Thursday, August 14, 2014

Listening to Prestige Records, Part 19: Stan Getz

Bob Weinstock seems to have entered into a short-lived partnership with Morris Levy, who was among other things the owner of Birdland, to form a record company called Birdland Records. It's probably just as well for Weinstock that it was short-lived, since Levy was quite likely the crookedest crook in a business not entirely known for honesty. Levy was known, among other things, for his skill with white-out -- taking the names of actual songwriters off of the papers filed with the US copyright office and substituting his own. In a posthumous suit against Levy, Herman Santiago and Daniel Negron, two of the writers of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," one of the biggest hit songs of all time, testified that they had made a total of $1000 off the song, and that Levy had threatened to kill Santiago if he came around asking for more.

In any event, Birdland Records seems to have put out a handful of 78s in 1950, the first of them coming from this session with Stan Getz and a half-new quartet from his June 1949 session -- Al Haig is there, but now he's joined by Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes -- a quintessential bebop lineup. On two of the cuts there are vocals by Junior Parker, later to become known as one of the great rhythm and blues singers.* is a stunningly complete discography of Prestige's catalog by recording date, and invaluable. Another site,, which has a dizzying plethora of lists compiled by fans and organized by some algorithm I couldn't begin to guess at, is less complete but pretty accurate as near as I can make out, and they have a variety of lists by release date. They have both the Birdland 78s and the Prestige 700-series of this session coming out in 1950, so Birdland must have been very short-lived indeed.

The songs on this date are mostly standards --"Stardust," "Goodnight, My Love," "There's A Small Hotel," "Too Marvelous For Words," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "What's New," "Intoit." "Goodnight, My Love" (not the rhythm and blues standard by Jesse Belvin; this is a song originally introduced by Shirley Temple) and "Stardust" get the Junior Parker vocals, and he is singing in a style distinctly different from his later R&B recordings. Here he seems to have been heavily influenced by Billy Eckstine.

Eckstine is probably not as highly regarded today as he once was -- too florid to be a really successful jazz singer. But he was important in the history of modern jazz -- the first bandleader to give Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie a prominent role. And he influenced other jazz singers who are little remembered, like Kenny "Pancho" Hagood and -- had he not returned to his blues roots -- Junior Parker.

Eckstine was a little too florid, and his imitators a lot too florid -- especially when matched with Getz, who is certainly a romantic, but a drier, more modern romantic. He can unquestionably work with a singer -- "The Girl From Ipanema" proves that -- but he's not a good fit with Parker, or Parker is not a good fit for him. They say that along with the violin, the tenor saxophone is the instrument most alike in quality to the human voice, and on these standards, Getz sings. I love all of them -- even the Parker "Stardust," which grows on you, but mostly the instrumentals -- but perhaps "Too Marvelous for Words" more than any. "Too Marvelous" has a beautiful melody by Richard Whiting, and clever lyrics by Johnny Mercer, but...rather than hearing someone expend a whole lot of words to tell me that words won't do the job, I'd rather hear someone use words to do the job, as in "There's a Small Hotel" (Lorenz Hart) or "I've Got You Under My Skin" (Cole Porter).

Al Haig takes some terrific solos here too, but mostly it's Getz, Getz, Getz, and Getz at his youthful best.

These also came out on 45 RPM -- is a little vague on the 45s, but I'd guess maybe still in 1950, more likely in 1951 -- and on their 10 inch LP series -- along with the previous Getz session -- in 1951.

* In no biography or discography of Junior Parker that I've been able to find online -- and some of them are pretty complete -- is there a reference to this session with Stan Getz. All the ones I've seen have him first recording with Modern in 1952. But I'm fairly certain it's the same guy. If it turns out I'm wrong, and this is just a curious coincidence of names, I will eat crow. For now, I claim a discovery.


Ricky Bush said...

Well, I'm a big Junior Parker fan and had no idea that he ever did a session with Stan Getz. Not arguing that he didn't, but just never heard about him doing anything other than singing the blues and rhythm and blue.

Tad Richards said...

Ricky - It's not listed in any Junior Parker website I've found, and I guess it's possible that it's another Junior Parker. It certainly is not in the style that Junior made famous, but I suspect if I were a singer trying to find gigs in New York, and someone asked me if I could sing like Billy Eckstine, I'd say, "Does the gig pay? Then hell yes!"
Junior didn't sign his first recording contract till 1951, and this was early 1950. I just don't know. I'll keep trying to find out, and if you can come up with anything, let me know.