Opening the gateway

Opening the gateway

This edition is a mellow pairing of malt and sax

Whisky & Culture | 02 Oct 2020 | By Hans Offringa

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The ‘mellow’ man with the astounding, flawless technique and warm, poetical sound was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 2 February 1927. Soon afterwards, the Gayetski family moved to New York. They had come from the Ukraine at the turn of the century and decided to Americanise their name to Getz.

Stan excelled at school and started to play saxophone when he turned 13, albeit that he would enjoy playing on every instrument he got his hands on. Lester Young was one of his first musical influences. At 14 he was playing in his high school orchestra, which entitled him to get a free tutor from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Turning 16 he became the protégé́ of Jack Teagarden and started to play with famous musicians like Nat ‘King’ Cole and Lionel Hampton. Via gigs with Benny Goodman he became a soloist in Woody Herman’s Second Herd. Their hit ‘Early Autumn’ boosted his career and from 1950 on Getz would be the leading man in his own quintets and quartets. In 1953 he formed a sextet with Dizzy Gillespie. The two were then later joined by rhythm tandem Ray Brown-Max Roach as well as Herb Ellis and Oscar Peterson.

Starting as a teenager, Stan Getz frequently used alcohol and drugs. He continued to do so until he got arrested in 1954 for an attempted robbery of a pharmacy, needing to score. In an effort to become sober, he travelled to Europe where he stayed in Copenhagen for a while. When he came back to New York in the early 1960s, he teamed up with Charlie Byrd and got involved in Latin jazz. During this period he made one of his most famous recordings, with Joao and Astrud Gilberto, The Girl from Ipanema. After his Latin affair he returned to cool jazz for a while. Then he joined bass player Stanley Clarke and keyboard phenomenon Chick Corea in the early 1970s. It meant a step toward jazz-rock fusion, which eventually led Getz to experimenting with electronic gimmicks on his sax like audio delay and echo. The critics didn’t like it and slowly Getz returned to acoustic jazz. In the last phase of his life, his music became more esoteric and he turned away from the Bossa Nova style of his 1960s success altogether.

Getz, nicknamed ‘The Sound’, was often praised for his immaculate control of the saxophone, which he played with seemingly no effort at all. But in reality it meant working hard, as it is very difficult to obtain such a level of perfection. John Coltrane once said about his colleague: “We would all play like that... if we could.”

Stan Getz was not only prolific in a musical way. In between travelling and playing concerts in Europe and the USA, he managed to father six children with three different ladies, two of whom he had married. His collaboration with the Gilberto couple ended after he had enjoyed a love affair with Astrud.

On 6 June 1991, the smooth operator of jazz and women died of liver cancer. In 1998 he was immortalised by a donation of the Herb Alpert Foundation, which made it possible to erect the Stan Getz Media Center and Library at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

A dram for easy listening...

A small urban distillery is nestled cosily in the centre of Oban, from which it takes its name. It seemed a rare location for a distillery since the overwhelming majority always liked the countryside better, for obvious reasons. Illicit stills were less easily detected in the hills and mountain ranges, when gaugers and excise men operated their detested practice: trying to find and demolish them.

Not so with Oban. On the contrary. The name, meaning ‘Little Bay of Caves’ in English, had been an important port for many centuries to Picts, Celts and Vikings alike. John and Hugh Stevenson took a different approach. They were avid builders and entrepreneurs, raising an entire village around the distillery and the bay. The brothers soon owned various other businesses ranging from a slate quarry and factory to a fishing operation and a brewery, rapidly becoming the largest and virtually only employer in the area around the turn of the 18th century.

In 1821 Hugh’s son Thomas inherited the conglomerate and hurried back from Argentina to claim his stakes. Not having the business instinct of his father, he ran into financial debts and had to file for bankruptcy in 1829. Luckily his son John took after grandfather Hugh and saved the distillery, managing to buy it from the creditors for the decent sum of £1,500 and running it successfully for more than 35 years. In 1866 local man Peter Cumstie bought the distillery, probably as an investment, selling it 17 years later to James Walter Higgins, who started renovating and modernising Oban in 1883. During the expansion, workers found human remains and tools in a cave behind the distillery. The findings would later be dated as stemming from the Mesolithic period, about 6,500 years ago.

After the modernisation, the distillery slowly attracted the attention of larger players in the industry. In 1898 a conglomerate of various business people, among them the powerful Dewar-Buchanan clan, acquired Oban. The latter became part of the Distillers Company Ltd in 1925, which eventually would become an important cornerstone of Diageo.

Between 1931 and 1968, Oban struggled as a start-stop operation, mothballed a couple of times. After elaborate reconstructions, the distillery reopened in 1971 and has not ceased to produce since. At first Oban was bottled as a 12-year-old single malt but that changed in 1988, when Oban became part of the original six Classic Malts. From then on the malt would be bottled as a 14 years old. This expression is still the core version, joined by a Distiller’s Edition with an extra maturation in Amontillado ex-sherry casks and Oban Little Bay, a no age statement malt.

Oban is the second to smallest of Diageo’s 30-odd distilleries, and there isn’t really any room for expansion; it is crammed between other buildings to the sides, the main street and harbour in front and a sturdy rock at its back.

Blues Note

Stan Getz earned his nickname ‘The Sound’ for his immaculate control of the saxophone, regardless of the style he played. He was a front man of the West Coast style, developed by Dave Brubeck. Soon Getz ventured into the hard bop area, adding Bossa Nova to his list of accomplishments in the 1960s, travelling to Europe and experimenting with electronic jazz, but eventually returning to straightforward jazz. His music gently seduces you into listening, maybe in the same way he seduced the many women in his life. Getz was an amazing soloist, but he also performed well with others. This skill showed up in Woody Herman’s Second Herd in 1947, which was very influential and helped propel him further into the spotlight. Getz was one of the ‘Four Brothers’ in the band, joining Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff and Herbie Steward.
Oban developed itself not only as a distillery but also as a whole town, with supporting industries surrounding the grounds, even venturing into beer brewing. Its single malt is a soft seducer with a great balance. Due to its easy access to some of the Western Hebrides, Oban is also called the Gateway to the Isles. Stan Getz in turn can easily be called a Gateway to the Styles.

‘Blood Count’ by Stan Getz

Oban 14 Years Old
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