Stan Getz’s Improvised Solo on "Pennies from Heaven" (from Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio, Verve 827 826-2) by Greg Fishman
Recorded in 1957—when Stan Getz was only 30 years old—the "Pennies From Heaven" solo stands up to the test to time amazingly well. Over five decades have passed since the solo was recorded, yet it doesn’t sound dated. This is one of the characteristics that all the jazz masters share: a timeless quality.
This solo is a microcosm of the Getz approach: it’s melodic and swinging, with a gorgeous tone and a great time-feel. He was a master at combining many elements to form a unified whole.
For example, on a harmonic level, Getz nails every chord change. You could listen to the solo with no accompaniment and still identify every chord in the tune just from Getz’s single-note line. Yet this major accomplishment is only one piece of the puzzle.
Rhythmically, Getz is constantly creating points of interest for the listener. Look at this solo and isolate the rhythms alone: it has great variety and engages your interest from start to finish. To demonstrate clearly the level of rhythmic variety he employs in the solo, play these great rhythmic phrases by themselves on a snare drum!
Keep in mind, however, that Getz masterfully combines these rhythmic and harmonic elements into a spontaneous melodic composition. The elements are linked in such a way that they complement each other. (These links will be discussed later in this analysis).
Getz had one of the most beautiful tones in all of jazz, an unlimited technique on the saxophone, and an incredible gift for nuance and detail. Whether crisp and clear or smooth and legato, his articulation and subtle dynamic shadings are always evident as hallmarks of his style.
There is a natural, lyrical quality in all of Getz’s work. He once commented, “I never played a note I didn’t mean.” That statement says a lot about his approach, which I might describe as intent. There is intent behind every phrase, note, and nuance that he played: that’s why he sounds so consistently convincing.
Getz was not a “lick” player. He was a melody player. He knew how to draw on his great musical vocabulary and combine its different elements to express his every musical whim. The wit and grace with which he did this is astounding.
With the two-measure solo break, Getz sets up a type of “musical margin” from his middle D to his high D. Throughout the entire solo, he uses all three D’s—low, middle, and high—to define the space in which he is developing his ideas. Think of the low D as the left margin, the middle D as the center point, and the high D as the right margin. Then check out the following measures to see different ways that Getz builds with octave D’s as enclosing reference points: C1-C6, pickup to D5-D7, D14-E2, E7-E12, F7-F8, G1-G5, G13-G15, H14-I5, I9-I10, and J2. The “grand finale” of these margins, J9-K1, shows Getz using the middle D as a kind of pedal point and then slowly working his way to the low D that ends the solo.
Another “Getzian” device affects phrasing. Notice how the solo pickup into letter C ends on beat one of measure C1. Getz then rests for beat two, and the quarter notes on beats 3 and 4 are the pickups to the new phrase. In essence, his solo phrasing gives the illusion that the second measure of the piece is the first measure of the form! Getz employs the same device at letters I and J: his new phrase starts in the second measure of the form. Many soloists avoid monotony in phrasing by starting their ideas a half or whole beat later; Getz takes this concept one step further and shifts his whole phrase one measure later. This device prevents the solo from falling into phrasing ruts and gives an over-the-barline effect to the tune’s ABAC form.
Note Getz’s masterful approach to the diminished chords in measures C2 and C6. At first glance it just looks like a simple arpeggio; but what makes it work so well is how he sets up and then gracefully exits the diminished shape. In measure C2’s upbeat of beat 4, he uses the 7th of the F dim7 chord as a common tone with the 7th of the E min7 chord that follows. In measure C6, he treats the whole bar like an Fdim7 chord—again, by starting with a D. Though this may look like he’s just playing the root of the D/F# chord, he’s actually foreshadowing the diminished shape to come.
Getz is great at developing a theme. For example, at measure C9 he introduces a new theme; he then keeps essentially the same notes but develops the idea rhythmically. At letter D, he takes a simple two-note theme and first develops it rhythmically. By measure D3 he suddenly drops down to a ghosted low D and makes his way back up to the B that started the measure. Next, instead of going directly into a new theme, he restates the old one (of notes B to D); then in the second half of measure D5 he plays notes C to D. Getz fills the next two measures with a harmonically rich treatment of the D+7(#9) chord and the G Maj7 chord. When in measure D8 he plays an F# to an E, it is the perfect “answer” to the notes played on beat three of measure D5: a whole step moving in the opposite direction. It is also a reference to the melody of the tune.
