Mabel Mercer - vocals; Stan Getz - tenor sax; Jimmy Lyon - piano; Larry Ridley - bass; Jimmy Cacuso - drums
As part of "A Jazz Salute to the American Song" at Philharmonic Hall, tenor sax great Stan Getz joined with the 74-year-old British cabaret singer Mabel Mercer for an all-Rodgers & Hart program. Accompanied by Mercer's longtime pianist Jimmy Lyon, bassist Larry Ridely and drummer Jimmy Cacuso, they brought a touch of class to the stage on stirring interpretations of such romantic nuggets as "My Romance," "It Never Entered My Mind," "We'll Never Meet Again" and "I Wish I Were In Love Again." And while Mercer's theatrical delivery and rolling of her r's might seem antiquated by post-bebop standards, Getz's relaxed, velvety tones provide the perfect compliment on this nostalgic evening at Philharmonic Hall.
A perennial favorite at the Newport Jazz Festival since the early '60s, Getz was born Stanley Gayetsky on February 2, 1927, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents were Ukrainian Jews who emigrated from the Kiev, Ukraine area in 1903. The family later moved to New York City for better employment opportunities. Getz grew up in the Bronx and began playing saxophone at age 13, idolizing Count Basie's star tenor man, Lester Young. In 1943, at the age of 16, he was accepted into Jack Teagarden's big band. Because of his youth he became Teagarden's legal ward. There followed stints in the big bands of Stan Kenton (1944-1945), Jimmy Dorsey (1945) and Benny Goodman (1945-1946) before he finally joined Woody Herman's Second Herd in 1947. Getz became one of the fabled Four Brothers in Herman's band (along with fellow saxophonists Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward and Serge Chaloff) and remained with the group for two years. After leaving Herman's band, Getz was a featured played on Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic revue before branching out in 1950 to lead his own quartet, which featured pianist Al Haig, bassist Tommy Potter and drummer Roy Haynes. Another edition of the Getz quartet, formed later that year, featured a young pianist named Horace Silver, who would become a star in his own right during the 1960s.
In 1951, Getz forged a musical partnership with the great bop guitarist Jimmy Raney and the following year he supported guitarist Johnny Smith on his biggest hit, "Moonlight in Vermont," the title track of Smith's successful Roulette recording. Through the remainder of the '50s, he had significant encounters with trombonists Bob Brookmeyer and J.J. Johnson, pianist Oscar Peterson, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, vibraphonist Cal Tjader and others, including a whole host of French, Danish and Swedish musicians during his extended stay in Europe from 1958-1960. Upon returning to the States, Getz recorded the challenging Focus, a big band outing with compositions and arrangements by Eddie Sauter. But it was 1962's Jazz Samba that brought him wider recognition beyond the jazz cognoscenti. And his follow-up, 1963's Getz/Gilberto (with the hit single, "The Girl from Ipanema"), made the tenor saxophonist an international star.
Getz had memorable outings through the '60s with Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Jim Hall, and in the '70s he recorded such landmarks as 1972's Captain Marvel (with a quartet featuring pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Tony Williams) and 1975's The Peacocks (with pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Elvin Jones), while also investigating fusion on 1977's Another World and 1978's Children of the World (both featuring an electrified quartet with keyboardist Andy Laverne, bassist Mike Richmond and drummer Billy Hart). Getz returned to an acoustic quartet through the '80s, most notably with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Victor Lewis. He was inducted into Down Beat's Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988. His final recording was a two-CD set of duets with pianist Barron entitled People Time, cut just three months before the saxophonist's death from liver cancer on June 6, 1991. In 1998, the 'Stan Getz Media Center and Library' at the Berklee College of Music was dedicated through a donation from the Herb Alpert Foundation.
Mercer was born in Staffordshire, England on February 3, 1900 to a black American jazz singer, Warren Mercer, and British music hall actress, Gertrude Doak. Originally a dancer, she began performing as a singer in the 1920s and became a featured performer at Chez Bricktop, a popular cabaret in Paris frequented by such American expatriate writers as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Mercer made her New York debut in 1938 and soon began a longstanding nightclub residency, gaining a fervent following that included such fellow singers as Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole. She made two live recordings during the late '60s with cabaret star Bobby Short and appeared with Stan Getz twice at the Newport Jazz Festival - in 1973 and 1975. Despite a brief retirement, she returned to performing in the early '80s, including an appearance at George Wein's 1982 Kool Jazz Festival.
In 1982, Mercer teamed up with her dear friend Eileen Farrell in concert as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. In 1983, Mercer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian medal. She died on April 20, 1984.
-Written by Bill Milkowski