Tag Archives: Jim Gicking

JUST GIVE THAT RHYTHM EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT: ANOTHER TUNE FROM THE MARTY PARTY (March 4, 2020)

More from the Marty Party! — music from Marty Grosz’s ninetieth birthday party, held at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. The WCL was sold out, the audience was happy and attentive, and Marty enjoyed himself — he even picked up the banjo on several numbers. 

Beginning with a classically elongated MOG introduction, here’s a song I’ve never heard him play, although he always embodies it, IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING). His colleagues are Joe Plowman, string bass and superpowers; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson, taragoto; Dan Block, clarinet; Jim Lawlor, drums; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Danny Tobias, trumpet.

and before we get to the music, I will remind you that this party was not only a birthday jam but a celebration of Marty’s autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE: MY LIFE IN JAZZ, published by the Golden Alley Press.  It’s a wonderful book — read more about it here.  And here‘s JAZZ ME BLUES — with Marty on banjo — from the party.

And straight from the World Cafe Live, the manifesto we live by: 

May your happiness increase!

SPREADING JOY IN PHILADELPHIA with MARTY GROSZ, DANNY TOBIAS, RANDY REINHART, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, JACK SAINT CLAIR, VINCE GIORDANO, JIM LAWLOR, BRENNAN ERNST (March 4, 2020)

On April 1, Bucky Pizzarelli left us, and he is much in my and other people’s thoughts: see here.  But as Gabriel Conroy says in Joyce’s The Dead,” referring to people we mourn, “Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely with our work among the living.

So let us also celebrate the living who continue to uplift our spirits.

and

and

Looks like fun.  It was.

On February 28, Marty turned ninety, and on March 4, there was a party held in his honor (organized by Joe Plowman and Jim Gicking) at the World Cafe Live — in conjunction with the publication of Marty’s autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (Golden Alley Press, thanks to Nancy J. Sayre) — which I’ve described here.  Excellent reading material for those rediscovering books these days!

Marty’s glowering expression on the cover says, “You can listen to music for free, but buy the book, for Chrissake!”

But back to the music.  The World Cafe Live was sold out, the audience was happy and attentive, and Marty enjoyed himself — he even picked up the banjo on several numbers, and here’s one (the last tune of the first set) JAZZ ME BLUES at a nice easy lope.  His colleagues for this number are Vince Giordano, bass saxophone; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone; Scott Robinson, sarrusophone; Dan Block, clarinet; Brennan Ernst, piano; Jim Lawlor, drums; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Danny Tobias, trumpet:

May your happiness increase!

DOIN’ THE VOOM VOOM / THE HOT WINDS

Doin' the Voom Voom CD coverPeople who listen to music extensively and closely become harder to please.  And I am a prime offender.  This over-sensitivity causes me a great deal of trouble, but many new CDs that seem almost wonderful to me.  But the “almost” is lethal.  On these discs, the effort is discernible, the sincerity, the energy — but something just isn’t in place.  One musician might be rushing or dragging the tempo; there could be a slight tension in the band (three members going one way, two thinking about going in the opposite direction); a CD could have an odd recording balance; the material might be excellent in itself but not for these performers, and so on.  If I were to describe this critical tendency of mine, I might call it “attentive,” “discerning,” “”detail-oriented,” “finicky,” or “listening too damned closely,” depending on my mood.  Perhaps if you have, as I have, heard a band of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones, it sets the aesthetic bar sky-high.

And, as an additional caveat, I am distrustful of any writer’s hyperbole, especially mine.  Earnest as it might be, such prose always sounds like ad copy: “this new CD by Minnie and the Meowers offers the best meowing you’ll hear all year” makes me want to run to my litter box and hide under it.

All this is prelude to my stating that two new Arbors CDs — the label that has done so much to document and preserve the kinds of jazz I love dearly — seem as close to perfect as recordings ever get.

The cover of the first CD is depicted above — trumpeter Duke Heitger and pianist Bernd Lhotzky, recorded in Germany in 2008.  Now, the trumpet (or cornet) and piano duet in recorded jazz goes back to Joe Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton in 1924, and it stretches into the future: Louis and Earl, Ruby and Dick Hyman or Ralph Sutton or Ellis Larkins, Butterfield and Wellstood, Randy Sandke and Dick Hyman, Sudhalter and Kellaway, Eldridge and Bolling . . . including brilliant (as yet unrecorded duets) by two of my heroes, Jon-Erik Kellso and Ehud Asherie.  For me, there’s something extraordinary about the pairing of a soaring hot trumpeter and a stride pianist.  For one thing, the trumpeter has a mobile, energetic rhythmic pulse to improvise over; the pianist has the pleasure of darting in and out of the trumpet lines.  It is magically orchestral and magically fulfilling.  That’s the case on this CD with Duke and Bernd.  To start with the basics: I’ve never heard either of them play so lavishly and nobly, and I’ve heard both of them live in a variety of contexts: Duke at Chautauqua for perhaps five years in a row; Bernd at Westoverledingen and the 92nd Street Y.

