Riverwalk Jazz this week features a giant of jazz rhythm guitar—Marty Grosz. His career spans over 60 years. Equal parts showman, jazz scholar and raconteur, Marty is a virtuoso in a playing style that’s both timeless and so far off the radar it’s all but lost in today’s music world.
The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website.
If you ask him who has influenced his playing, he’s sure to mention 1920s guitar icon Eddie Lang. There’s a touch of vaudeville in the way Marty sets up his songs and a taste of Fats Waller’s rent-party humor in his singing. And yet, Marty can turn on a dime and croon a tender love song—straight, with perfect jazz phrasing.
The son of the celebrated German painter, draughtsman and caricaturist George Grosz, Marty was born in Berlin in 1930, then moved to New York with his family when he was a toddler. Marty says, “I came to America when I was three years old because they didn’t swing over in Berlin.”
In 1950, Marty cut his first record with a band that included the young pianist Dick Wellstood and the veteran New Orleans bassist Pops Foster. A visit to Chicago in 1954 turned into a twenty-year residency during which he played with many of the city's jazz stars: Albert Ammons, Floyd O'Brien, Art Hodes and Jim Lannigan.
Marty Grosz is an outspoken proponent of the use of acoustic instruments in jazz. In an interview segment on this week’s show he says,
“My philosophy on the acoustic guitar is that there’s been a lot of time spent gathering the wood, little men polished these guitars, and little men filed and put them together and made precision tuning pegs. It doesn’t make sense to stick this electronic thing on this beautiful guitar and put the sound through a box. Guitars all sound the same when you put them through a box. The box does the work. When you play rhythm on electric guitar, it’s too easy…you have to have that fight, overcome that pressure, the pushing and that’s what gives it swing.”
Marty’s performances are deeply rooted in the swinging tradition of jazz masters of the 1920s and ’30s. On Riverwalk Jazz this week, he plays and sings “Pardon Me, Pretty Baby” from Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Fats Waller’s “I Believe in Miracles,” Louis Armstrong’s plaintive “If We Never Meet Again,” the Whiteman/Beiderbecke classic “From Monday On,” and two novelties from 52nd Street—”Flat Foot Floogie” and “The Music Goes ‘Round and ‘Round.”
As a featured single, in addition to Riverwalk Jazz, Grosz has made guest appearances on Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion and Fresh Air with Terry Gross and on NBC’s Today Show. He was featured at Carnegie Hall for the Cool Jazz Festivals and more recently at New York's prestigious 92nd St. Y and Vineyard Theater.
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