MAKING RECORDS WITH MARTY GROSZ

I realize my title contains an archaic expression, for no one makes records anymore. At Clinton Recording Studios last week, the expert engineer Doug Pomeroy was far beyond cutting grooves in a wax disc. But the atmosphere at a jazz recording session, especially one led by the guitarist Marty Grosz, is somewhere between the cheerfully lewd horseplay of a boys’ locker room and the intense seriousness of artists who know they are making something permanent out of music created on the spot. Eveyone knows that their art is both out-of-fashion and timeless.

The facts first. Grosz, looking more healthy and energized than at the previous recording session I attended (Marty Grosz and his Hot Combination for Arbors) is in equal parts vaudevillian and serious jazz scholar, crooner and chordal guitar virtuoso — someone who loves what he calls “jazz arcana” and an indefatigable rhythmic sparkplug. I’ve seen him lead groups where his is the only rhythm instrument, and he swings any number of horns easily.

At this session, Marty was recording his newest assemblage, “The Hot Winds,” make of that title what you may, for the first time. The group, compact and versatile, included Dan Block, Scott Robinson, and Vince Giordano on reeds, with Rob Garcia on drums.

But that description does them an injustice. Rob not only played drums, but added a great deal of orchestral color and commentary on his glockenspiel (or is it called orchestra bells these days?). In fact, during a break, at Vince’s request, Rob played an on-target version of Ellington’s “The Mooche” — supplying all the Jungle Band percussion patented by Sonny Greer while Rob played the melody on the bells.

Vince not only sang but also played his aluminum string bass, bass sax, and tuba. Between Dan and Scott, there was a forest of instruments: a clarinet, an alto saxophone, a baritone saxophone, an echo cornet, an Eb alto horn, a C-melody saxophone, and bass clarinet.

On the second day, Marty’s Philadelphia friend Jim Gicking brought his trombone for ensemble color on two tracks, but he also told me that he plays guitar duets (Carl Kress and Dick McDonough and the like) with Marty.

As an architectural digression: Studio A at Clinton is a square room with lots of wood, not only on the floor — and the “greatest ceiling in New York,” said Scott — resembling either Saturn’s rings or crop circles, you pick.

And, as a happy throwback to the Old Days, the musicians were arranged in a circle, so that they could see one another. True, there were more microphones than you would have found in 1940, but times change. But The Hot Winds could have made lovely music anywhere: their sound a mixture of so many happy jazz experiences — Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, a New Orleans parade, the figure-eight strum of Bernard Addison on the 1940 Chocolate Dandies session, the Bechet-Spanier HRS discs, Django and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France . . . all leavened with the strong personalities of the five musicians in the room: jocular, inventive, hard-driving, tender.

Marty sang a number of rare songs the first day, among them one of my favorites — the 1933 ditty, “I’ve Gotta Get Up And Go To Work,” which isn’t a Monday-morning moan but a celebration of employment, something to sing about when so many were jobless:

Exactly eight o’clock! / Where’s my other sock? / I’ve got a job / So help me, Bob / I’ve gotta get up and go to work . . .

In keeping with the good cheer, Vince sang “My Blackbirds are Bluebirds Now,” one of those late-Twenties songs innocently tying good luck and bad luck to avian colors (!). While they were deciding on their head arrangement, Marty told the story of working in a trio with bassist Bill Pemberton and a famous musician, a fine player, who took a very long time to decide on the next song: “Hey, X, you wanna play ‘Rosetta’?” “Oh, I don’t know. (Long pause.) I’m not sure I know how the bridge goes.” and so on. Turning to Rob, he gave stern artistic guidance: “Give us a little Zutty [Singleton]. Don’t be afraid. We want to go wild.” And Rob, whose playing is full of snap and crackle, not to mention pop, swung out nicely.

Tenderness filled the studio with the next song, a 1931 love-effusion recorded by Ethel Waters and Jack Teagarden, “I Just Couldn’t Take It, Baby,” where Marty showed off the emotional range sometimes obscured by his comedies. As the last selection of the day, Marty returned to a beloved but little-known Fats Waller opus, “The Panic Is On,” which he had been playing and recording since his earliest days: its chart, he said, was “stolen from an old arrangement I did when I was a twerp.” And the evening and the morning were the first day.

The second day was devoted to instrumentals — where the soloists could stretch out more. Marty is one of the few musicians I know who plans his CDs as if they were concerts — variety in repertoire, mood, key, tempo, and length. He waxes eloquent on the current practice of throwing twenty-four selections at listeners, which means that people, wearied by monotony, never make it past Track Three.

The first tune he called was the truly obscure Ellington-related “Maori,” by William H, Tyers, who also wrote “Panama.” Marty envisioned this for two clarinets, with a New Orleans flavor, where the soloists kept playing, veering in and out of collective improvisation. I was reminded of the happy early days of Soprano Summit, with Marty the heart of their rhythm section. “When Buddha Smiles,” even rarer, followed — a festival of instrument-switching, as Scott first played baritone sax (it was Dan’s), then curved soprano, Eb alto horn. I am proud to report that I became indispensable for a few minutes, holding the baritone in mid-air after Scott had finished his solo because there was no stand for it. “They also serve who only stand and wait,” said John Milton, and I developed a new admiration for Harry Carney, who had that truly heavy instrument around his neck for nearly fifty years.

