Tanglewood 75 - From the Audio Archives: Day 27

BSO

SAUTER: Tanglewood Concerto (world premiere)
JOBIM arr. ALBAM: The Girl from Ipanema

DURATION: 18:52
Koussevitzky Music Shed, August 3, 1966

Boston Pops Orchestra
Arthur Fiedler
, conductor
Stan Getz, saxophone

Release: 07/16/2012  

Purchase

 

Background on the Music


When Stan Getz was asked which of his own albums was his favorite, the great tenor saxophonist always replied, Focus (1961) - a collaboration with his friend, the arranger and composer Eddie Sauter.

What Sauter did in that album was create a fresh context for Getz's legendary gifts as an improviser. He composed a suite of short pieces for strings, establishing tempo, harmony, atmosphere, and even some suggestive wisps of melody; with these Getz could do whatever he felt like. Getz recorded some tracks live with the strings in the studio; on other tracks, he dubbed his solos onto tracks the strings had pre-recorded. The album was commercially successful, almost immediately established itself as a jazz classic, and now stands as an icon of its era.

There were two major follow-ups for Getz and Sauter. One was the soundtrack for a film, Mickey One, in 1965, and the other was the Tanglewood Concerto that Sauter composed for Getz and the Boston Pops in 1966, dedicating it to Arthur Fiedler and Getz.

The premiere at Tanglewood, which was a concert benefiting the orchestra's pension fund, was televised, and RCA Victor and later the Musical Heritage Society issued the live performance on LP. But while the audience audibly enjoyed the work, it does not seem to have pleased many of the people who wrote about it at the time - or since.  People from the classical world were sniffy - someone spoke to The Berkshire Eagle, saying, "I don't feel that a serious institution as Tanglewood needs to fall to that level to draw audiences."  The response of jazz purists was also predictably sniffy - Getz's abilities were compromised, his improvisations strait-jacketed by a pretentious collaboration with a symphony orchestra.

Forty-six years later all of this seems irrelevant. It is not necessary to declare the Tanglewood Concerto a masterpiece for the ages, but it is equally beside the point to dismiss it. Sauter was a thoroughly trained musician who had studied at the Juilliard School of Music, and worked privately with the 12-tone composer Stefan Wolpe. In 1938, he was composing and arranging material for Benny Goodman when Bela Bartók was composing Contrasts for Goodman. Sauter met Bartók, who expressed an interest in the work Sauter was doing; Bartók advised him to study the music of Palestrina!  Some fans of Focus may not realize that it opens with music from Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; this was Sauter's homage to a composer and a man whom he admired, a man who had recognized his talent and encouraged him when he was young. Sauter later opened the Tanglewood Concerto with another tip of the hat, a quotation from Bartók's Concerto for Orchestrathat passed unnoticed by everyone who wrote about it, although one critic wrote of "an interminable introduction of banal stuff"!

By 1964, Sauter was 50 years old and had accumulated an impressive track record. His job this time was to create another stimulating and unusual context for Getz, and he did. He took a classical form, the concerto, but left plenty of room for jazz improvisation - the way Mozart's concertos, for example, were designed to allow him to improvise his own ornamentation and cadenzas. Sauter's piece is not a profound dialogue between soloist and orchestra; instead, it is a showpiece for a virtuoso soloist with an orchestral backdrop, in this case a particular virtuoso soloist, Getz, who gets to show off his famous tone and breath control in legato passages (Getz's nickname was "The Sound"), as well as his speed and dexterity, and the cutting edge that was another aspect of his multi-faceted sound. Getz could make his tenor sax sing and wail; he could play at any pitch or dynamic level with a straight tone, or suffuse it with many throbbing speeds and colors of vibrato. He could produce an absolutely clear and pure tone, or make it seductively breathy and husky, or brilliantly raspy. The concerto is a showoff piece, meant to delight and entertain, and it does, but Getz had soul too, and the concerto calls for it.

