players blowing out a flurry of notes. The best ballads: Tenderly, Stars Fell on Alabama, I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance, and the title cut all feature Johnny’s beautiful chord melody (tight-closed voice) playing that he pulls off with the harmonic and melodic sense of a classical/jazz pianist. At other times, the sound of Johnny’s guitar almost approaches that of a pedal steel and that tone adds an extra level of sweetness, ambiance, and emotionalism to the tunes and juxtaposes very nicely with Getz’s very throaty, resonant sax solos. Sometimes it also sounds like Hawaiian slack key slide guitar as on the bouncy Vilia and I’ll Be Around. Then there are the tunes that are completely early 50s bop: Cherokee, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and Cavu. All in all it’s a perfectly balanced listening experience and though it serves as such, it is much more than just a very inspired guitar study. Trust me when I say that if you throw it on the next time you want to set a romantic mood, you won’t be sorry!

Soft Guitars***1/2 The Al Caiola (w/Don Arnone) Soft Guitars disc is another lush and very swanky jazz disc, released in 1961. Both Caiola and Arnone were well-regarded studio musicians in New York in the 1950s, so obviously this is top-level, well-arranged music for the swank set of that time. This is very typical of the Cool Jazz/Space Age pop/Bachelor-Pad style of music of the time; lots of playful sounds, swinging guitars, bongos, vibes, bells, whistles, sound effects, and lots of album covers with hot babes. This album was originally part of a two-LP set called Great Pickin’ and Soft Guitars and then was a 2 LP on 1 CD set and somewhere along the line the set was split. It is a marvelous snapshot or earshot, if you will, of a time in music that is long gone, yet recalls the exuberance, optimism, and class of the pre-rock era. People like me, who came of age during the 60s and 70s still heard this type of music and this type of musician all of the time on television and in movies. It didn’t really go away permanently until the 80s.

There is a well-arranged duet style that permeates the record and given that both of these guys were first call session guitarists, I’m sure they came to this kind of arranging naturally. There isn’t a whole lot of wild improvisation or flashy stuff; they keep it to some great instrumental jazz/popular music of the time, played exceptionally well. They cover Stella by Starlight, Try a Little Tenderness, The Sound of Music and More Than You Know. Leading off the album is their take on They Can’t Take That Away From Me, a song that was later associated with jazz guitar titans Ted Greene and Martin Taylor. Since this album was recorded way back in 1961, I would say Al and Don got there first! In addition to other jumpin’, jivin’ tunes like S’ Wonderful and S’Nice they do a great take on Imagination, the old jazz warhorse I Can’t Get Started, and Clair de Lune as Debussy might’ve imagined it. I wrote about Debussy and the complicated history of Clair de Lune here and was very surprised to find it on an album like this. Because both guitarists are obviously playing electric (archtop) guitars their version has a much different, trebly, ringing quality that one doesn’t hear when the piece is performed classically as it usually is. But I enjoy the very ethereal and dreamy feel that is augmented with beautiful harp accompaniment from Gloria Agostini. Though this isn’t the genre-defining album that Moonlight in Vermont was and is, it is still a great listening experience.

There were two other discs that I previewed, but ultimately passed on…and they were both Django Reinhardt CDs if you can believe that! The first disc was Django and His American Friends, a 3 disc set that is mostly Django backing up the likes of early jazz superstars like Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter as well as lesser-knowns like Rex Stewart and Dickie Wells. There are some Freddie Taylor vocal cuts (After You’ve Gone, Georgia, Ilse Muggin’) too, but they (as well as some of the Hawkins material) can be found elsewhere and I already have. While the disc gets great reviews, most of this stuff is the big-band era kind of jazz that doesn’t really feature guitars or Django. Of course he was a GREAT rhythm player and there is something to be said for the historical value, but I do have some of this stuff on other comps and truth be told, it’s not really my go-to Django stuff. I prefer him playing his compositions.

Another Django disc I previewed and passed on was Django in Brussels, which is not the same as this disc that I have and have already reviewed and is very good. Culled from 1942 sessions, this new disc (new to me not NEW) sounds like it was recorded off of someone’s copy of a scratchy record in the back of a caravan somewhere. The sessions themselves are the stuff of legend: recorded beneath Stalag 13 while Colonel Klink and the rest of the oblivious Nazis slept, Django and his band recorded a bunch of rare and unheard tunes…at least for those who are familiar with his catalog. Of course, this is the major selling point of what I found to be a ho-hum collection. Also…I can’t get past the fidelity. That’s probably all that survives of this session at this point, but I didn’t think the songs themselves were so great that I could ignore the sound quality. Others make think differently about that equation and that is the beauty of musical opinions just BEWARE! If you are thinking about buying a Django in Brussels CD and it doesn’t look like this, better preview some of the audio first is all I’m saying!

