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Kurt McGettrick - Bari Sax Monster - R.I.P.

33365 Views 36 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  Lapkoff
Some innovative musical artists labor in semi-obscurity for much of their lives, yet are still able to invent a fresh, individual, innovative approach to their instruments. Such was the case with Baritone Sax and low reed master, Kurt McGettrick. Kurt was a real artist who was uncompromising and fearless in all musical situations. Kurt McGettrick passed away last Sunday night (5/6/07) due to an aggressive cancer condition.

Kurt was a specialist on the low woodwinds. His advanced techniques on Bari Sax, Bass Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, ContraBass Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute, and Piccolo were astounding. His sound on Bari Sax was HUGE! He regularly employed double and triple tonguing, an amazing mastery of multiphonics, and a very impressive command of the extreme altissimo of the Bari Sax. Kurt played the bass clarinet very beautifully, with an amazing fluency in the delicate upper range. On tenor, Kurt's favorite influence was Gene Ammons. He had absolutely zero interest in cloning Mike Brecker or any of the other favorites of the moment. Kurt was not a bebop player. Instead, he developed his own style of thematic improvisation which incorporated techniques which he developed himself. McGettrick was also a fine arranger and composer. Kurt was all about creativity and taking chances in music. He was somewhat of an odd duck in L.A., where precision and stylistic adaptability reign supreme. Kurt was uncompromising when it came to music, and he didn't work as much as he could have because he stood his ground when it came to selling out.

Tim Price knows about Kurt McGettrick. Tim vividly remembers Kurt's playing from 30 years ago at the Berklee school. Tim told me today that Kurt struck him as being like an American John Surman. My former roommate on the Lyle Lovett Band, Bobby Eldridge (another monster Bari player), also clearly remembers how incredible Kurt was back when they were playing at Berklee so many years ago.

Kurt was perhaps most notorious for being a member of Frank Zappa's 1988 touring horn section, which spawned the albums "The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life", "Make A Jazz Noise Here", and "Broadway the Hard Way". During his career, Kurt toured and recorded with Graham Parker, and toured with the "Prez Conference" band. Kurt also recorded with B.B. King, Tom Petty, Patti LaBelle, The Meters, Phoebe Snow, and the Ladd McIntosh Big Band. He played on many movie soundtracks, including The Lion King, and Matchstick Men.

Good places to hear McGettrick's work are on Ladd McIntosh's CD's "Temptation", and "Ride the Night Beast". The is the way to play Bari Sax in a modern big band! Kurt's tremendous Bari Sax sound is heard and felt on every song throughout these discs. Kurt's presence in Ladd's band was much like the way in which Harry Carney was such an integral part of the Ellington band's sound. Kurt went to Berklee many years ago to study arranging and composition, but he said that the faculty kept pushing him to play Bari with all the big bands. Kurt generally didn't like to play Bari with big bands because he said so few big band writers wrote good parts for Bari Sax. He made an exception for Ladd McIntosh and he played in Ladd's band for 30 years. Ladd writes exeptional bari sax parts!

You can hear excerpts of the Ladd McIntosh Big Band recordings at the website. Kurt is featured on "Steak and Beans" on the Ride the Night Beast CD". And on "I Got It Bad' on the "Temptation" CD.

To hear fine examples of Kurt's more 'outside' playing in which he really excelled, check out Andre Caporaso's CD, "Avenue 5". Yours truly also played on this CD.

There are many example of Kurt's Bari Sax and Bass Clarinet artistry on Caporaso's CD. McGettrick was really in his element when dealing with a harmonically open ended setting.

On a personal note, I spent many enjoyable hours over the past 17 years playing alongside Kurt in the Andre Caporaso band, in Steve Spiegl's big band, and in Billy Mintz's Two Bass Band. Kurt's playing was a constant inspiration. He brought a ton of musical energy to every situation. Musically, he was his own man. His style was strictly of his own invention. I admired Kurt's fearless, ferocious flights into the stratosphere. His improvisations were completely unpredictable. You were always going to be surprised and amused by what he played, and you weren't going to hear any stock licks - ever! His playing made me reach deeper - in an effort to keep up with his tremendous intensity.
Kurt was a real funny guy. His hard boiled outlook was shaped by a career of observing the ridiculousness of the music industry and the recent decline of the studio scene in L.A.. His stories about touring with Zappa were hilarious. Kurt was cynical about many aspects of the business, but he balanced that with his great sense of humor. Kurt McGettrick will be very much missed out here in Los Angeles. Check out the work of this important musician.

