I expect that Marty Grosz, who celebrates his eighty-fifth birthday on February 28, would say something acerbic about any fuss. But those who know him have worked hard to get around his sharp-edged humor, his nostalgia for the old days when jazz was played in “joints,” “saloons,” and “toilets,” to savor the swing alchemy he so generously offers. And he has offered it to us on record since 1951, when the label read MART GROSS and then listed him in the credits as “Beef” Gross.
But returning to the fuss. All I will say here is that I am delighted to live in his world, where getting hot is the highest aim of humankind — swinging, that is, not simply making a racket on the bandstand. I admire his rhythmic pulse, the sound of his acoustic guitar in the ensemble. And his singing — somewhere between Fats and Red McKenzie (he is a peerless balladeer, although his favorite tunes tend to be medium and medium-up) — as well as his arranging, something he’s less credited for.
I’d heard and seen Marty as far back as 1974, when he was an invaluable member of Soprano Summit, and then began to buy his records — the duets with Wayne Wright and the many small-band sides on Aviva, Stomp Off, Jazzology, Nagel-Heyer and others. In 2004, I had an opportunity to renew my admiration, and heard at length from Marty about Trollope, Frank Chace, the old days, and the Decline of the West. Most often I saw — and eventually video-recorded him — at Jazz at Chautauqua, now the Allegheny Jazz Party, with detours to Philadelphia and the occasional New York club.
Here are a few excursions into the Land of Grosz from Chautauqua. (I’ve not enumerated the noble Men of Grosz but they are credited in the descriptions.)
TIN ROOF BLUES (2012):
IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (2012):
You can find more — here — and other admirers worldwide have captured their very own Adventures in Swing under Marty’s leadership.
If you think about what a birthday celebration means, it may vary with age. A six-year old’s birthday might mean, “Goodness, what a big person you are becoming!” For someone older, I think the sentiment is, “We are so happy to have you with us. We are grateful to you.” As we are.
May your happiness increase!