I entered the bathroom of the Rose Hall the other day, on a break from rehearsing for this weekend’s concerts, and on the PA system I heard the sound of a soulful tenor sax in the upper register. It didn’t take me more than two or three notes to recognize Stan Getz. As I listened I couldn’t help but to think that we are on this planet for such a short time, and in that time we can only hope to change something, affect someone. That is the most we can ask for, and what we should try to achieve while we have this little bit of time.
Many people have developed the primary goal of making money, being famous, getting what they want no matter how they get it. If instead they focussed their energy on how to make this planet a more beautiful place, this planet would be a more beautiful place.
I had the chance to meet and hang out with Stan Getz a couple times. The first was when I was seventeen, during my first European tour, with the Don Ellis band. We were playing the Juan-les-Pins Jazz Festival (Jazz à Juan), the same venue where Miles recorded “Live in Europe” in the early 60s. Fifteen years later I was on this exact same stage, overwhelmed with excitement when the MC announced our band - it was the very same guy who introduced Miles’ band. There was no mistaking that voice. My worn out copy of Miles’ record should serve as acceptable evidence I am not mistaken in this fact.
After the concert, during which I struggled to get through a solo in 7/4 on Don’s “Pussy Wiggle Stomp,” a man with a square face and thick glasses approached the sax section as we were packing up our horns, He introduced himself: Stan Getz. The reed section dropped what we were doing and were all over him like a cheap suit. He had played the night before and was taking a couple extra days to hang out in Antibes.
The next day was off for the Ellis band and I grabbed a towel and headed down to the beach to swim and get burned. I spread out my towel, took off my shirt and enjoyed the view. (Besides having amazing blue/green water the beach was topless!) I diligently studied my environment and who was laying about three towels away - Mr. Getz, and his wife, Monica. I went over and re-introduced myself. Stan asked me to join them, which I did (duh). His strong, healthy physique prompted be to say “I heard you were a drug addict, but you’re in such great shape. Was that just a big rumor?’ (please, remember I am seventeen, and greener than a farmers market cucumber). He laughed a hearty laugh and explained he was from “good Russian stock” then showed me the faint scars on his arms.
His wife, Monica, was super cool. From Sweden. She had become a US citizen so she could vote against Nikon. How could you not love her?
After a couple hours of hanging and talking, Stan and Monica took me to a nearby cafe overlooking the Mediterranean. Just maybe the best day of my life.
Here’s a photo of Stan and me that day. If the photo doesn’t work, click this link.
A year later I moved to New York and one of the first performances I went to check out was Stan playing at the long-defunct club Storyville. I brought my horn, thinking I might sit in with his quartet (still green, remember). When I got the club it was standing room only. I looked around at the clientele, a who’s who of the saxophone world - Sal Nistico, Bob Mintzer, Pete Yellin among many others, anticipating this rare event. They saw my horn. “What, are you going to sit in?” they almost laughed. I had worked with Sal and Bob on a couple occasions, and they were familiar with my naiveté. “Who knows - maybe,” I responded, optimistically.
On the break I went up to Stan and asked if I could sit in. He looked at me, smiled and said “Sure. I’ll call you up on the next set.” Sometimes it’s great to be young and stupid.
We played “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Body and Soul.” I know my colleagues couldn’t believe what they were seeing. There I was, eighteen and jamming with Stan Getz, Victor Lewis, John Burr and Andy LaVerne.
Not long after this I applied for an NEA grant. I called Stan’s home in Irvington and talked to Monica. I asked if Stan would write a letter of support. She said he was touring but she would be happy to write it and sign his name. Awesome.
Here is the letter (part fiction/part nonfiction):
I am writing to you in order for you to consider the application of young Ted Nash who has applied for a grant.
I have known Ted for many years, and I have seen him grow amazingly in all professional and personal areas. Ted is not only exceptionally gifted both as a performer and as a composer - he has played with my group on several occasions, and we play his composition “Tristemente” regularly.
Ted Nash is an outstanding young man in every way. I cannot think of anyone whose work I have heard during this past year who better deserves recognition both in the performing and the composing area.
The next time I saw Stan was more than ten years later. I was playing with the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and the great singer Diane Shuur was our guest. Stan was Diane’s musical director and featured soloist at the time. Stan had been recently diagnosed with lung cancer. I guess that “good Russian stock” was not invulnerable to earlier years of abuse. His energy was nothing like it was that day on the beach. He seemed humbled by his own fragility. Stan passed a couple years later, not long after Mel Lewis, also from cancer.
Stan had a reputation for being really tough, egotistical and at times quite mean. Every experience I had with him showed the opposite. I feel lucky and privileged to have known him. And the world is a more beautiful place because of him.