The paragraph that follows is not for the timid. Years ago, when I first started trading cassette tapes with jazz fanciers who lived far away, I encountered the delightful Bill Coverdale of Naples, Florida — another Joe Thomas enthusiast. A dear man, now passed into spirit. But when Bill wanted to know if I’d liked a particular tape or performance, he would write, “Did that wiggle your stylus?” You’d have to know something about pre-Eighties means of sound reproduction to get the joke . . . but this CD certainly does make for a good deal of wiggling joy.
That says it all, doesn’t it — and with the bonus of a Martin Oliver Grosz cutout collage. But here are the details, so read on.
The selections chosen by the Gentlemen of the Ensemble: Why Couldn’t It Be Poor Little Me? / A Jazz Holiday / Intro to Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / Blue (and Broken-Hearted) / In A Little Spanish Town / Sweet Sue / My Daddy Rocks Me / Prince of Wails / Hold Me / Diga Diga Doo / Forevermore / Rose of Washington Square / How Deep Is The Ocean / A Good Man is Hard to Find / Church Street Sobbin’ Blues / Strut Miss Lizzie / Intro to The Lady in Red / The Lady in Red / Marty talks.
The Gentlemen of the Aforementioned Ensemble: Grosz, g, bj, voc, speech; Andy Schumm, cnt, blue-blowing; John Otto, cl, ts, bari-s; Jonathan Doyle, cl, ts; Dave Bock or “Panic Slim,” tb; James Dapogny or Paul Asaro, p; Beau Sample, bs; Alex Hall, d. 2013 and 2014, Chicago, Illinois.
Marty Grosz is the last of a breed that, were we to be honest, never existed anywhere except in our imaginations. A chordal acoustic rhythm guitarist in the style of Dick McDonough, Carl Kress, Bernard Addison, Al Casey; a ringing banjoist who plays the instrument only under duress; a singer who combines the satire of Fats Waller with the tender croon of Red McKenzie and early Crosby; a sharp-edged raconteur and jazz / pop culture historian; a composer of swing ditties; a first-rate arranger; an adept on-the-spot bandleader, skilled at head arrangements while you wait. He once told a liner note writer (ruefully), “I would have been dynamite in 1933.” The regretful tone of that statement was no doubt because Marty was then 3; he is now 85, which makes us all the more glad to have him with us.
Marty’s most recent CD was, if I recall correctly, done in 2010. With the slow attrition of “record companies,” I am thrilled that this one came out.
A little History, which fans of Marty will already know.
After many years as a respected but under-employed Chicago sideman playing what he likes to call Hot Jazz, alongside Frank Chace, Art Hodes, Don Ewell, Albert Nicholas, and others (even a mysteriously reappearing Jabbo Smith) he became much better-known during his brief tenure with the Bob Wilber-Kenny Davern Soprano Summit (1974-78); he made a few sessions under his own name, both bands and guitar duets; he was then part of the Dick Sudhalter / Dick Wellstood / Joe Muranyi Classic Jazz Quartet. To me, the Great Grosz Period began in 1987, when Bob Erdos of Stomp Off Records began to feature Marty as a leader – songs, personnel, arrangements, encouraging him to record obscure material. From 1987 to 2010, he recorded prolifically for Stomp Off, Jazzology, Sackville, Jump, Arbors, and other labels. Then, as several of those labels closed their doors, there was a long hiatus. I followed Marty, often with camera, and can attest that he had neither staled nor withered.
His most recent recording, DIGA DIGA DOO, is both a celebration of Marty and of Hot. Recorded in 2013 and 2014, it relies on the hot sensation of the Midwest (and many festivals in the US and Europe) THE FAT BABIES, led by string bassist Beau Sample and featuring cornetist Andy Schumm, trombonist Dave Bock, reedman John Otto, drummer Alex Hall, pianist Paul Asaro. For a second session, Marty brought in the eminent pianist / arranger James Dapogny, Marty’s friend “Panic Slim,” trombone, and Austin, Texas, hot reedman Jonathan Doyle.
It is joyous Hot Music of the kind they would have played in Chicago in the Twenties through the Forties, but it is more than a museum piece, a recreation of old records in better sound. The band shines; their rollicking expert energy comes through every track. Schumm, freed of the necessity of Bix-impersonation, growls and saunters; Dapogny offers startlingly original orchestral backgrounds and solos; Otto veers between sweet melodism and Don Murray / Fud Livingston abstractions. And the other members are just as fine. Some of the selections place us firmly in 1928, but others offer intriguing new views of what is considered an old music, for Marty’s imagination also takes in “rhythm ballads” and music that I imagine he might have heard while playing for strippers.
One of the beautiful talents Marty rarely gets credit for is his effective, even when skeletal arrangements. It would have been easy to take this band into the studio and let them jam on familiar tunes, but Marty finds this approach boring and limiting. So – although the spirit of Hot isn’t ever lost – a Grosz session, in the studio or at a jazz party – has a good deal of paper, which works out well. One could profitably listen to any selection on this disc and admire the assignment of solos, the idiomatic backgrounds and riffs, which give a five-minute performance vitality and variety.
Another characteristic of Marty is an almost inexhaustible flow of verbal commentary; on this disc we have a few precious fragments that will let audiences a hundred years from today – should they exist – get a deeper sense of the man singing, playing, and leading.
A pause for candor. Is this the most polished disc that Marty has ever done? No, and at times it must be measured by the standards we apply to live performance rather than the clinical perfection we expect from studio sessions. But these selections are lively and authentic and thus precious. I could list many delights from this disc but will share only one. Listening to DIGA DIGA DOO for the first time, I came to IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN – which begins with a syncopated Spanish rhythm and then – after a wonderful string bass break – shifts into completely groovy swing. I think I’ve played that ninety-second passage a hundred times, and I force my friends to hear it, too.
Here it is, courtesy of “Orchard Enterprises,” a company that has now picked and gleaned the best music for free propagation on YouTube. I disapprove of the endeavor but could not resist sharing this performance with my readers in hopes that it encourages actual disc purchases:
More about Marty in an April 2015 article here. And you can see him in full flower at the Allegheny Jazz Party, coming up in less than a month.
I keep returning to a quote from Stephen Sondheim because I find it particularly irksome: he told an interviewer that the late work of great artists (excepting I think Picasso and Stravinsky) was always second-rate. I’d like to lock our Stephen in a room with DIGA DIGA DOO at a medium volume until he recanted.
May your happiness increase!