Beyond being a well known player in the Chicago area and an educator you are known for your three books of Stan Getz transcriptions. How do you think the approaches differ between the way that Stan Getz and saxophonists of his generation approach playing versus how they are doing it today?
Players of Getz's generation didn't go to college to learn how to play jazz. They learned to play in more of an apprenticeship situation. For example, a musician would join a big band and travel around the country, play at jam sessions, and move his way up through the ranks of the bands. Getz is a perfect example. He played with Jack Teagarden at 15 years of age, Benny Goodman at 16, Stan Kenton at 17, and Wood Herman at 18. By the time he was 19, Getz was working as a leader with his own quartet.
Unfortunately, today's players have fewer opportunities to play and learn jazz in the kind of apprenticeship environment of the 1940's and 1950's. Many of today's players learn to play jazz in college. As a result, I think that a lot of them have more of an academic approach to the music. Many of the older musicians didn't have much academic training, and I think that's why they had much more of a "gut level" approach. I call it a visceral approach to playing. This approach relies much more on the ear and gut-level feeling than on intellect. I think they arrived at note choices out of the need to express a particular emotion or feeling and out of the need to communicate. The notes all had slightly different feeling or moods depending on the musical context, and they would use these feelings as a guide which would lead them to these note choices.
It's great that there are educational programs and that more people than ever are learning about jazz. But when I think about the difference between the older players, like Stan Getz, Lester Young, Zoot Sims, or Al Cohn and the players of today's generation, I realize that both generations are products of the times in which they live. Today, we live in the information age. Because of the vast amounts of data available to each person, we tend to gather information from a wider variety of sources, but not on a very deep level. As a result, sometimes today's players can sound technically dazzling. But emotionally, for me, anyway, they're not as satisfying as hearing some of the older players. Many of today's players sound professional, and you can tell that they have listened to Coltrane and maybe also to Charlie Parker and Cannonball. But some of the current generation of players are kind of interchangeable. On the other hand, you could never switch Stan Getz for John Coltrane or Sonny Stitt for Sonny Rollins, or Ben Webster for Johnny Griffin. As I mention the name of every one of these guys, I can think one note and hear his tone and whole character in my head. I have a very strong emotional connection with each of those players. This is not to say that you can't have the best of both worlds: a college trained jazz player who has a great grasp of the intellectual and emotional aspects of the music. It's just that it's a rare combination.
Actually, the other day, I was talking with someone about this topic. When Getz grew up, there was no internet. Everything wasn't all over the world the instant it came out. There was a difference in regional playing, like Texas tenors, or the Kansas City style of playing. Then there were the East coast and the West coast players. Musical styles took time to travel to get from one coast to the other. You'd get things in different towns or areas of the country where they would really get into one particular feel, sound, or groove, and I think that was great for the music. That allowed things to develop in a very organic way. They couldn't just immediately copy what was going on across the country. They had to come up with something that reflected their area of the country that fit the style and tastes and what the local listeners liked.
One thing that both the older generation and today's generation have in common is the fact that they both learned a great deal by listening to the recordings of the jazz masters. When a Lester Young record or Charlie Parker record would come out, younger players would get the records and listen to them, figure out the solos, and get to the point where they could play along with the records, note for note. This aspect of the process is still common today, and I feel that it's still one of the most direct ways to study the music.
I've been talking a lot about the older generation of players. I should mention some of the newer players who I really respect. I love Michael Brecker's playing. He's a real innovator, and although he's very technical, that technique is always tempered with great musical sensitivity. I really like Chris Potter, who is a monster player who has found his own voice. I also like Bob Berg.