NEW LINKS!

mango1One great thing about having an awesome blog like mine is all of the spam that comes in as comments hyping products that I never knew existed and are as phony as a winning ticket in a Nigerian lottery. Ok, well, it’s not so great, but WordPress is so adept at filtering out the unwanted mail, comments and lame scams that I don’t really have to worry about it. The latest craze sweeping the world seems to be African Mango Weight Loss…stuff. It promises all of the familiar weight loss results and I guess the more exotic the better. This is one of the main problems with the internet; very serious or sincere people who are looking for information or are desperate for a new way of doing things search or are bombarded with information and it’s sometimes flat-out overwhelming the sheer amount of stuff that is out there. There is also an issue of quality. Not all information is equal, in fact, as we all know, some information is useless, sometimes to the point of being hazardous to one’s health. Naturally the more desperate, the more one has to be skeptical of the marketing promises associated with a certain product, because if you’re desperate enough you’ll believe anything won’t you?

When I first started trying to play Gypsy Jazz I was this kind of desperate so the African Mango is metaphoric if you will, or… as it were. Gradually I learned and things got a little better. What I’ve tried to do from the very beginning of this blog is give anyone who comes here some interesting reading and for players, some worthwhile advice or directions to information I think is important and interesting. One of the benefits of the internet is that I am able to do this and people who are way more skilled and/or are on a similar journey can do likewise. I’m adding some new links to the module on the right side of this page and if you are a PLAYER, especially a player of the Jazz or Gypsy-Jazz persuasion you should find these links pretty interesting. I won’t go a far as to guarantee your money back, but you can definitely pick up a lot of good stuff and it’s not like I’m going to be emailing asking for your address and banking information. Also, it is important to note that I am not affiliated with any of these sites or people in anyway. It is info I’ve found that I’m passing on to you ’cause we all got the hunger! Amirite?

The first new link is Jazzguitarlessons.net. This site is run by a jazz guitarist named Mark and it is really comprehensive…I mean you could literally spend the rest of your life at this website. Not only is there a whole lot of basic info to get you started on jazz guitar, but there are many video lessons, podcasts, diagrams, charts, transcriptions and options for taking actual lessons. What I’ve discovered on this journey is that one should be open to as many avenues of learning as possible. You never know where you might stumble upon a lesson or a trick that will not only give you a good lick or phrase, but also might tie a bunch of related information together. This is an excellent site for beginners and more seasoned players, so definitely check it out! You’ll receive a free e-book by signing up.

JazzAdvice.com is wonderful site that caters to jazz players of all instruments (and can obviously appeal to any instrumentalist). This site has tons of er…advice obviously on playing jazz, which is a difficult endeavor no matter who you are. It is as comprehensive as JazzGuitarLessons.net. You could spend a weekend here and you would only get an introduction to all of the information they are trying to impart. And it’s good quality information. None of that “You can be a guitar star by learning this one simple scale!!” stuff. Learning to play jazz has a lot more to it than just getting a transcription and tackling a tune. There’s a whole pedagogy behind the styles and processes that go into producing the music and the more of this you take in the better you will be. Here’s a video from this site of a guy talking. I know you’re probably thinking “I can’t learn anything from this…he’s a friggin’ piano player fergawdssakes!”

Ignore at your own peril!! This is Hal Galper and he’s amazing. He’s recorded with jazz luminaries like Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderly, Stan Getz and John Scofield. Notice in the following video he’s talking about how the brain learns music. I did a post on that a long time ago HERE. Synchronicity is not just a POLICE album…

The Belltower is a Youtube channel and to quote Joe Pesci….”ok, ok, ok you’re tired of listening and you wanna play ok?—” this is really focused instruction. Grab your guitar and follow along as The Belltower guides you through some cool licks and theory in the style of people like Pat Martino and Grant Green. Simple, clear, and easy-to-follow. I hope this guy keeps making videos because he is a great player and instructor. Here is the Pat Martino lesson:

Patrus53 (Youtube), Patrus53 (site) and Gadjo88 are the final links for the day and what a way to wrap up. I’ve already had something from Patrus w/ Stephane Wrembel, but he just never stops!! His commitment to Gypsy Jazz is unbelievable and because he interviews just about everybody there is a lot to see and do either at his site or on the Youtube channel. I don’t know anything about Gadjo88 as I just found it over the weekend, but there are some great videos on the channel so that’s why I’m linking. Sometimes the best form of learning is just watching and listening to people who can really jam. Not only are they awe-inspiring and fun to watch, but once you reach a certain level in your playing, understanding and facility with the music, it is possible to learn a whole lot from one viewing. I also enjoy the interviews that I can understand because all of these people have interesting insights, not only on music, but also with regard to life itself. I’m going to use video examples from that feature three players who are awesome: Adrien Moignard, Gonzalo Bergara, and Sébastien Giniaux. Totally rippin’ performances and all three of these guys have an original approach, chops and a sense of humor that kills. I also find that everyone is really loose in these informal settings and that sometimes leads to very nice and sometimes (funny) results.