The concerto is in two movements played almost without interruption - the only interruption occurs when the percussion bursts into Getz's opening reverie to launch a sizzling finale which returns to contemplate the quiet music of the first movement before closing quietly. Bartók lies behind the first movement; the Stravinsky of The Firebird flits around the second. Sauter lets the concerto slip from the room at the end, but if there had been a subsequent performance, and there wasn't, he might have wanted to reconsider that decision and provide a more brilliant ending. Even Bartók did that when he came to revise the Concerto for Orchestra.It must have been a disappointment to Sauter and Getz that no other orchestra and conductor stepped up to the plate; Getz would probably have liked to take his concerto around the circuit of American orchestras, but not everyone was as receptive to new ideas as Arthur Fiedler and the Pops always were.

It was left to Fiedler and Getz to light up a fireworks display at the end of the concerto, and they did - an arrangement by Manny Albam for saxophone and orchestra of Getz's greatest hit, The Girl from Ipanema. (Ipanema is a southern suburb of Rio de Janeiro with a famous beach that is near the even more famous beach called Copacabana.) Antonio Carlos Jobim composed the song in 1962 and the original Portugese lyrics were by Vinicius de Moraes. The two men were writing about a young girl who walked by a bar they frequented every day on her way to the beach, sometimes coming into the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother. She represented a kind of Lolita fantasy. As Moraes later wrote, she was "the paradigm of the young Carioca: a golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone - it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow."

Getz's recording, with Astrud Gilberto, was the second made of the song - and it marked Astrud Gilberto's first professional appearance as a singer. In 1964, Astrud Gilberto was present in the studio because she was married at the time to the guitarist João Gilberto, one of the creators of bossa nova ("new trend"), who was playing in the ensemble. The instrumentalists needed a vocalist who could sing the new English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, and Astrud Gilberto said she was willing to try. She did, and legend says she was paid $115 for her efforts. The song made her a star, and the single from the album became an international sensation.

In the arrangement Getz plays with Fiedler and the Pops, Getz begins with his own quartet of now-legendary musicians (Jim Hall, guitar; Steve Swallow, bass; Gary Burton, vibraphone; Roy Haynes, drums) before the orchestra joins in. Getz's playing is notable for captivating rhythm, and by the time he gets to the end the seductively swinging tune has all but disappeared into a shower of brilliant ornamentation.

The premiere of the Tanglewood Concerto generated a bit of scandal unmentioned in the liner notes to the original album. There was a record crowd of 14,258 people, but it was also "camp night," so there were nearly 50 busloads of young people from nearby summer camps in the audience in the Shed and on the lawn. Some of the youngsters were disruptive, leading to some departures from the adult audience, a nasty review, mostly about the audience, in the Berkshire Eagle (the headline was The Boston Pops Fiasco), and a subsequent flurry of letters to the editor, as well as a response by Thomas D. Perry, then the manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra: "I do want to thank the adult public genuinely for the courtesy with which they absorbed the disagreeable situation on Wednesday evening - in talking with many people I did not encounter anyone who was unreasonably indignant or who didn't seem to commiserate with us on the problem. And I would also like to complain bitterly about the irresponsibility of those in charge of large groups of children who through their carelessness and discourtesy have heedlessly put Tanglewood and the public in this awkward situation. But most of all, I want to assure the adult public that the problem is not being ignored, and we affirm our intention of giving performances in a proper atmosphere for satisfactory listening."

As noted, the Tanglewood Concerto received almost uniformly negative reviews. "The music was undistinguished and interspersed with touches of music straight from Gershwin, west side orchestral jazz, and occasional passages reflecting a mystical oriental influence."  Or, "I would make a small bet that all those who heard the world premiere may very possibly have heard, at the same time, the world terminal of that particular composition . . . the solo instrument scarcely ever was audible above the bombast of the orchestra's accompaniment."

The inaudibility of Getz was a general complaint - in those days there was no amplification for the crowd out on the lawn, and manager Perry was insistent that there never would be ("we could amplify the music and drown out the disturbances, but we pride ourselves on the natural acoustics here and are most reluctant to start down the electronic primrose path"). Of course, RCA Victor's engineers made Getz completely audible on the LP disc, although Getz's fans have always complained about the recorded sound and the stereo "separation," which put Getz and the orchestra into different channels. The present download, which comes from the live radio broadcast, brings a different sound perspective on the performance and perhaps will reawaken interest in the Tanglewood Concerto if there is a saxophonist out there as bold as Stan Getz was, and an orchestra and conductor as willing to take a chance as the Boston Pops and Arthur Fiedler were.

Richard Dyer