Prohibition created the Jazz Age of the 1920s, when gangsters owned the illegal booze trade and competed with each other to offer their patrons the best party music, from small private speakeasies to elaborate nightclubs with integrated crowds while the police were paid to look the other way.
Jazz Album Review: Café Montmarte
Title: Café Montmartre
Musician: Stan Getz (released in 1991)
Reviewed by Jeff Burbank
Stan Getz was one of America’s most talented jazz musicians whose career with the tenor saxophone spanned the progression of modern jazz from when he was a teen in the 1940s up to his death from cancer at 64 in 1991. That year, he returned to Copenhagen to play for the last time at the Café Montmartre, a club he founded in the late 1950s and the namesake of this compilation album taken from three of his live improvisational sets there, one in 1987, the year he had cancer surgery, and two in March 1991, when he had only three months to live. The cover of the CD shows Getz’s Swedish wife, Monica, looking, perhaps forlornly, up at Getz as he played.
Getz blossomed early on tenor sax to put it mildly. By age 18 in 1945, he had played with major bandleaders Jack Teagarden, Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. A year later, he recorded with Woody Herman’s new be-bop band as one of four sax players known as “The Four Brothers.” In 1949, he was asked to perform on opening night of the famed Birdland club in Manhattan with a lineup of jazz stars including club host Charlie Parker and Getz’s idol, Lester Young. Then in 1950, he was blowing chords at Carnegie Hall with the likes of Parker, Miles Davis and Sarah Vaughan.
On his own in the 1950s, Stan was a pioneer of “cool jazz” and immensely popular until the new trend of “modal jazz” by fellow sax men Davis and John Coltrane took over the scene and diminished his following. But in 1961, he met guitarist Charlie Byrd, who had just toured South America and turned Getz on to that continent’s bossa nova-style jazz. Within months, Getz paired with Byrd and they made bossa nova the new American jazz craze in the early 1960s. Getz’s 1962 album “Jazz Samba” with Byrd went gold. Stan won a Grammy in 1963 for best jazz performance for the hit. “Desafmado” on “Jazz Samba,” which is still today the only jazz album to hit number one on the pop record charts. He topped the Downbeat list as America’s most popular jazz artist. Getz followed up in 1964, playing bossa nova-style sax on another hit that still resonates today, “The Girl from Ipanema.” The record won four Grammies in 1965, including album of the year, song of the year for “Girl from Ipanema” and another best jazz instrumental performance for Stan.
“Café Montmartre” showcases Getz’s slow, cool style, with extended playing, such his 11-minute version of the standard “I Can’t Get Started” by Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin, in which the listener may perceive a touch of sadness. Among the five 1991 cuts, he plays soulful, smooth duets with piano man Kenny Barron on covers of “People Time,” “Soul Eyes,” and “First Song (For Ruth).” The nine live tracks on the “Café Montmartre” blend together seamlessly, as if performed consecutively during one concert, and remain fresh after multiple listenings. The selections were taken from 26 live tracks recorded at the club in those years. The others appear on Getz CDs titled “Anniversary,” “Serenity” and “People Time.”
Getz himself said of the performances, “I thought that those concerts in Copenhagen could be my last ones and that gave me the feeling of ‘Now I have to really try my best.’ I felt strong, although my life was in danger. I made quite a drama out of it. You know how people can overact in those situations. In my fantasy, I was singing my musical swan song. You know how things are going when everybody is ready to start playing the violin.”
Of jazz itself, Getz once said, “It’s like a language. You learn the alphabet, which are the scales. You learn the sentences, which are the chords, and then you talk extemporaneously with the horn. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to speak extemporaneously, which is something I’ve never gotten the hang of. But musically, I love to talk off the top of my head. And that’s what jazz music is all about.”
Jeff is the Content Development Specialist for The Mob Museum