Rhythm Guitarist Marty Grosz: The 'Fresh Air' Interviews Grosz fled Germany with his family in 1933. Now 90, he tells his story in the memoir, It's a Sin to Tell a Lie. Grosz visited Fresh Air in 1984 and 2004 to play music and to talk about his life.
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Rhythm Guitarist Marty Grosz: The 'Fresh Air' Interviews

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Rhythm Guitarist Marty Grosz: The 'Fresh Air' Interviews

Rhythm Guitarist Marty Grosz: The 'Fresh Air' Interviews

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: Today is the 90th birthday of Marty Grosz, the jazz rhythm guitarist who has been a longtime visitor to FRESH AIR. He's just written a new autobiography called "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie: My Life In Jazz." The memoir is also about his father, the antifascist artist George Grosz, who was forced to leave Germany because his art satirized the Nazi regime. Terry Gross first interviewed Marty in 1984, back when FRESH AIR was still a local program in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS: Marty Grosz, welcome to FRESH AIR.

MARTY GROSZ: Thank you.

GROSS: I really love your playing. And you brought your guitar with you. Can you open with a song for us?

GROSZ: Tickle of death, tickle of death.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

GROSZ: (Singing) Take me to that land of jazz. Let me hear the kind of blues that Memphis has. I want to step to a tune that's full of ginger and pep. Pick them up. Lay them down. Let me hear that razzmatazz. I want to give you fair warning. I won't be home before morning. Everybody loves a jazz bow in the loving land of jazz, oh, in that loving land of jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

GROSZ: (Singing) Take me to that land of jazz. Let me hear the kind of blues Philadelphia has. I want to step to a tune that's full of ginger and pep. Pick them up. Lay them down. Let me hear that razzmatazz. And let me give you fair warning. I won't be home before morning. Everybody loves a jazz bow in the loving land of jazz, oh, in that loving land of jazz, jazz, jazz, jazz.

GROSS: Oh, great, (laughter) really terrific. My guest is Marty Grosz. You started playing guitar, I think, when you were 13.

GROSZ: Around that time, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

GROSZ: Ukulele first.

GROSS: You've done a lot of rhythm guitar. What interested you in that form?

GROSZ: You know, I've been trying to work up an answer to that question for 20 years, and I've almost gotten into final form.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: When I was coming up, I remember I had a record of Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins playing "I Can't Believe You're In Love With Me" with a pianoless (ph) rhythm section. And Roy Eldridge used to like to have a guy play a shuffle rhythm when he soloed sort of like...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

GROSZ: (Scatting).

He liked that kind of thing, and so that knocked me out.

GROSS: Did you always sing?

GROSZ: No.

GROSS: How'd you start doing it?

GROSZ: I was working with a band in Chicago - Brass Rail, Preview, some - one of those joints. And we were backstage and I used to do this kind of thing backstage, you know, (scatting) during the intermissions. You just sit back there, you know?

(Singing) love is just around the corner (scatting) and he calls you (scatting).

Like that; and the guys would say, hey. The leader said, why don't you do that out there? We need all the help we can get. And I said, oh, gosh. I was all shook up - nervous, knees knocking. And I, honest to God, never had done that. But they kept at it, and we kicked it around. And finally, I found out that it was a definite asset. You did that, and whoever was paying the bill for the band said, yeah, that's good. Keep him on the band, you know? And so I started learning words to things all the way through. Before, I'd just know eight bars and then, you know, hum and strum the rest of the way through. So that's how that happened.

GROSS: You think audiences develop a more intimate relationship with the singer?

GROSZ: It certainly is absolutely necessary if you're going to play any kind of obscure tune. If I sit there and - let me think of this tune now.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

GROSZ: You say, well, what's that? That's all right. You know, what is that on me?

But if I say...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

GROSZ: (Singing) sweet and slow, rock-a-bye me to and fro while the band is moaning low. Honey, take your time.

You see; all of a sudden, it has a meaning. The rest of the time, it's sort of like muzak (ph). You know, it's piped in, but you say, gee, I think I've heard that someplace. But what is it, you know? But the minute you do that, all of a sudden, people - oh, yeah. Hey, that's - I like that song.

GROSS: Well, we have time for another song. If you'd be willing to play it, I'd love to hear it.

GROSZ: One more song - this one was written by Walter Donaldson. It's about a guy who couldn't play any melodies. He only could play - it was chord changes. And it goes something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

GROSZ: (Singing) Changes, changes, that's all he can play. Strangest changes, he plays them all day - so sweet, so I repeat. Changes, changes, just hear what I say. He plays those beautiful changes in different keys, beautiful changes and harmonies. He starts in C and changes to D. He's messing around, most any old key. What's that? Hear that minor strain. That's it. There it goes again. Why, there's so many babies that he can squeeze. But he's always changing those keys. First, he changes into B, changes into D, changes into E as easy as the weatherman. Folks, he's getting kind of cold, getting kind of hot. Listen; I've forgot since he was a tot, he's been the talk of Dixieland.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR PLAYING)

GROSZ: (Singing) Beautiful changes in different keys, beautiful changes and harmonies. He starts in C and changes to D. He's messing around, most any old key. What's that? Hear that minor strain. That's it. There it goes again. Why, there's so many babies that he can squeeze. But he's always changing. He's rearranging. He's always changing those keys.

