The tradition of informal, impromptu jam sessions has a long history in jazz. It lives on at Riverwalk Jazz and this week two outstanding New York jazzmen, jazz fiddler Andy Stein and guitarist/singer Marty Grosz, stop by and light up the bandstand.
Andy Stein entered the popular music field as a founding member of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen in the 1970s. He went on to work with a variety of artists including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Madonna, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston and Tony Bennett. For years, Stein’s violin and saxophone could be heard weekly in the house band of A Prairie Home Companion, and he continues to make frequent guest appearances on the public radio series.
Stein won a Grammy award for Best Country Instrumental in 1978. In the jazz field, he has been a featured soloist with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and many others. Andy Stein has been applauded for his recreations of the work of 1920s jazz fiddler Joe Venuti and as a member of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, Stein appears on camera and on the Grammy Award-winning soundtrack of the HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire.
Marty Grosz is today’s foremost jazz rhythm guitarist and chord soloist. As one of the very few contemporary jazz guitarists to play with no amplification, Grosz is, as he notes with his usual dry wit, either the last remaining proponent of the acoustic guitar tradition in jazz or the lone harbinger of a new non-electric movement. He says it would be cheating to produce his driving guitar rhythms with anything more than his hands to provide the power. Marty's popular vocals are delivered in styles ranging from barrelhouse abandon to whispered restraint, and are sometimes raucous, often mischievous, but almost always informed with a wry sense of the absurd.
Grosz was born in Berlin in 1930, the son of respected caricaturist George Grosz, a leading light of the Weimar Republic’s Dada group. By the time Marty Grosz reached his third birthday, his toes were tapping to radio songs in New York. In 1950, Marty cut his first record with a band that included the young Dick Wellstood on piano 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 that town’s jazz stars, among them Albert Ammons, Floyd O’Brien and Art Hodes.
Marty returned to New York in 1975 to join Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern’s Soprano Summit. There followed a round of touring and recording with Soprano Summit and other groups including Dick Hyman’s New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra in which Grosz played at the White House. He has since appeared at guitar concerts with jazz artists Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, and Charlie Byrd.
For our jam session this week, The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and their distinguished guests romp through a diverse collection of standards, pre-war pop tunes and hot jazz classics. Fats Waller's "I Believe in Miracles" and the '20s favorite "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" feature Marty's wry vocals. Marty and Andy recall the great collaborations of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang on classic Jazz Age sessions associated with Bix Beiderbecke on "Dardanella," "Louisiana" and "Jazz Me Blues." Jim and the Band, as they often do, pay deep respect to Louis Armstrong with "Potato Head Blues" and "Fireworks."
This latter title sums up the mood at The Landing and great swinging, fleeting musical moments captured by the microphones for our faithful listeners.
Photo credit for Home Page image: Andy Stein. Photo courtesy the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick, copyright 1993