Focus

Jazzman Stan Getz made his name in bossa nova during the 1960s, with pop hits like “The Girl from Ipanema”. His smooth, tuneful saxophone playing was far more palatable to the masses than, for example, the jagged (and sometimes hysterical) beauty proffered by his contemporary John Coltrane. But, before he was a star, Getz had quietly released an avant-garde experiment of his own. This is Focus (1961), an exceptional fusion of jazz and modern classical music that he created with composer Eddie Sauter.

Getz shines brilliantly on this album. Sauter contributed deliberately self-contained compositions for a 19-piece orchestra—but he wrote nothing for saxophone, and he left subconscious “space” in the music for Getz to improvise his part. Somehow, Getz dances through and with the orchestra without apparent effort, laying down unpredictable melodies that never compete with Sauter’s work. As Getz said in the liner notes, the album proves that “the legitimacy of the past 300 years and the soul of our modern times can be put together and be beautiful.”

Focus shifts constantly into new territory, as Getz and the orchestra move from mood to mood: jazzy turbulence gives way to mournful balladry, and then to Alice in Wonderland-esque playfulness; and so on. Anchored by the fluid saxophone that made Getz famous, the record is challenging without being inaccessible. For good reason, he believed it to be his best work. Still, the attempt to explain Focus reminds one that beauty can merely be pointed to—never truly captured—by a description. Hear selections from the album after the break instead.

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Now you’re recording.

Still Eating Oranges

Who keeps leaving sharp objects in the street at the corner of Vine and Fifth? Gray William.

Lives in a blanket, dances on bonethin legs. Gray William breaks into, homes to, break vases, into pieces, who knows it? The bloated hatted thing from the corner of an eye. Known by its disease. Calls to the children, c’mon kids, they slunch off into the night. Bridget thought for sure she saw something over there.

Still Eating Oranges

Accurate diagram of the human skeleton.
Still Eating Oranges

Accurate diagram of the human skeleton.

Still Eating Oranges

stevenmlong said: I'm fascinated by the idea of kishōtenketsu: I'd love to write about it and integrate it into my own writing. Do you have any suggestions as to further reading about it? Thanks for the wonderful piece!

Thanks for your interest. Although we receive this question very frequently, our last public response to it was in early 2013. Enough time has passed, and enough additional examples have surfaced, that a new master post is in order.

We recommend beginning with our article “Plot structure all the way down" and our posts "On kishōtenketsu #1”, “On kishōtenketsu #2" and "Kishōtenketsu in Mario”. From there, you may consider Japan Intercultural Consulting’s short but interesting “Kisho-tenketsu and speaking persuasively" and "Overcome kishotenketsu to improve your communication with Americans”. For an academic, sociological take on kishōtenketsu, the research of John Hinds and Ryuko Kubota cannot be ignored.

The links above cite numerous examples of applied kishōtenketsu, but more are available. For instance, the structure is followed by each strip of Totan Kobako’s Sketchbook, and by each episode of the children’s television series Folktales from Japan. The director of the video game Metroid: Other M admitted to using the structure in that work. Our readers have pointed to the manga series Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō and the anime film Wolf Children as further illustrations of kishōtenketsu.

We hope this was helpful.