Tag Archives: Hot Winds

“RHYTHM IS MY BUSINESS”: AN EVENING WITH MARTY GROSZ

In the last year, whenever I encountered Marty Grosz at a jazz party, he would tell me that someone good was doing a documentary with him as the subject.  Since we know that many projects never get completed, I didn’t dare to anticipate that I would ever see the results.  But the DVD is out and it’s a thorough pleasure.  Here’s a six-minute plus excerpt — Marty and the Hot Winds urging us to be candid, honest, and frank in all things:

RHYTHM IS MY BUSINESS: AN EVENING WITH MARTY GROSZ is a superb hour-long performance film / documentary by filmmaker / acoustic guitarist Jay Brodersen, capturing Marty, Dan Block, Scott Robinson, and Vince Giordano in concert.  It’s available from Jay himself for $25 (including first-class mail shipping) and you can contact him at jaybrodersen@yahoo.com., or at 6859 N Road, Escanaba, Michigan 49829.

Most of the film is the music — Marty and the Hot Winds in a small concert hall swinging through eleven songs — many of them Grosz classics, and a few surprises: I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / I’M BUILDING UP TO AN AWFUL LET-DOWN / EMALINE / I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY / JUST A GIGOLO / IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE / YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME / WABASH BLUES / IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN – JUBILEE / JUST FRIENDS . . . and the strains of DREAM MAN can be heard as the credits roll.

The beauty of this film is that, from the first minute, it presents experiences that even those intent listeners in the front row do not have.  First of all, the sound and lighting are terrific: everything’s audible and the audience is quiet yet appreciative.  Then there’s the wonderful camerawork.  As an amateur videographer, I know the limits of the single camera, which can (at best) follow the photographer’s eye, and zoom in or out.  Of course, such videos are often marred by extraneous noise or real-life distractions.

Jay has used a multi-camera setup to show us things we would never see, and he’s done this with restraint and taste.  Some multi-camera videos are always on the move: the camera rests only a few seconds in any shot.  The result can seem dizzying, all in the name of novelty.  But this film isn’t afraid to patiently watch something that’s interesting, yet (in the manner of THE SOUND OF JAZZ) it takes us to surprising places: things we would never see if Jay had simply aimed one high-quality camera at the stage and switched it on.  In addition, Jay has interviewed the members of the band and expert admirers — so there are very short interludes, always relevant to the music at hand, where Dan, Scott, and Vince talk about what Marty creates; where Marty speaks about his background and his father’s art.  But the “talking heads” are entertaining and they never dominate the film.

Every time I’ve watched it I’ve seen something new: the expression on one musician’s face when someone else is soloing, a fantastic duet in WABASH BLUES (which has delightful playing by Dan on baritone sax) between Vince and Scott, making beautiful music in unorthodox ways: Scott buzzing through a clarinet with the mouthpiece removed and Vince playing his bass sax with the tuba mouthpiece . . . or so it seems.  And although the concert is greatly devoted to swing numbers, Marty offers a sweetly convincing reading of EMALINE and a mournfully tender exploration of JUST FRIENDS that once again shows what a great balladeer he is.

The DVD has received a showing on the local PBS channel: I’m hoping that someone at the national level gets a chance to preview it.  It’s just that good, and not only because it features one of the best bands we will ever hear.  Kudos to Jay Brodersen for creating this film, and to the musicians for playing so splendidly.

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PROFESSOR DAPOGNY TRIUMPHS AGAIN

For me, one of the many rare pleasures of Jazz at Chautauqua has been the opportunity to savor the playing of Professor James Dapogny*, known as Jim to his intimates. 

He is an unforced orchestral pianist — which means he hasn’t learned the Official Wallerisms from a book.  Rather, his romping style summons up Joe Sullivan and Frank Melrose, Earl Hines, Jelly Roll Morton, and James P. Johnson.  And a close listener will notice that his chords are voiced imaginatively, his often advanced harmonies show that his listening doesn’t stop at 1935, and his left hand is a romping marvel.  Often he is part of wondrous rhythm section with Marty Grosz, Arnie Kinsella, and Vince Giordano — able to move mountains in the most engaging way — but Dapogny can rock the place all on his own.  And he has.  But I take particular pleasure in watching and listening to him as a band pianist — giving soloists and the ensemble just the right push with ringing chords and tremolos, rocking bass lines, without ever demanding that we pay attention to him instead of them.  He’s done this on records for some time now as leader of his own Chicago Jazz Band.  In addition, if that was not enough, he’s also responsible for the standard published edition of Jelly Roll Morton’s piano music and scholarly work that resulted in performances of the one-act opera created by Johnson and Langston Hughes (now there’s a collaboration!) called DE ORGANIZER. 

Dapogny is also a wonderful arranger; his versions of classic and obscure jazz songs have their own ebullient rock, no matter what the material or the tempo.  Two years ago at Jazz at Chautauqua, he and Marty Grosz co-led a set, alternating arrangements and songs.  The piece de resistance, as far as I was concerned, was their joint version of an otherwise unknown Fats Waller song, CAUGHT — Marty’s arrangement envisioned the composition as a bump-and-grind growl; Jim’s lifted the tempo into a jaunty rock.  The performance stretched out to ten minutes, and it was a marvel. 

At this year’s Chatauqua, Dapogny and Grosz again shared the stage: Marty began with a heartfelt tribute to singer Red McKenzie, featuring his HOT WINDS — a noble, nimble, and perhaps nubile quartet of Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Vince Giordano, and himself.  Then Dapogny took over, adding Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Andy Stein, and Arnie Kinsella, creating electrifying and life-affirming music.  It was, he said with a grin, fine material to begin with — every song written by a pianist!  All praise should go to the masterful professionals you will see below: each one of them reading charts he’d never seen before. 

They began with James P. Johnson’s version — in his own way — of Schubert’s An die Musik — a paean to the joyous powers that notes and tones have, AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?.  The churchy verse gives way to serious swinging (there’s a wonderful Thirties record of this by Henry “Red” Allen) with Marty preaching the sermon. 

Then, a mournful but rocking composition by Alex Hill, one of jazz’s nearly-forgotten heroes, dead before he had reached his middle thirties, DELTA BOUND.  I had never heard the verse — and could listen to that trio of Kellso (muted), Barrett (muted), and Block (commenting sweetly) all day.  In his brilliant solo, Dan Barrett summons up a whole Harlem trombone tradition, with a series of comments that reminded me so much of the Master, Vic Dickenson.  Andy Stein’s melody statement, front and back (on baritone) reminded me that Ellington had recorded this — with space for Harry Carney, of course.

I didn’t know that the next selection had been written by pianist J. Russell Robinson, who had links to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band; I associated it with Edythe Wright and Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven: SWING, MR. CHARLIE!  For this performance, Scott Robinson steps in — and instead of a vocal chorus, the band returns to the verse, in true Thirties style.  Although Scott stands in front of Marty during the latter’s chorus, you can see the action, reflected in the shiny side of the grand piano — an accidental bonus.  Then, there are glorious horn solos and a celestially rocking ensemble that suggests a Sunday afternoon jam session at Jimmy Ryan’s, circa 1942.  Charles Peterson would have loved this band!  I find myself watching these videos over and over, each time finding something new to appreciate.

*”Professor,” in Dapogny’s case, refers to his genuinely illustrious academic career in the Department of Music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  But, by a twist of linguistic fate, that was the title given to the New Orleans pianists who played rags and blues in the bordellos: Dapogny’s music would have impressed these low-down pioneers as well: he’s surely got music, as the lyrics say.