Stan Getz On Wasted Years

I’ve done some dastardly things, but what can I do except make amends and apologize?

Joe Smith

Interview by

August 7, 1987 in California
Cassette Tape

Recorded during the writing of Off the Record
Hear the full interview catalog: The Library of Congress


Stanley Getz

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Feb. 2, 1927

Getz’s family later moved to New York City where his mother originally hoped he would become a doctor or a professor

He got his first saxophone when he was 13 and was playing professionally at 15, soon becoming a star playing with Woody Herman’s band

Going into this drugstore, I demanded more narcotics. I said I had a gun” – Getz recalling what happened in Seattle in 1954 while addicted to heroin

“Jazz Samba” recorded by Getz and Charlie Byrd sold a half million albums, making it the only jazz album ever to top Billboard’s pop chart

Getz died of liver cancer on June 6, 1991

Animated Transcript

The saxophonist, Stan Getz, was one of jazz music’s most well known musicians. A few years before he died of liver cancer in 1991 at age 64, Getz took a sober look at the hard life he had lived and what he missed.

Stan Getz: I think what we did was in spite of the drugs. The drugs were in the culture long before they reached the public. The jazz musician’s been in the forefront of the language that’s used now, the drugs that’s used now. The whole attitude of the ‘80’s comes from the ‘40’s. It started to manifest itself in the ‘60’s.

Stan Getz here with Joe Smith, the longtime record label executive, who wrote a book on music legends called On the Record, these historic interviews now live at the Library of Congress.

Stan Getz: Let me tell you what I think is a funny story about drugs. We played at the Holyoke Arena with Woody Herman’s band on an afternoon concert, nine acts of vaudeville and they had on it a trained bear. The trained bear came out. This was a big bear. This guy had to be nine feet or something.

Stan Getz: It was afternoon, Holyoke Arena, and the bear came out and the two on each side of Sam Marowitz, the lead alto player who was very straight-laced, no drugs, no drinking, were Serge, Zoot, Al Cohn and I, stoned.

Stan Getz: The bear was doing his thing with the trainer, comes around. His arm goes … At one point, the bear came around and his arm went over the saxophone section like this and could’ve killed five guys at once. Only Sam Marowitz had to duck because the rest of us were sitting there reading the music with the bear and so stoned we never knew the bear came over us.

Stan Getz: They used to claim that Woody’s band were faggot because we were so stoned we didn’t care to go for the women. There were no faggot on that band. Jazz music is a man’s game. Let’s face it.

Joe Smith: Even when you were so much involved with both drugs and alcohol, you played well.

Stan Getz: We played well all the time. You can do anything with practice. I’m sure we could’ve played better if we weren’t.

Stan Getz: I’m a recovered alcoholic. I don’t do anything anymore, but those things, those things take away … You’re a different personality completely when you take those. For those who are really chemically dependent on anything, it’s not you. Of course, I’ve done some dastardly things, but what can I do except make amends and apologize? Since I stopped drinking, which is almost a year ago, I’ve started to feel like I’m a member of the world. I never was. I was so fucked up all my life.

Stan Getz: I had a 10-year heroin habit and kicked that. Then I became an alcoholic. I drank two fifth’s a day.

Joe Smith: What finally triggered this [crosstalk]

Stan Getz: It’s just like they say at Alcoholics Anonymous. I was either and/or going insane or I was going to die. I was one of those guys who was in constant denial. Look, I work. I do my job. I support my family, boom. I do everything I was supposed to do. If I want a drink, fuck you, I’ll drink.

Stan Getz: It’s a disease and it took me that long. It took me 45 years from the time I was 15 until I was now and I just wouldn’t believe it. I could drink. I’d get up there and play and I don’t remember. Most of my records I don’t remember making.

Joe Smith: Do you enjoy playing in front of people, concerts, tours?

Stan Getz: More and more these days when I’m alcohol-free now and even to see the world around me, I appreciate it, but I never truly enjoy too much of it maybe because I feel like I’m a working musician. There are some joyous moments, but I will not think a joyous moment. Hearing myself so much all the time, I don’t think I sound that special all the time because it’s me.

Joe Smith: Do you get tired of being a musician at all or are there times when … ?

Stan Getz: The day that I think I’ve got it done maybe I will until then, no. It’s different every night.