For a photo of Kurt playing his Bass Sax and a partial list of his album credits, go to:

(I think the date on the first BB.King session must be incorrect.)

Peace everybody,
Steve Marsh
Los Angeles
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Unsung & a master of originality ; he took the bari to another level

Maybe some you might of heard him in Zappas last bands. Maybe?

In the rock sax world Kurt is NEVER documented as he should be. In 70's he wrote and played on Phoebe Snows 3ed record. The string writing was as good as it got- and it wasn't full of dumb cliche' stuff either. Likewise the wildman bari sax solo stuff he did w/ Graham Parker.

I thank Mr Marsh and a few of my L.A buds for dubs thru the years on Kurt.
Albert Wing 'bout the time I was doing NAAM shows w/Guardala etc and playing stuff w/ Brecker at the NAAM shows...I hooked up with Wing and he was kind enough to give me rare Zappa stuff- some of which Kurt was on.

I called Ray Pizzi today, because he was another who spoke of Kurt highly. They used to do lots in various settings. Ray had no idea he passed and broke into tears when I told him the sad news.There so far as he knew wasn't anything in LA TIMES about Kurt or Pizzi woulda saw it. SAD:(
Ray used to have Easter egg hunts for the kids & Kurt would bring his family over and they'd hang. as we spoke Ray told me of a _CURRENT_big band he's writing an ENTIRE book for....and had features for Kurt already written!!
THAT'S HOW GREAT KURT WAS!!!!!! A musicians musician.Pizzi would of had some stuff for to hit- oh yea.

He was one of the bari sax players who knew- how lame parts were in big bands and the lack of real solo stuff. So he hung in stuff like Ladds bands as Marsh described. BUT- his vehicle was ZAPPA. I saw a dub a friend in Jersey had ( a bassist ) and he said- " You must know this guy on bari Tim- he's a freak...playing the Zappa stuff and going for no mercy " ....right he was. It was Kurt. No mercy- and no cliches either.

In 1970- I heard him in the basement at Berklee. This was before stuff like the FRINGE or anything...and this Bari roars outta small ensemble room. I'll
never forget it. Ever!! For a second I thought it mighta been someone outside the school- but I looked in and there was Kurt. I saw him around and he was a few years older than me. Later that session- he played soprano-so I had to ask him cuz he was getting that Surman sound on soprano, but more of a American- ized bluesish thing. But even more...kinda Mariano but not.
So I find out he had a Berg rubber soprano mouthpiece and the first LAWTON
bari sax mouthpiece I ever saw. ( Even before Big George and Frank Foster hit w/Elvin and had Lawtons ) BUT- originality was in his concept. Iasked Mariano about him- and Mariano just point blank said " Kurt is a M.F.'er "

How does a guy like this just pass thru the cracks?
It's one of the dark parts of the BIZ of music I dispise. Obiviously folks heard him, but he should of recorded HIS STUFF as Kurt. I dunno......

All I know is this guy was original- and he was REAL.
I'm glad I had the pleasure of knowing the guys music. After hearing him on bari in 1970...I knew there were other places to take the horn in the music.

Shame.....another voice lost.:( A real great one too.
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McGettrick was one of, if not the most innovative, musically advanced bari players ever. Sad news.
If a guy like this woulda played with Elvin or Miles?? WOAH-

I found a cassette of a radio show Kim Richmond had, that he was kind enough to give me a decade ago. On Kurt!! Kurt was big on HARRY CARNEY and knew PEPPER ADAMS well in the 73' point as he lived in NYC for a bit before going to LA.I think Kurt must of turned Pepper on to Lawton now I think about it. Had to! Kurt never played like Pepper; but he had some cool storys on the Kim show about him.

Lots of roots but also he stood for something as a bari player...when he played he created not replicated.After all- jazz is suposed to be a creative art form!

I note how he's never ever rock stuff via sax. After all ZAPPA was rock so was GRAHAM PARKER. Especially cuz he was such a savage player in those idioms.

On the Kim Richmond tape ( a radio interview ) Kurt played TANGERINE and played the most _cliche free_solo I ever heard on a bari. He played tenor too and so much else.....flutes low clarinets. Ya can hear those on most of the Zappa things.
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Tim, could you write down the names of some of the best Zappa stuff this guy played killer bari on?

I love a good loud monster bari player.
more on McGettrick

McGettrick never changed away from the Lawton mouthpieces on Bari. Perhaps a lesson to those who change mouthpieces every season…. I don't know the opening, but he used Plasticover reeds.

