1962 is rightfully viewed as a breakthrough year for tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, the year in which he successfully brought the Brazilian bossa nova sound to the mainstream with guitarist Charlie Byrd on Jazz Samba. 1961, on the other hand, has receded as a kind of footnote in his musical history despite two strong albums: the orchestral jazz fusion Focus, with arranger Eddie Sauter (late of The Sauter-Finnegan Orchestra and later an in-demand orchestrator of such Broadway musicals as 1776), and Recorded Fall 1961 with his old friend, valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. Now, another vital part of his 1961 discography has emerged as a major historical find from Verve Records/UMe. The 2-CD Getz at the Gate preserves The Stan Getz Quartet live at New York's Greenwich Village hotspot The Village Gate on November 26, 1961. This never-before-released gig captures Getz, pianist Steve Kuhn, bassist John Neves, and drummer Roy Haynes on a winter's night for a set that's both hot and cool.
Stan Getz returned to the United States in January 1961 after three years in Europe, brimming with musical ingenuity. As Bob Blumenthal's fine liner notes describe, the sax man formed a quartet with Kuhn, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Pete LaRoca. Soon, at LaFaro's urging, LaRoca was out and Getz's longtime colleague Roy Haynes was in. This was the quartet that delighted audiences at Newport on July 3, 1961; three days later, Scott LaFaro was killed in a car accident at just 25 years of age. Under two weeks later, Getz needed a rhythm section for a track on Focus and enlisted Haynes with John Neves in LaFaro's seat. Like Kuhn and Haynes, Neves hailed from Boston. He had worked separately with both Haynes and Kuhn, and his familiarity with their musical language allowed him to join the group seamlessly. The three men joined Getz and Brookmeyer for Recorded Fall 1961 and then for live shows including the two sets from the fourth and final night of the Village Gate engagement heard here.
The program opens with Getz's only known recording of Cole Porter's "It's Alright with Me," and indeed, the music to come was more than all right. His familiar, lyrical tone was on full display at the Village Gate, but balanced with a muscularity that might surprise those who consider him solely in the "cool jazz" vein. He was clearly unafraid at the Gate to let the quartet pursue its collective boldest muse, with the rhythm section supporting him in a confident, often forceful manner. "It's Alright" is driving bop from a group of masters.
Steve Kuhn had recently played with the quartet of John Coltrane, and the younger sax man's cutting-edge style was on the rise. Getz's trio, sans their leader, paid tribute to Trane with an almost 12-minute run through "Impressions," with Kuhn's fleet piano out front. Getz introduced the composition as "So What," and indeed, that Miles Davis standard shares with it a chord sequence. (Both "So What" and "Impressions" were inspired by the melody of Morton Gould's "Pavanne.")
Gigi Bryce's "Wildwood," first recorded by Getz in 1951 with Haynes in the drum chair, got a deliciously breezy reading; like the breakneck take on Sonny Rollins' "Airegin," it had figured in the quartet's final Newport show with Scott LaFaro. The smoky, moody "When the Sun Comes Out" features Getz at his most languid. It was a part of his repertoire while in Europe, like Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen's brightly swinging "Like Someone in Love" and Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman's off-Broadway showtune "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most." The latter sparked Getz's most deeply felt sound of the evening. A sparkling "Blues" jam leaves no doubt of the group's improvisatory acumen, while Alec Wilder and Arnold Sundgaard's slow, delicate ballad "Where Do You Go?" may be the most richly atmospheric item here. Roy Haynes shines as he anchors "Stella by Starlight," another melodic standard given an inventive spin with solos giving each musician room to stretch and breathe. In fact, throughout, Getz most often functions like one-fourth of a democratic unit, a testament to the esteem in which he held his colleagues.
Getz at the Gate introduces the artist's only known recordings of Dick Robertson's sleek "Yesterday's Gardenias," a Glenn Miller staple imbued with verve by the group, particularly the virtuosic Kuhn on the keys and Neves on bass; and Thelonious Monk's "52nd Street Theme," with a lengthy drum spot from Haynes. Getz would return in later years to Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "It's You or No One," but the snappy, energetic performance here represents his first stab at the tune introduced in the film Romance on the High Seas. The encore "Jumpin' with Symphony Sid," a tribute to Getz's influence Lester Young, is one of the two longest pieces here (along with "52nd Street Theme") and showcases how well Getz absorbed Young's relaxed brand of swing and made it his own.
The sound on Getz at the Gate as remastered by Seth Foster is full and vibrant, and successfully transports listeners back to that New York night in November, 1961. Producers Richard Seidel, Zev Feldman, and Ken Druker have seen to it that the discs are packaged within a four-panel digipak that also contains a 16-page booklet. [The set is also available as a 3-CD vinyl box.] Getz at the Gate is cool jazz with a twist, illustrating a more aggressive but still attractive style that Stan Getz could have pursued further had he not traveled those Brazilian avenues in 1962. It's a worthy addition to any classic jazz library.