Measures D9 through D12 are an excellent example of an approach to developing a four-measure phrase with symmetry. There are many elements at work here. Notice how each measure has a descending shape—with one exception: measure D11 (the third bar of the phrase) is ascending, giving a great lift to the entire phrase. Compare measures D10 and D12: notice the symmetry both rhythmically and melodically even though D10 drops by a whole step and D12 drops by a half step.
It is also interesting to note Getz's use of the common tone A in the first three measures of the phrase (D9-D11): treating it as the 9th of G Maj7, the 13th of C 13, and the 5th of D Maj6/9. Think of this device as the opposite of a pedal bass (which is a static bass note with chords moving above it): here the pedal A is a static melody voice over three measures with chords moving beneath it.
Getz is a master at connecting his ideas, employing several devices that make transitions between phrases sound effortless and smooth. For example, it is common practice to use a rest before introducing new material into a solo. Getz’s unique approach to rests inserts them in between parts of the same musical phrase. This adds drama to the solo: the listener hearing a rest is unsure as to whether there will be further development or new material.
Look at the phrase beginning at letter D. In the fourth measure he inserts a beat and a half rest, then repeats the two-note theme before moving directly into new material at D6. The first six measures of letter E also employ the device effectively, as do the first six measures of letter G.
Combining Scale & Chord Shapes
Getz had the ability to combine scales and chord arpeggios effortlessly. In measures G13 through G16, he uses the E Lydian-Dominant scale (bar G13), the E Mixolydian scale (bar G14), an E min7 chord arpeggio (including some chromatic passing notes, bar G15), and the Chromatic scale (bar G16). Notice how smoothly he combined all of these elements into one solid four-measure phrase.
Getz sometimes uses a device I label the snake.” In measures E8-E12, the shape of the idea stays intact while making necessary adjustments for the “terrain” of the chords. It’s like a snake’s body gliding smoothly over branches in its path, automatically adjusting to the landscape it encounters.
Drama on Many Levels
Getz works on many different levels simultaneously to achieve maximum impact of his ideas. For example, in measure H12, the quarter-note-triplet rhythm helps to bring out the tension in the high D (the #9) and high C (the b9) over the B13(b9) chord. In the next measure, he follows with a brilliant sequence: a rhythmic variation on the triplet rhythm while keeping the #9 and b9 sound by playing his high C and Bb—thus employing yet another device, that of foreshadowing, by hinting at the A+7(#9) to come in measure H14 by playing them a bar ahead of time. It is this constant mixing of harmonic, rhythmic and melodic devices that gives Getz’s solo a sense of drama—and in turn, keeps the listener hanging on every note!
These are only a few of my favorite points in this solo. Explore the solo for yourself; and when you find a particularly engaging spot, look at it to try to figure out what Getz is doing to achieve the effect. Answer for yourself, “How does he do that?”—and you’ll soon find your own playing level rising to new artistic heights.
Tenor saxophonist Greg Fishman has been playing professionally for 28 years, including with The Woody Herman Band, The Louis Bellson Band, Slide Hampton, Jackie Cain & Roy Kral, Lou Levy, Harry Allen, Plas Johnson, Benny Golson, Phil Woods and Marcus Printup. An accomplished recording artist and teacher of jazz improvisation, he is the author of four transcription books: Stan Getz Solos, Tenor Saxophone Standards, Stan Getz Standards, and Stan Getz Bossa Novas, all published by Hal Leonard. Greg has also published Jazz Saxophone Etudes, vols. 1 & 2, and Jazz Saxophone Duets. These books, published by Greg Fishman Jazz Studios, are in use at many of the top high school and university programs throughout the world, and are endorsed by Michael Brecker, Phil Woods, Dave Liebman, Jerry Coker, Bob Sheppard and James Moody. Greg Fishman received his Bachelor of Music from DePaul University and his Master of Music in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University. www.gregfishmanjazzstudios.com