GROSS: Oh, great (laughter).

BIANCULLI: Acoustic guitarist Marty Grosz visiting with Terry Gross in 1984. Today is his 90th birthday. He'll be performing next Wednesday in a birthday bash at Philadelphia's World Cafe. After a break, we'll listen to another of his FRESH AIR performances, this time from 20 years later in 2004. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. We're celebrating the birthday of jazz rhythm guitarist Marty Grosz, who turns 90 today. He returned to FRESH AIR in 2004 with cornetist Randy Reinhart to play tribute to Fats Waller on what then was the 100th anniversary of Waller's birth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSZ: (Singing) Pardon me. I'm all upset. Pardon me - can't help but fret. I pace the floor all the day. Since the dawn, I've phoned around. Since the dawn, I've combed this town. Has anyone seen my baby? She left me this morning without any warning. The panic is on. I'm crazy about her. I'm crazy without her. The panic is on. Why did she grieve me? Why did she leave me so blue and forlorn? Up in the air now, I'm tearing my hair now. I'm frantic, and the panic is on. Why did she? What is the reason? I don't know. Maybe she was only teasing. I hope so. Oh, oh. The river's nearby. If she isn't here by tomorrow at dawn, I guess that I'll jump in. I've got to do something. I'm frantic, and the panic is on. Yeah. Why did she? What is the reason? I don't know. Maybe she was only teasing. I hope so. The river's nearby. If she isn't here by tomorrow at dawn, I guess that I'll jump in. I've got to do something. I'm frantic, frantic, and the panic is on.

GROSS: That's great. That's Marty Grosz on guitar and vocals and Randy Reinhart on cornet playing Fats Waller's "The Panic Is On." Boy, that was fun.

Marty Grosz, you were actually born in Germany...

GROSZ: In Berlin.

GROSS: ...In 1930.

GROSZ: Right.

GROSS: Your father was the cartoonist and painter George Grosz...

GROSZ: Correct.

GROSS: ...Who, in 1920s Berlin, was doing a lot of political satire and caricature and was about to get himself into a lot of trouble. What was he doing that was...

GROSZ: Well, what was he doing that got him in trouble? Yes, he - and as early as 1923, '22, he had done a - several scathing cartoons of Hitler himself. And, of course, he was on the left and against the fascists. I am rather proud. I believe - I'm not 100% sure of this, but he was, I think, the first - after Hitler took power, the first German artist/intellectual to lose his German citizenship. Of course, he wasn't in Germany at the time, so that - if he'd been there, he would have been - that would have been the end of him because they - he had gotten a job teaching at the Art Students League. This is...

GROSS: In New York.

GROSZ: Yeah. They wanted to have somebody who was hip and politically acerbic, and so they sent him a telegram. He was in Berlin at the time, and he, of course, leaped at it. He had - he, like many European intellectuals and artists - they loved America. And they loved the - they want to see the skyscrapers and, you know, the whole thing.

GROSS: So I think you were 3 when you moved with your family to here. Is that right?

GROSZ: I moved - yeah. Well, my mother came and got us in '33, and - yes. That's right.

GROSS: So when you were growing up in New York, were there a lot of German emigres, a lot of artists who had fled Germany who were...

GROSZ: Yes.

GROSS: ...Your father's friends and at your house?

GROSZ: Oh, the house was full of them. We had all kinds of interesting people. Now I think it was a very - a great way to grow up. We - there was hardly a time when we didn't have some refugee staying with us for six months, almost a year - and several of them - until they could get some kind of work and get settled.

GROSS: So many of Fats Waller's songs were really entertaining and a lot of fun and really kind of infectious and upbeat. But he wrote some more ballad-like songs, too...

GROSZ: Yeah.

GROSS: ...That had a kind of different emotional sound to them. Could you choose one of his ballads for us and introduce it?

GROSZ: OK. Well, how about "Lonesome Me"? This is written in '32. It's got some very fortuitous chord changes and nice moments in it. It goes like this.

(Singing) Lonesome me with no one to love, lonesome me 'neath (ph) the moon above - everywhere, lovers all around me. Is it fair that no one has ever found me? I've got arms, empty night and day. I've got charms. Will they waste away, waste away? I'll just go on dreaming, waiting patiently for the one meant for lonesome me. Yeah. I've got arms, empty night and day. I've got charms. Will they waste away, waste away? I'll just go on dreaming, waiting patiently for the one meant for lonesome me.

BIANCULLI: That was Marty Grosz with cornetist Randy Reinhart, recorded in 2004. The jazz rhythm guitarist has just published his memoir, called "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie: My Life In Jazz." Today is his 90th birthday. He'll be performing next Wednesday in a birthday bash at Philadelphia's World Cafe. Happy birthday, Marty.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S A SIN TO TELL A LIE")

GROSZ: (Singing) Be sure it's true when you say, I love you. It's a sin to tell a lie. Millions of hearts have been broken just because these words were spoken. I love you. I love you. I love you. I'm crazy about you. And if you break my heart, I'll die - just waste away. So be sure that it's true when you say, I love you. It's a sin to tell a lie.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the new Gish Jen novel "The Resisters." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSETTE EXPLOSION'S "SWING 39")

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