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J.J. Johnson (Trombone)/Stan Getz (Sax): Stan Getz and J.J. Johnson at the Opera House

Album Notes

Whatever Norman Granz was using as a thinking man's energy drink in 1957 when he formulated this Jazz at the Philharmonic all-star band should be bottled and sold to the world. This stroke of genius was manifested in pairing Stan Getz with J.J. Johnson, backing them up with pianist Oscar Peterson's legendary trio including bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis, and adding MJQ drummer Connie Kay to this truly classic jazz sextet. Two JATP concerts done in Chicago (in stereo) and Los Angeles (in mono) comprise this expanded edition CD, with some stretched-out jams, repeat tunes, and extra material. Originally tabbed as an unusual teaming of tenor sax and trombone, the two principals sound well-suited, very compatible in their dynamic levels, and especially congruous when they play together, while Peterson is absolutely supportive so that these two giants of jazz can cut loose. The shorter concert in Chi-Town has the band absolutely on fire from the get-go, burning up the definitive bop flag-waver "Billie's Bounce" over ten minutes of hard-swinging perfection. Neither Getz nor Johnson had ever played the Charlie Parker evergreen before, nor had either of them done "My Funny Valentine," offered here with Getz's lead line as the trombonist follows gently in his footsteps via a midtempo pace. The swing-era standard "Crazy Rhythm" is cranked up very fast, and features a clever harmony from Johnson, while "Blues in the Closet" closes the show with the simplest bop idea turned into a brilliant, long-winded discourse from all the participants. For the L.A. show, the program also starts with "Billie's Bounce," done differently on the harmonic end just for kicks, while "My Funny Valentine" uses a completely different introduction from the horns. Peterson charges up "Crazy Rhythm" as the sax and 'bone play more in sync, while "Blues in the Closet" again closes the set, but is much shorter, faster, and a bit sloppy at the outset. The add-ons include a short (under four-minute) and easygoing feature for Johnson on "Yesterdays" and another brief rendering of the ballad "It Never Entered My Mind," exclusively for the soulful Getz and a more pronounced Ellis. The extraordinary playing by these expert jazzmen elevates this album to legendary status. It is some of their best work (from a pivotal year in modern jazz recording), and a shining example of how professionally Granz could mix and match musicians to form optimal results. ~ Michael G. Nastos


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