Martin Oliver Grosz, or Marty to his intimates, is a scholar of many arcane subjects — not just music. He buttonholed me once at Chautauqua to speak about Ben Jonson’s play THE ALCHEMIST. Since my areas of concentration in graduate school were more recent, I told Marty I hadn’t read the play. He was undeterred, and told me happily that a memorable line in Jonson had one character angrily offering “a Spanish fig” as his response to an idea he disliked deeply. A “Spanish fig,” Marty then went on to explain, was a hand gesture — the thumb thrust through the fingers of a closed fist: some non-verbal Esperanto for “Up yours.”
I introduce this to suggest that Marty’s newest band title has less to do with fruit or the men and women who harvest it for us than with his own private comedy, although I could be wrong. Surely MARTY GROSZ AND HIS “UP YOURS!” BOYS would have looked poorly on the marquee, although Jazz at Chautauqua has no marquee.
But to the music, recorded on September 18, 2011, at Jazz at Chautauqua, music that has no hidden imputations: it’s just lovely inventive jazz. Surrounding Marty, the Players were Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds (Marty’s “Hot Winds”); Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums.
In this brief set, Marty chose not to sing but showed off his talents as a shape-changing arranger / recomposer / bandleader. One thing he particularly likes is to offer material in new stylistic guises — moving songs slightly out of their expected stylistic niches (as he’d done in his BIXIANA set, which I’ve also posted). And aside from ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE, I think these songs and arrangements are new for Marty — at least I don’t recall hearing them frequently. Marty is such a splendid arranger: his charts offer soloists space amidst nifty ensemble passages that show off varied voicings, the lead being passed around. It’s the very opposite of one chorus in — solos — a jammed ensemble out, the formula for many bands. And against these shifting backgrounds, the soloists shine so brightly!
Harold Arlen’s musical insistence on cheering up, GET HAPPY:
A familiar mournful Twenties blues (with a vengeful cast) kicked forward two decades — ALL THE WRONGS YOU’VE DONE TO ME — given a sweetly pastoral cast:
SHOUT ‘EM AUNT TILLIE (does that have a comma) coming from Ellington at the end of the Twenties. May I say that they don’t write tune titles like that anymore? I understand why Aunt Till was shouting, I do:
And the closer, Harry Warren’s ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE:
It’s fitting that Marty should reference THE ALCHEMIST. He is one.