I first saw Marty Grosz at close range in 1974 when he was an invaluable member of Soprano Summit — at a concert at the New York Jazz Museum (Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Marty, bassist Mickey Golizio, and the unsurpassed Cliff Leeman). I recall that he introduced one of his vocal features, ISN’T LOVE THE STRANGEST THING? as having been composed by the house detective at a large hotel in St. Louis. So his comedic credentials are solid. And everyone knows him as a peerless rhythm guitarist in the old style. Fewer appreciate his singing, especially his Red McKenzie-inspired ballad crooning, and fewer still know what a stellar arranger he is. And a jazz historian of the first rank, someone who was there and has done his research. He remains one of my heroes, because he is such fun — even when his wit is at its most acerbic — and because he stubbornly, even perversely, goes his own way against the tide of fashion. The day I see Marty lugging an amplifier to a gig, then Yeats’s Second Coming surely is at hand.
All of these talents were on display at Jazz at Chautauqua, when Marty presented a program devoted to the early works and associations of one Benny Goodman, with five performances from the second half of the Twenties. Several crucial factors make this performance even more amazing. One, none of the musicians had ever seen the charts before, which testifies to their incredible professionalism. And two: this session began before ten o’clock on a Sunday morning, when some of the players had concluded their last set with the Nighthawks at 1:20 in the morning. Awe-inspiring fortitude!
Those players: Scott Robinson and Dan Block on reeds; Arnie Kinsella on drums; Vince Giordano on bass sax, aluminum string bass, and tuba; Marty on guitar and banjo; James Dapogny on piano; Andy Schumm on cornet; Bob Havens on trombone. None of the songs is familiar, so a keen listener might discern some momentary uncertainty with the chord sequence, but I defy any of my readers to be so deft at this hour!
The program began with WHY COULDN’T IT BE POOR LITTLE ME? — a universal plaint at certain times in people’s lives. I admire Arnie Kinsella’s introduction, Dan Block’s great enthusiasm, and James Dapogny’s romping second chorus:
Perhaps in deference to the early hour, Marty slowed things down (after some comedy) with BLUE (and BROKEN-HEARTED), a pretty song that no one plays in this century. On the original recording, if memory serves, Goodman also played cornet, although not as well as Andy Schumm:
I don’t believe Marty’s recital of being personally intimidated by Vince so that he would perform this song, but (as with other improvised narratives of Marty’s) it makes a piquant anecdote — preface to I’M WALKING THROUGH CLOVER, originally recorded by the Red Nichols-led “Louisiana Rhythm Kings”:
I associate SENTIMENTAL BABY with one of Red McKenzie’s later vocals, perhaps on a Bud Freeman date for Keynote; Marty took it as a lyrically swinging instrumental, with a simple rocking Thirties riff to end (at a beautiful tempo). Catch Bob Havens’s coda at the end — shades of Mister Tea:
Finally, a tune with some permanence — at least up until the Forties in Goodman’s repertoire — with a title Marty chose not to explain, THE WANG WANG BLUES. I leave such linguistic and semantic mysteries to my erudite readers:
“Plenty rhythm” indeed! Thank you, Marty and cohorts (who range in age from 23 to 81, give or take) for keeping on so nobly. It was a privilege to be there, to hear and record this session.