I still remember the phone call as if it were yesterday. It was twelve years ago and on the other end of the line from California was the voice of one of the finest tenor saxophone players in jazz history. It was the great Stan Getz and I was overwhelmed to say the least when I heard him ask me if I was free to go to Europe with him in three days. Of course I knew of Stan's greatness as a musician having listened to the amazing Sweet Rain
and Captain Marvel
albums hundreds of times as well as his Bossa Nova hits from the 60's with Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. But I also knew of his reputation as an unpredictable guy who loved to be a kind of bad boy while living the overindulgent good life. Being a shy person originally from the Midwest I was a little scared to say the least. But I was put at ease by his very friendly nature and his request for me to bring music for the tour that I wanted to play. My friend and brilliant musician Anthony Cox, who recommended me for the gig, was going to be playing bass and the marvelous Terri Lynn Carrington was going to be in the drum chair.
I'll never forget the first gig we played in France for a packed house that rose to their feet screaming and clapping as Stan walked into the hall. They went on for at least five minutes before they would let us start. I was nervous as hell but the moment we began playing I relaxed and a huge smile came over my face as it hit me that I was in Europe playing with the one and only "Stan the Man". After my first solo Stan walked over to me and whispered in my ear, "Great solo man, you killed that one". This would become a habit of his after almost every solo that I would play with him over the next year. I felt truly privileged and totally humbled to be sitting in this chair that had been filled over the years by so many great pianists such as Al Haig, Oscar Peterson, John Lewis, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Richie Beirach, JoAnne Brackeen, Albert Dailey, Kenny Barron and many others.
Stan turned out to be very different than I had expected. He always treated me with respect and never gave me a hard time in any way. Maybe it was because he was in a powerful battle for his life at the time. He had found out that he had cancer and had quit drinking and taking other mind-altering substances. Instead he was interested in alternative medicine, eating health food and taking herbs while receiving special massages every day. Having Samantha his twenty-three year old model girlfriend on tour with him probably didn't hurt either. I was amazed at his incredible desire to play at the highest level for every concert and then watch, as he would literally collapse backstage from exhaustion. God he loved to play. He needed to play. The rhythm section would be burning every night and Stan would stay right with us. I was also surprised that he was such a strong player. I had always thought he was a soft Lester Young type. But Stan could play very strong and a couple times he even screamed on his horn as if he were Albert Ayler in 1964. I was happily shocked at his desire to create at the deepest widest level. He loved for us to take chances and experiment musically. I was also surprised that he only wanted to play one Bossa Nova per concert for the people and would always choose a more obscure one instead of the typical 'Girl From Ipanema'.
Stan loved to talk. He told many stories of his past and quite a few dirty jokes. He told of leaving his poor Philadelphia home at age fifteen to play with Jack Teagarden and his time as one of the 'Four Brothers' with Woody Herman and working with Stan Kenton and Benny Goodman. He talked about his time living in Europe and how he thought the south of England was the most beautiful place that he had spent time in. He spoke of his love of European woman and how he adored the sexy Brazilian Astrud Gilberto. He told us how proud he was that Chick Corea wrote many of his famous pieces while playing in his band and how amazing it was to play with the drummers Tony Williams and Roy Haynes. He told us how great it was to play with Stanley Clarke before he turned away from the acoustic bass and how amazing Miroslav Vitous was. He said the only musician he regretted not hiring when he had the chance was the great guitarist/pianist Ralph Towner and he was happy that I had brought one of Ralph's pieces for us to play. He was excited that he had just recorded with the pop star Huey Lewis and was looking forward to other such possibilities.
I was very excited after this first tour that Stan continued to call me for a number of gigs and I will always remember this time as very special for me. I was on tour in Europe with another band when he died in 1991. I wrote a piece of music for him when I returned home called "One for Stan" that I recorded on an album for Minor Music called Snuggling Snakes with Chris Potter, Anthony Cox and Lewis Nash. Stan Getz was one of the great masters of jazz and I feel proud and honored to have gotten a chance to play with him.