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 The Christmas I’ll remember

Where the seed is sown
The Christmas I'll Remember
Stan Getz talking in 1966

What I like most about this business is: it's not only being a saxophone player.  It's thinking about music in so many different ways. How to present a show, what tempos the tunes are sup­posed to be, the order of what tunes you play, what you say to an audience.

Like, recently—I was trimming a Christmas tree last December 17th in my home. And I ran from the TV room, where the tree was going to be, through the living room, and out into the hall— I think it was to get the star to put on top of the tree. My shoes were off, and I was wearing some type of nylon socks. But I forgot that the rug had been taken up to be polished for Christ­mas—and I slipped on the newly-waxed parquet floor.

I fell on my derriere, and put my foot through the French window. If I'd left it there, it would have been all right— but because of a natural reflex, I pulled it out. Consequently the glass cut right down to the bone, above my instep.

As a matter of fact, if you ever want to commit suicide in a nice way—I think bleeding to death is it. My wife called an ambulance and, in just those few minutes, I was sitting on the floor, quite happily—I had no pain—and the pool of blood was getting immense. It was really gushing out. I wasn't worried— and I started slowly to get drowsy. The blood was leaving my body.

Anyway, the doctor got there and gave me a shot for shock or something. They got me to a hospital, gave me a trans­fusion and operated on the foot.  It required eight stitches inside and seven outside.   The main artery had been severed, the tendons and the nerve were damaged—a whole lot of things.

Two days later, I was scheduled to play at Carnegie Hall. And it had been a sold-out house two weeks previously. I wondered: "Now, should I get out of this hospital bed?" I was full of pain­killers, because it had really started to hurt then. "Should I cancel this con­cert? It's hard to play from a wheel-chair. Or should I remember corny old sayings like 'The show must go on—be a trouper—I want to die in my boots!' Then again, the people are going to be uncomfortable, with the pity they're going to feel for me. They're not even going to hear my music—when they see this guy, drenched with sweat, in obvious pain, trying to play while sitting in a wheelchair." Finally, I decided I'd go and play the concert. But I had to find a way of putting that audience at ease.

So I was introduced, and the man said something about: "Mr. Getz has had an accident with his foot, but he's going to play, anyway." He shouldn't have said that, in the first place. As it was, I wheeled myself out—and, right away, I could feel it: "Is he working on our sympathy, or is the poor lad hurt?" I didn't want them thinking of that.

Do you know what the D.A.R. is? It's an organisation run by old ladies and cripples—Daughters Of The American Revolution.   They send around these poor crippled guys that have been hurt in the Army, wheeling themselves from door to door, with a collection cup, selling little flowers.  So I got to the microphone and I said: "Good evening. I'm from the D.A.R. Will you buy my poppies?" That started a little titter, but it didn't get across completely. So I thought: "I've got to say something else." At that time, everybody had just seen the film Dr. Strangelove.  Peter Sellers was in it—a very funny movie. If you saw it, you'll remember that one of the four or five parts that he played was that of a jaded German scientist. He's in a wheelchair all through the picture, and he's got this glove over his hand. I guess it was mutilated in some way. In one scene, near the end, he's having an argument when he starts twitching; he has a spasm with his arm, which comes up and he's strangling him­self. So I did this—and they fell apart. That took the pressure right off them. Then there was nothing to do but play music.

And the concert was a huge success. The New York Times gave it rave write-ups.  Of course, I don't remember a note I played on it. But, at least, it came off.  That's what I mean about trying to judge an audience. It's a hard thing to do. All those great people— like Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee— they really know how to feel an audience. That's a gift in itself. As I say, I'm just a saxophone player—but I still like to be able to apply it for my own little world.

Jazz musicians think showmanship is a dirty word. But showmanship is not getting up there and being a show-off— it's trying to get across your music. If you can give people enjoyment—that's good showmanship.

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