A living legend has been in your midst, making a home in South Philadelphia while crafting different takes on the tradition of hot jazz with dexterity, history and humor as his guiding lights. I’m talking about swing guitarist and vocalist Marty Grosz, the entertaining honoree and host of his own 90th Birthday Bash, Wednesday, March 4, at the Lounge at the World Cafe Live.
In Philadelphia since 2006, the guitarist – the son of German expressionist painter and political cartoonist George Grosz who left his fatherland for opposing the Nazi party when Marty was three – has long stuck to his guns where hot jazz is concerned: keep the playing as snappy as his on-stage repartee, keep the atmosphere playfully convivial and keep the band cooking. That’s meant regular sessions ar the Mermaid Inn, a series of independently produced albums such as Hot Winds: The Classic Sessions, The James P. Johnson Songbook, and his most recent recording, Diga Diga Doo: Hot Music from Chicago. Beyond making hot music, he’s written his own autobiography, It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie: My Life in Jazz, which will be published by Golden Alley Press, and on sale at World Café Live.
“I’ve got a feel for ‘hot music’ – because if I call it jazz, people don’t know what I’m talking about,” Marty told me at the time of Diga Diga Doo’s release. “I wouldn’t know what I was talking about. In the ’50s and ’60s, we billed ourselves as ‘jazz,’ but even then it was problematic. Were you playing traditional, bebop, free-form?”
Making fun of his sonic birthright, Grosz said jazz all too often “is what they teach in colleges, which gives way to dull, bombastic music with overly long, self-congratulatory solos – which gets you nowhere. It’s guys playing 45-minute versions of ‘All the Things You Are,’ with only their pals and their girlfriends in the audience.”
For Grosz, it’s all about making jazz flow fast and furiously and giving it a good hot beat – at least until he grows up.
“In my dotage, I’m beginning to think that what I do is closer to a bluegrass kind of jazz. Barrelhouse stuff. Bluegrass guys at least look like they’re having fun, which is more than I can say for the kids playing jazz. Look, as long as I don’t have to showboat, take myself seriously, and there’s no drum solos or anything like that, I’m OK.”