Getz Postscript

Jonathan Bellman

I decided to write my old friend Charles for more information about the piece Stan Getz played at Stanford, mentioned here.  He said:

Re the piece for Stan, sure: Tenor Rhapsody, by William Thomas McKinley of the New England Conservatory.  His wife was some sort of Wiccan who cast various spells and hexes before every rehearsal, and the concert, sitting in the front row for the purpose.  Altogether nuts.

Charles also recalled:

I well remember that concert. When we started the first half we had no idea whatsoever if we would have a second—but Mem Aud was full, and even Herb Caen was there. Toth and I also cajoled Stan like the sycophants we were…

I was the one who spent night after night at his home…pounding out his notes on the keyboard—but that’s yet another lamentable story.

Fun days!

After I stopped laughing and wiping my eyes, I searched “Tenor Rhapsody McKinley” and found the following program notes to a recording of the same composer’s work Night Music, which is apparently a rewrite:

Night Music

This work owes its existence in no small part to the legendary jazz tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. It was Getz who, after having heard some of McKinley’s music in the mid- to late 1980s, approached the composer with an invitation to write a new piece for tenor saxophone and orchestra, which McKinley quickly accepted. Almost immediately it became clear to McKinley that the work would be a dramatic, rhapsodic composition of significant proportions. After consulting with Getz, it was further agreed that the solo part would be fully notated, even as it evoked Getz’s improvisational style. The Tenor Rhapsody for Solo Tenor Sax and Orchestra was completed in April of 1988, and its premiere followed less than two months later on 10 June 1988 in Palo Alto, CA. Getz was the soloist with the Stanford University Symphony Orchestra, with Andor Toth conducting. There is no record that Getz ever played McKinley’s Rhapsody again in public, and less than three years later, on June 6, 1991, the jazz giant lost his battle with cancer.

In the small world department: these notes are by my friend Scott Warfield, whose work I quote in the second edition of my Short Guide to Writing About Music because he’s so good at it.  My wife has done notes for MMC also.  And, to come full circle, I find this review of the CD by David Denton for Fanfare at the bottom of the same screen:

This is Volume 12 of MMC’s indispensable anthology of world-premiere recordings of 20th-century North American music. At the core of this new release is a work by the founder of MMC, William Thomas McKinley, one of the few composers who have successfully brought jazz and classical music together, and to such an extent that you can no longer find where on [sic] ends and the other begins. ‘Night Music’ is a reworking of the 1988 score ‘Rhapsody for Solo Tenor Sax and Orchestra’ originally intended for legendary saxophonist Stan Getz. The work came late in Getz’s all-too-short life, and McKinley subsequently decided to rewrite the score to take into account the exceptional skills of Michael Rossi, the remarkable soloist in this highly enjoyable performance.

So the redoubtable McKinley, founder of MMC, must be the guy I met backstage at Memorial Auditorium.  And the event was a couple years earlier than I thought, when I was a lad of but 30.  The composer’s notes to the piece are found on pp. 78–79 of this Googlebooks link.

I only heard the original Tenor Rhapsody, be it said, not the Night Music rewrite.  To be totally honest, my unfortunate meeting with the composer aside, I enjoyed the piece; it was like post-Gershwin, a style that I have always felt had much more in it than we ever heard.  I would welcome more performances of it.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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