The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Getz was born in Philadelphia but spent the majority of his childhood in the Bronx. Getz quickly identified himself as a musical prodigy, taking up the harmonica at age 12, before receiving his first alto saxophone at 13. In High School he quickly mastered the bassoon and would be offered a scholarship to the prestigious performing arts school, Julliard. But it was too late: the wicked urges of jazz had already taken hold of his innocent soul and Stanley passed up the offer in favor of a new tenor sax and a membership in the local musician’s union. In 1943, age 16, he left school and went on tour as part of fellow jazz musician, Jack Teagarden’s band.
Throughout the 40’s, Getz would gradually establish himself as the leading musician in a number of bands. Eventually achieving his first hit, “Early Autumn” with Woody Herman’s band ‘The Second Herd’. This success would allow Getz to leave the band and launch his solo career.
By the 1950s, Getz would be the leader on almost all of his recording sessions. He has established himself as a leading Jazz musician and would now regaularly record with reputable musicians such as Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and many others.
By the 1960s Getz returned to the US from Scandinavia, where he had moved to battle a drugs problem. Getz became a central figure in introducing bossa nova music to the US. During this time he teamed up with Charlie Byrd, who had just returned from a tour of Brazil. In 1962 Getz recorded Jazz Samba. In 1963 Getz won the Grammy for Best Jazz Performance for “Desafinado” from the same album. It sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold disc. Shortly after Getz would record ‘Jazz Samba Encore!’, which would also achieve a gold disc.
The success of bossa nova in the US can largely be attributed to these two albums. But Getz crowning achievement and perhaps most famous album was Getz/Gilberto. Recorded in 1963, with Tom Jobim, João Gilberto and his wife, the totally unheard of, Astrud Gilberto. The album won two Grammys.
The Getz/Gilberto musical partnership would end abruptly after Getz affair with Astrud Gilberto and would signal Getz movement away from the bossa nova scene towards cool jazz. Whilst Getz remained a prominent musician throughout the 70s, the 60s remained his most successful period of his career.
Getz was a capable of a wide range of behaviours, indeed Zoot Sims a long time friend, famously described him as ‘a nice bunch of guys’. Toward the end of his life Getz would finally end his drug addictions, but in 1991 he died of cancer aged 64.