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Stalking jazz great Stan Getz

Stan Getz, who died Thursday after a long bout with cancer, played one of the most lugubriously romantic tenor saxophones in jazz annals. So warm was his horn, you got the idea that should you meet Getz he might be inclined to rub your shoulders. This was not the case. He was, to those who dealt with him only in a professional capacity, a pretty cranky guy. Getz was known for being eccentric, aloof, self-centered and for driving a hard bargain when it came to serving up his talents.

Those are not unusual traits for jazz legends, especially when you consider thatGetz had overcome a heroin habit and did a short stint in prison. Still, unlike dozens of other jazz giants, Getz was well-paid throughout his career, even enjoying a brief fling with pop success in the early '60s as the point man for the bossa nova craze.

I didn't get to know Stan Getz, merely dealt with him in my role as journalist. Writer/musician liaisons can be friendly, testy, businesslike, but they almost always are fleeting. And they are rarely complex, which is what I encountered with Getz. I also discovered that he was not impenetrable.

The saxophonist was tagged to headline the 1986 Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Naturally I wanted to do a profile, crawl around in this guy's head for awhile. Accomplishing that took some doing.

First, I went through the normal channels of requesting an interview and discovered that getting Getz on the phone was anything but easy. After a few blind alleys, one of his management people clandestinely gave me his home phone number, suggesting that I call personally and ask for an interview. Don't expect a warm welcome initially, she forewarned. She was right.

How'd you get the number? _ Getz wanted to know. Just being an enterprising reporter, I responded, hoping to add a bit of levity to a tense situation. It didn't work. Why would I want to do an interview with you? _ Getz asked, bristling. A tough question. I said something about how I wasn't interested in all the same technical stuff that the jazz mags went after, how I wanted to write a story that captured what made him tick as a musician. He softened up and bought it; told me to call in a couple of days at a certain time.

Getz answered on my first call and seemed genuinely prepared to do an interview. It dawned on me that here was a veteran musician who was reluctant to do the Q-and-A exercise because it was generally so shallow. This guy didn't mind doing an interview if it could be something substantial, worth his time.

The interview went well. We got into his personal feelings about music and his career. I started to like this crusty guy.

It was just the beginning. A day later, ring. "It's Stan," Getz said. "Hi, Stan," I replied, surprised to hear from him.

Getz said he was concerned about the content of the article, asked about my angle, wanted to go over some of the things he said. He wasn't demanding; rather, he seemed, at these moments, to be vulnerable. It occurred to me that Getz was not entirely comfortable with how much of himself he'd revealed to a stranger. Funny thing was, I didn't feel as if he'd opened a vein and bled for me or anything.

His calls kept coming, maybe five or six in all; me allaying Getz's concern about the article, even reading him portions; him offering what amounted to editing tips, amending things he'd said. We'd negotiate over the littlest things. "I'm not gonna change that," I'd say. "You said it. I've got it on tape." "Okay, go ahead," he'd respond a little wearily.

After all the commiseration with Getz, my story was something of a let-down. All that time we'd spent; and, yes, the bond we had forged.

I was eager to meet my new jazz giant pal. He came into Clearwater and played a beautiful set. Getz made an appearance at the after-hours jam session, and here was my chance to hang out. He sat on a couch and some people fawned over him. I let them do their thing. Finally, I introduced myself, and Getz nodded coolly. We talked briefly. Music filled the awkward silences between us. He turned toward someone else. I slipped off. We never spoke again.

At least I have a bushel of his albums.