In Part 1 of our interview, vibes great Gary Burton discussed the history of the vibraphone in jazz, his development of the four-mallet approach to playing vibraphone, and his early years as a sideman. Part 2 starts off with a discussion of the opportunities and challenges of playing with Stan Getz.
[Continuing from Burton's answer at the end of Part 1] That was really the transition that made it possible for me to start my own band when [the time with Stan Getz] came to an end. I got a lot of exposure with Stan. He was at the peak of his success at that time. “The Girl From Ipanema” had just come out, and we were playing to sold out audiences and concerts, and clubs everywhere that three years. So I got a lot of visibility. And he was very generous about featuring the musicians in the band.
So that also played a part of it. But as a person, Stan was a nightmare. I'm not a doctor, but I'm pretty sure that he would be what we call bipolar. He would lurch back and forth between being very happy and upbeat or being very paranoid and suspicious and mean. And you never knew what was going to send him off in one direction or the other. He was a terrible alcoholic at the time as well. So it was a real challenge to co-exist, to be around the guy day after day.
I'm wondering what it's like to play with a leader where you're walking on egg shells all the time.
You make a lot of compromises when the quality of what you're doing is at the highest level. This band had me, Roy Haynes on drums, Steve Swallow on bass, and Stan. Those were the best possible musicians I could expect to play with. And on the good nights, Stan was incredible. As a player, he was inspirational. I learned so much from playing with him. On the bad nights I would shake my head and say, "I don't know if I can keep on doing this." And then it would be good for a while.
The same is true if you find yourself working with somebody who's got a drug habit. It's a huge hassle and it's something you don't want to have to deal with. But if they're a good enough player, you'll tend to put up with things like that because the music is working so well. And after all, it was a steady paying gig for me as well. I was 20 years old and playing with one of the biggest stars in the business. Miles [Davis] was a handful to work for, but who wouldn't take the job if he called?