Born February 2nd 1927 in Philadelphia (moving to New York soon after) to Ukrainian emigrants, he showed musical ability from an early age being able to play a wide range of instruments. After his father bought him a saxophone at the age of 13 he immediately fell in love with the instrument and practiced up to 8 hours a day.
In 1941 he joined the All City High School Orchestra of New York City which enabled him to receive private tutoring from the New York Philharmonic’s Simon Kovar. In 1943 at the age of 16 he joined Jack Teagarden‘s band and became his protégé. During this period he was able to play along side some of the most notable musicians of the time such as Nat King Cole and Stan Kenton. In 1947 he was apart of the “Second Herd” and gained attention as one of the bands saxophonists.
He began his solo career in the 1950s being known a player of cool jazz. He spent some time Scandinavia and returned to the U.S in 1961 and with the aid of Charlie Byrd began to spread Bossa Nova across America. In 1962 he recorded “Jazz Samba” which was a huge success and in 1963 won the Grammy award for Best Jazz performance for a rendition of “Desafinado”. He won two more Grammy awards thanks to his work with Tom Jobim, Joao Gilberto and Astrud Gilberto on the album Getz/Gilberto. The Girl from Ipanema became a classic and won Best Single while Getz/Gilberto won Best Album. An affair with Astrud proceeded to destroy the partnership he had formed with the Brazilians which saw him move away from Bossa Nova and back to cool jazz.
In the 1980s he taught at Stanford University and in 1986 he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame. Getz died of liver cancer in 1991 , he was cremated and his ashes scattered into the sea of the coast of California.