“Miles is a potentate. He’s also a puritan, and the combination can be pretty sadistic.” – Lena Horne

“Stan Getz is a great bunch of guys.” – Zoot Sims

“Stan Getz! Stan Getz has the most voluptuous sound of any tenor player that ever lived, silky and strong, totally mesmeric…He was without doubt the most unpleasant and disagreeable person who ever played Ronnie Scotts. Everyone loathed him.” – Ronnie Scott

In this blog I want to focus on two jazz giants whose sounds are instantly recognisable and much of whose output was deeply tender and romantic in nature and style. I’m referring to Miles Davis and Stan Getz. Both Davis and Getz were complex personalities who quite apart from their specific periods of addiction had long histories of anger, disrespect, and violence, particularly towards the women in their lives, and to fellow musicians, promoters, and fans.

Stan Getz – Captain Marvel

What I want to examine here is the rare juxtaposition between some of Davis and Getz’s worst and consistently objectionable behaviour and their authorship of two of the most heart-breaking sounds and sensibilities in the history of jazz.  Indeed, in the history on 20th century music. Both treated many of the women in their lives appallingly and struggled to establish or maintain relationships with their children. Stan Tracey the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s for much of the 1960’s genuinely loathed the experience of playing with Getz referring to his ice-cold nature, coarseness and lack of respect for fellow musicians. 

Of course, the beauty and the beast typology can only be taken so far. There are numerous examples from former band members of Miles Davis- notably Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Philly Joe Jones Chick Corea and Ron Carter who pay tribute to the unique, wordless and telepathic ways in which Miles encouraged them to expand their musical development. In his autobiography, Learning to Listen, Gary Burton who played with Stan Getz in the mid 60’s before becoming a leader himself credits Getz as a stellar figure in his musical life while also referencing many examples of his often coarse and abrupt behaviour.  Kenny Barron, Getz’s pianist in his last years speaks very warmly of their musical  and personal relationship.

Miles Davis – My Funny Valentine

Towards the end of their lives while Miles became semi-reclusive and focused increasingly on his late career as a visual artist, Getz continued performing right to the end with his incomparable sound and fluency completely undimmed. Stan Getz certainly softened towards the end of his life, going out of his way, not always successfully to make amends with musicians, friends and associates with whom he had fallen out-or vice versa during the early and middle stages of his career. 

A story I have heard too many times to be apocryphal concerns a call Getz put into a musician he had not seen for many years to say that he had a terminal condition and to wish to make amends for the treatment he had suffered. The recipient replied, “I hope you’re not calling collect” and put the phone down. 

Miles Davis – Saturday Night

And of course, jazz is and has been populated by complex characters. Neither Getz nor Davis was uniquely complex in jazz terms. They are remembered for their stellar appearances and recordings over lengthy careers. Most of all they are remembered for their unique sounds. In fact, Getz was saddled from his early career with the nickname “the sound”. And that sound while instantly recognisable is so hard to define. So hard that I won’t even try!  Miles Davis was a musical revolutionary, constantly re-inventing himself and his music. His sound was described by the U.S. critic Nat Hentoff as “like a man walking on eggshells”. Stan Getz with his perfect pitch and instant recall of any tune was not a revolutionary. Getz devoted himself to putting his unique sound and sensibility to the service of any tune he put his mind to playing. 

The accompanying playlist is designed to put Miles Davis and Stan Getz’s sound front and centre. The Miles Davis selection is taken from 10 years of his recorded output from the mid-50’s. The Getz playlist has a wider time frame, but a very consistent and uniquely Getz-like approach. I have gone for slower or medium tempo numbers to reflect the profound lyricism of these giants of jazz.

In addition to the playlist two bonus items;

A 1960 video of the only known occasion where Getz and John Coltrane shared a stage in live performance.

A YouTube recording of a real rarity, an early 50’s album, the only known recording of Getz and Miles together accompanied by Milt Jackson, John Lewis ( half of the Modern Jazz Quartet) and an incredibly young Scott LA Faro. The sound quality isn’t great but it’s worth a listen. Most intriguingly the session also includes Lester Young one of the great early influences on Getz’s playing and sound.