Stan Getz & Kenny Barron
High points in this trend include the Gillespie-Parker Quintet’s June 1945 concert at Town Hall, Monk and Coltrane’s ’57 concert at Carnegie Hall, Mingus’ ’64 concert at Cornell, Bill Evans’ final 1980 sets at the Keystone Korner, Miles Davis’ mid-‘60s quintet at the Plugged Nickel (to say nothing of the gargantuan 20-disc boxed set of every Miles Davis performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival), a slew of previously unissued concerts by Art Pepper in his final days…and on and on.
The best of these recordings give off a tingle of pleasure—a you-are-there adventure in time-traveling, a taste of jazz in its in-the-moment creation.
Add to this list People Time: The Complete Recordings (on the Sunnyside label), a 7-CD boxed set of duets by Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, taped at the Montmartre Club in Copenhagen over a four-night gig—every note, every between-song utterance—in March 1991, just three months before Getz died of cancer at the age of 64.
Getz was a famously volcanic human being, a heavy drinker, a cokehead, maybe a bit schizo; upon hearing his cancer diagnosis, he said, “I’m too evil to die.” Yet nobody could blow a ballad on the tenor sax with as much sheer beauty. He rarely composed his own music, nor was he particularly adept at the harmonic runs of bebop; he played mainly jazz standards, both the familiar and the little-known, and he tapped every drop of emotional power from these songs, across a wide range of feelings—smooth, gruff, assured, desperate, always romantic—without ever sounding sentimental. And he explored variations on themes and melodies with an inventiveness that maybe only Sonny Rollins surpasses on the horn.
One of my favorite Getz albums is Bossas and Ballads: The Lost Sessions, recorded in 1989 but stupidly unreleased and then buried in the vaults for another 14 years. It featured his last great quartet, which included Kenny Barron on piano (along with George Mraz, bass, and Victor Lewis, drums). But it turns out that Getz’s flame burned brightest when he played just with Barron.
Excerpts from the Montmartre sets were released in 1992 as a double album called People Time, but it only hinted at the treasures on the complete tapes.
Photos in the set’s booklet show Getz sitting down while playing; he wasn’t well, and he tired easily. But the remarkable thing is that he kept playing better and better. Gary Giddins, who wrote the sage liner notes, is right that the highlights are on the last three discs (i.e., from the sets on the last two nights).
Before the first set, on the first disc, he tells the audience that all the gigs are being recorded, so some of it will be good, some bad, some in between. It’s all very good, and quite a lot of it is great.
Verve’s French division released this boxed set a few years ago (but only in France). The US headquarters took a pass (what’s going on with that label?), so Sunnyside, a shrewd indie label, picked it up. Buy it. Reward them and yourself.