On tenor he played an open metal Berg with Plasticover. Kurt's tenor was LOUD!!!! He pumped the same amount of air into a tenor that he used on his Bass Sax! I often heard Kurt's tenor warmup routine at the Steve Spiegl big band. He first notes were Triple Fortisimmo and then he went on from there!

Yeah, Kurt would have been great in Elvin's band! Can you imagine what they could have done? Too bad that combination never happened...

But as aggressive and loud as Kurt could be, he was also capable of playing very sensitive things. We used to play some ballad type tunes together that featured Kurt on standard Bass Clarinet. I've never heard prettier bass clarinet playing. If I was playing tenor on the song, I'd have to play super soft, so as not to overwhelm the nice sounds he was making on bass clarinet. We usually got a nice blend between the bass clar. and tenor. Kurt had a great high range on the Bass Clarinet.

Then there was Kurt's old LeBlanc metal ContraBass Clarinet of the "Hairpin" wraparound design. I believe it was the Bb key Contra. Kurt was awesome on this instrument. And when that axe didn't go low enough wasn't low enough for him, to get an extra hlaf step of low range, Kurt would sometimes insert a cardboard tube from the inside of a roll of paper towels into the bell, and sure enough, he'd get that additional half step into the depths. Check out Kurt's outstanding ContraBass solo on the song "Gator" from Andre Caporaso's "Avenue 5" CD. It would have been great if Braxton and McGettrick had ever dueled on ContraBass Clarinets. Brax would have had to work hard to keep up with 'ol K

Zappa's "Make A Jazz Noise Here" CD from the 1988 tour features Kurt on a tremendous Bari solo. The track is "King Kong".

On You-Tube there are some videos of Zappa's '88 band with the horns. A favorite moment on that tour was when the horn section played Jimmy Page's guitar solo on "Stairway to Heaven."

McGettrick can also be heard playing tenor on several CDs by the Steve Spiegl Big Band. "Enigma" features Kurt alongside the great Pete Christlieb.
Several Zappa alumni (including the Fowler Brothers and Albert Wing) formed a band called "Banned (or Band) From Utopia". Kurt can be heard on that band's recordings.

One thing is for sure, we will miss this man's unique instrumental voices in the years to come. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to spend many hours playing alongside Kurt in some creative situations. Bruce Fowler has some tapes we made a few years ago with the L.A. version of Billy Mintz's "Two Bass Band". Kurt was a member of the group. Hopefully the CDs will come out some day soon.

A lot of the top studio musicians here look down there noses at someone like McGettrick. They just didn't know what to make of him. Like he was from another planet. Maybe he was!

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McGettrick on You-Tube

this YouTube video where Kurt McGettrick is seen playing contrabass clarinet parts with the Zappa alumni ensemble, "Band From Utopia". Also seen and heard on trombone is Bruce Fowler, one of the baddest bone players around.

more Zappa horn video

Clip of the Zappa horns playing a whacked out Ravel's "Bolero":

Kurt McGettrick: Bari Sax and Piccolo
Albert Wing: Tenor
Paul Carmen: Alto
Bruce Fowler: Trombone and Paso Doble Dancer
Walt Fowler: Trumpet

Kurt gets a nice piccolo sound and intonation for a guy who had two bars to switch from Bari to Pic. (!!!) Big bari sound near the end of the piece ...
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Steve- Kurt rose above the LA thing as soom as he joined ZAPPA!!!

That was the highest level music- and that was what Kurt was about.
He wasn't out to play RHYTM or ii-v for life and he knew it.He made a statement- BOLD AND PERSONAL...that will stand the test of time way more than someone retro'ing a style. THIS GUY WAS....AN ARTIST.
I dig those clips man. Thanks.
I first met Kurt back in DC when we both lived there. He's about 5 years older than me, He was from Rockville MD. and I from Kensington, so I think I was about 18 or 19. I totally idolized Kurt at the time. He was a schooled player who studied at Berklee and I was mainly an R&B student who love to play and also sing. We all talked about moving to either NY or Cali, and I moved out in '73. I think Kurt moved out just a few years later. We didn't work together alot. I actually saw Kurt more in social settings with get togethers of the DC guys Dave Smith, drummer percussionist, Steve Larrance, drummer, myself, and Kurt. We used to talk about fishing and how much we missed those blue crabs! One time he did a horn arrangement for a reggae version of the Beatles "Love Me Do" for a CD put out by Dave Smith. Another time I was asked by a promoter to play in a jazz festival near where I live north of LA, and the guy asked me if I knew anyone who specialized on bari Sax to play at the festival(guess who I thought of). And oh yes another time I called him to play bari in a ten piece horn section for the Temptations. He of course did a fantastic job at whatever he played, even though he didn't like to play "commercial" gigs. He was a true original, and his playing was probably misunderstood by most of the people that heard him. But you couldn't deny the virtuosity.

