Interview by Joe Smith
Joe Smith interviewed Stan Getz on August 7, 1986 during the writing of Off the Record–his oral history of rock and roll. Joe interviewed more than 240 music artists and executives from 1986-88.
In 2012, he donated a trove of 238 hours of interviews on cassette tapes to the Library of Congress. Listen to the full interview catalog.
The Animated Transcript
Joe Smith was a longtime record executive and one-time radio DJ.
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.
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.
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.
They used to claim that Woody’s band were faggots 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.
Even when you were so much involved with both drugs and alcohol, you played well.
We played well all the time. You can do anything with practice. I’m sure we could’ve played better if we weren’t.
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.
I had a 10-year heroin habit and kicked that. Then I became an alcoholic. I drank two fifth’s a day.
What finally triggered this [crosstalk]
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.
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.
Do you enjoy playing in front of people, concerts, tours?
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.
Do you get tired of being a musician at all or are there times when … ?
The day that I think I’ve got it done maybe I will until then, no. It’s different every night.
Stan Getz Notes
He was born in Philadelphia 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
Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio “Pennies From Heaven”
Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz “One Note Samba”
Stan Getz “Lush Life”
Stan Getz and Bill Evans “Night and Day”