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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.

19:18

Other segments from the episode on February 28, 2020

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 28,2020: Interview with Aidy Bryant; Interview with Marty Grosz; Review of book 'The Resisters.'

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

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)

MARTY 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.

TERRY 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") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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