He had the dryest, most cynical sense of humor you could imagine! Some of his substitute terms for things are just legendary. But he was ultimately one of the nicest guys you could ever know. Those that knew him well will miss him greatly.
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You are right on about Kurt's dry and cynical sense of humor. He would have been the Prince of Darkness if the things he said weren't so damn funny!
Thanks so much to Steve and Tim for sharing your experiences playing along side Kurt for all those years. He really deserves more recognition for his contributions to low reed playing and to music in general, but you two have really given us all some wonderful perspective on Kurt and his music that could only have come from people who worked closely with him. My hats off to you gentlemen.
saxmanager said:
Thanks so much to Steve and Tim for sharing your experiences playing along side Kurt for all those years. He really deserves more recognition for his contributions to low reed playing and to music in general, but you two have really given us all some wonderful perspective on Kurt and his music that could only have come from people who worked closely with him. My hats off to you gentlemen.
saxmanager- Thank you- but I never worked WITH Kurt- but he was a very great inspirational many were in my Berklee years ( eg- Rick Wald, Victor Brazil, Mike Mandel, Alan Broadbent etc ) Kurt helped me _REALIZE_the more modern stuff I was learing from Mariano or hearing from guys I was enjoying LIVE like John McLaughlin , Joe Farrell and of couse early Chick Corea!! )
Kurt played amazing and modern soprano, I never heard ( then) a guy play soprano with a rubber Berg, and he lit the horn up. ( years later Farrell hipped me to using a stock selmer " G" which I bought in Mannys with Farrell from sax legend Pervis Henson. ) In any case- the guy was something else.

May we all strive to be as ORIGNAL as he was.
"king Kong"

I found the Zappa cut that I was thinking of...

All of you - need to hear Kurt McGettrick's crazy solo on the song "King Kong" from Frank Zappa's 1988, "Make A Jazz Noise Here".
Kurt's extended solo on "King Kong" displays many of his stylistic traits. Melodic and thematic development, upward leaps of several octaves, very fast doubling tonguing, huge reverberating multiphonics. insanely high altissimo, real fast runs that are precisely articulated. And always swinging.

Kurt also gets a short taste on "Stevie's Spanking".
And his Bari and other horns are heard throughout. Dig how tight this band was on these very difficult arrangements! Great soloing from Bruce and Walt Fowler. Albert Wing solos energetically in several spots. Very Brecker-ish. Check Kurt's horn chart on "Strickly Genteel". Very tricky stuff! Kurt told me that Zappa rehearsed them 5 nights a week for a period of almost 6 months before going out on the tour.

- S. Marsh
Back somewhere around 1992, I saw Kurt playing in some hole-in-the-wall in Hollywood with Michael Stephans on drums (who now plays with Dave Liebman) and Tim Taylor on tenor (my teacher at the time - a monster in his own right!). Yes - two saxes and drums. Kurt played a lot of EWI bass lines, as well as several Shakuhachi flutes. But, the most memorable tune was him playing bari on "Tangerine." KILLIN'!!!! I recorded this gig on a little hand-held tape recorder. I've got the tape somewhere - I'll find it and digitize it... R.I.P. Kurt...

I saw the last Zappa tour in Boston, before they went to Europe and the band disintegrated. I can't say that I particularly noticed the bari player, but I can tell you that the horn section (and the band for that matter) just kicked ***....

I was also going to suggest the King Kong solo... Kurt McGettrick had the guts of Motorhead Sherwood whilst having mastered technique as well...
Wow. People like Kenny G who just do what they do for the money, and are known of by everyone, but a man as dedicated as this just sits in his grave unheard of. I see something very wrong wrong with this. Why don't we hear more about people like this. When I was begining to play saxophone, really the only sax players I knew about were Kenny G. and 'Trane, then I heard Brecker, and other people, and I was introduced into new world of unbelieveable music. Rest in peace Mr. McGettrick. God Bless.
Kurt McGettrick R.I.P.

I knew and worked with Kurt, in particular, on Phoebe Snow's album and other dates we did together in the Bay Area. I agree that he was quite unique in his extreme abilities. I have a tape (somewhere - don't ask) of he and I with Mark Levine and Danny Spencer at my house. Does anyone know how old he was when he passed?

Mel Martin
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