Maestro Lhotzky first.  Stride pianists often get caught up in their own enthusiasm (and who would blame them?) so even the best tend to get louder and faster, which is perfectly understandable in a romping solo but less than wonderful when there’s another player involved — it’s as if the trumpeter becomes a child trying to catch the ice cream truck that is accelerating down the street.  Zeno’s paradox in jazz.  Bernd doesn’t have that problem: he is steady but never dull, propulsive but calm — appearing to run as fast as he can without losing his essential cool.  The piano sound he creates is wonderful, whether he is pensively wandering through a ballad or doing his best James P. Johnson.  And he is a peerless accompanist, nearly telepathic.

“Lord Heitger,” as Bernd playfully calls him, wears his heart on his sleeve, but his emotion never gets in the way of the music.  He can shout, he can soar, he can growl and moan — at any tempo.  On this CD, his tone is gorgeously round (the way jazz trumpet is supposed to sound but often doesn’t), his passions on display.  He often reminds me of 1930 Louis but he is purely himself, Duke of a royal lineage.

And neither musician embarks on the treacherous business of “recreating the originals.”  Yes, the wise ancestors of jazz are everywhere on this disc: Louis and Fats, Duke and Bubber — but there are also immensely feeling evocations of Sir Edward Elgar (not your usual idea of a solid sender), Willard Robison, Kern and Gershwin, Ray Noble, Richard Rodgers, Toots Mondello (!) and Carlos Gardell.

Most CDs — do I write this too often? — flirt with monotony by being seventy-five minutes of similar or identical music.  This one is a joy from first to last.  And even the Beloved, who’s a tough critic (her ideals are Louis, the early Goodman small groups, Nat Cole’s piano) said, simply, “That’s gorgeous!” before we were a half-minute into “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.”  Hooray for this duo.  May they make a dozen more CDs as rewarding as this one, and may those discs come in a steady stream, perhaps two a year.

Hot Winds coverThe other Arbors CD is the debut of another Marty Grosz assemblage, organization, or perhaps brainstorm — a purportedly all-reed group featuring the dervishes Dan Block and Scott Robinson with a rhythm section of Marty, Vince Giordano, Rob Garcia, and guest appearances from “Panic Slim” on trombone.  I write “purportedly,” because the irrepressible Robinson, who just turned fifty, brought along his cornet, echoe cornet, and Eb alto horn.  I won’t go on about this CD, because I’ve done so already on this blog, in a post called MAKING RECORDS WITH MARTY GROSZ.  (I was lucky enough to attend two of the three sessions at Clinton Studios, and brought both camera and notebook.)

I’ll just say that the CD captures all of the enthusiasm, swing, and wit of those sessions — glorious visits to the land of Hot Jazz.  Engineer Doug Pomeroy did a wonderful job, and you can hear every ping of Rob Garcia’s glockenspiel and the deep resonant sound of Vince’s bass sax, tuba, and aluminum string bass.  More?  Well, Marty essays (as he might say) the other William H. Tyers classic, “Maori,” (recorded by Ellington and anyone else?), pays tribute to his Chicago pal Frank Chace with a tender “Under A Blanket of Blue,” and the whole band stretches out on a wondrously funky “Riverside Blues.”  I am also grateful for this CD because it captures Marty — at last — recording one of my favorite not-too-complicated songs, Herman Hupfeld’s 1933 classic, “I Gotta Get Up and Go To Work,” which is how I feel in the morning.  A neat collage by the Master, typically lemony notes.  To quote Fats on “Swing Out to Victory” : “Yeah, man!  Solid!  Here we come.”

The Arbors Records site is on my blogroll — www.arborsrecords.com — and, as they used to say on radio, “You won’t be sorry.”  And heartfelt thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber — maybe the best patrons this music has, people who put their energy and their support where their good taste is.

P.S.  I need to know.  Was “the Voom Voom ” ever a real dance or is that Ellington-Miley title their version of “That Da Da Strain”?  Surely one of my readers will know.

P.P.S.  Is it “The Hot Winds is a peerless small group,” or “The Hot Winds are astonishing”?  Or is it like using the sprinkler to water the lawn in suburbia — it depends whether the day in question is odd or even on the calendar?

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.