Focus: An Astounding Jazz Album That Thrills Me

Stan Getz – Focus

In my early 20’s, I first got exposed to jazz, and still love most of those crowd pleasers, including one I’m sure everyone’s heard of: the so-smooth-as-butter that even the Starbucks generation has it on their iPod: Getz/Gilberto.

Girl From Ipanema has been so played and covered and tastefully coffee shopped that it’s hard to remember sometimes that Stan Getz did amazing and different stuff both before and after the Bossa Nova thing. He could have easily ridden that train until the end of his days.

But it’s not Getz/Gilberto, or even his later work that I want to turn you on to.

It’s his 1961 masterpiece: Focus.

Allow me to set the stage.  Another album I love is Joanna Newsom’s 2006 Ys album.  In Ys (pronounced like “ease”), Joanna sat down on pedal harp and recorded 5 long original songs in very few takes.  Once the recording was finished, she worked with composer Van Dyke Parks to create an orchestral score to lay behind her recording.  It’s an amazing accomplishment, and I think it’s kind of cool that Stan Getz did kind of the reverse on Focus.

Getz commissioned big band composer Eddie Sauter, to make him an album of modern classical pieces for strings, bass and harp, which Sauter delivered.

Now, I don’t have the liner notes in front of me anymore, and can’t find them on the internet anymore, but as I remember it, Getz laid down his saxophone takes on his first listen of each track!!!

I liked the whole album, but I remember about a minute into Night Rider just having a feeling like all the air was being sucked out of my chest.  Have a listen:

It’s well known that the sax is improvised, but if it’s true that he improvised the first time he heard the recordings, then it just blows me away, that he was able to create this level of excitement and invention without any planning at all.

Also worth listening to is another exciting track, I’m Late, I’m Late:

And a mellower ballad, I Remember When:

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