Jim Gicking brought his trombone into the studio for the next two numbers — a wistful “Under A Blanket of Blue,” Marty’s remembrance of the late Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace, who liked that ballad, and another rare Fats tune, “Caught,” which got a groovy treatment — not exactly music for a stripper, but in that neighborhood. Another obscurity, “Love and Kisses,” an early Ella Fitzgerald – Chick Webb record, showed its similarity to “With Plenty of Money and You” with touches of “Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down.” As is Marty’s habit, he very carefully counted off the tempo he wanted by singing / humming / scatting much of the first sixteen bars, to make sure that he and the band were in the same groove. When he led The Hot Winds into King Oliver’s “Riverside Blues,” his aesthetic direction was clear: “Let’s make it like we were playing in a joint.” I was sitting down, notebook on my lap, so I couldn’t see everything that was happening, and was happily puzzled to hear a Scott Robinson blues chorus that sounded as if he was playing a huge kazoo underwater. Later I found out that he had taken off the mouthpiece of his metal clarinet and was humming into the barrel, creating a truly other-worldly sound. (Correction: to make that sound, Scott told me, he buzzes into the clarinet as if playing a trumpet.)

Finally — and joyously — everyone swung an old Apex Club favorite, “Oh, Sister, Ain’t That Hot?” which, in Marty’s hands is never a question. In fact, during these sessions, I kept thinking of something he had once told me: in Chicago, when he was a young jazz player, he and his friends had the admonitory catchphrase “GET HOT OR GO HOME.” That’s a gospel that he and The Hot Winds take seriously, and some time next year everyone will be able to hear this delicious music on an Arbors CD.

11 responses to “MAKING RECORDS WITH MARTY GROSZ

  1. This soundsto be worth waiting for. The more of the old obscure or less well known tunes recorded the better. Too many CD’s show a lack of imagination, or is it lack of knowledge of these wonderful tunes.

    Dan Block is looking to make an album of the rare/lesser known Ellington charts and hopefully find a label to puplish it.

    Well done Arbors for this one – perhaps I can’t wait

  2. E-MAIL ME WHEN IT COMES OUT PLEASE, GIVE MY REGARDS TO MARTY

  3. Mike, you’d be even better off checking the Arbors Records website (listed on my blogroll) now and then. You should also look for Marty’s latest — duets with Mike Peters on Sackville, “Acoustic Heat,” a winner.

    I’d gladly give your regards to Marty (with apologies to George M. Cohan) but you might want to provide me with a bit more information. It is just possible he might know another Mike or Michael: I’m one myself!

  4. I love Marty’s guitar playing. I have seen some photos where he has only four strings on his guitar. Is this standard for him? Also, do you know the tuning he uses, it sounds more like a four string banjo tuning.

  5. Don, Marty plays a six-string instrument, tuned to Bb, F, C, G, B, D (the lowered bottom string an idea he got from Carl Kress). I don’t know if he ever played a four-string guitar, although his sound on earlier records — I am thinking of the 1959 Audiophile “Yellow Dog Blues” with Don Ewell — is much lighter. Welcome to this blog!

  6. WALT BRENNER

    Do you know where I can buy a copy of the Marty Grosz recording you reviewed, “The Hot Winds” ?

    Thanks

  7. So far, it isn’t for sale — but I am sure it will be issued by Arbors Records in the near future. Check their website (listed on my blogroll). I’m looking forward to being able to hold a copy in my hands, too. Meanwhile, Marty and the Hot Winds are playing a few gigs in the tristate area and beyond — one, I believe, on March 28 sponsored by the Tristate Jazz Society; the other on May 18 under the aegis of the New Jersey Jazz Society. If you’re within reach, I invite you to either or both! Forgive me if my dates are approximate: I’m working from memory. Cheers – – –

  8. Your blog was forwarded to me by a friend who enjoyed hearing some old sessions made by Marty with my late husband John R.T. Davies in Burnham, England – I look forward to this new disc which is in the great tradition -please remember me to Marty – Sue.

  9. Dear Sue (if I may),

    Your husband was and remains one of my heroes — not simply for his devotion to making the music accessible in the best possible human sound — but for his playing! I treasure his work with two other players who have died, Dick Sudhalter and Jeff Healey. The old Ristic lp of the Anglo-American Alliance (with two takes of SUSIE) is one of my treasured recordings, and I am honored to have you as a reader of this blog.

    Cheers and more, Michael Steinman

  10. I just bought the MP3 version of this CD on Amazon.com. The quality of sound and playing is tops! Highly recommended!

  11. I love the sound of Marty’s guitar. I have recently gone crazy and bought over 10 of his CDs.
    Do you know what type of strings Marty uses? I have a 1935 Gibson L-7 that I would like to attempt to copy his wonderful rhythm sound on.

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