Take Five With Stuart Rosh
Stuart Rosh (born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is a songwriter and singer who lives in San Francisco. Over the years he's lived in Italy, Israel and throughout the US. The child of Polish/Ukrainian immigrants and Holocaust survivors, Stuart grew up listening to and performing Yiddish (his first language), Russian and religious music. From the age of three until about twelve, he was obsessed with Top 40 pop. Then he heard Muddy Waters and Miles Davis, and his taste moved from pop into the world of jazz, blues, and cabaret.
Teachers and/or influences?
Fats Waller, Blossom Dearie, Billie Holiday, Don Byron, Tom Lehrer, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, the list is long.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I can remember writing and singing songs when I was three. I had my ear next to my transistor radio a good six hours day when I was seven. Music is divine to me. It's always been that way.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
McCoy Tyner, Asante. I think it was his last album on Blue Note before he went over to Milestone. He did a gig in my college town a few years after this album was released. That made me try to find stuff from his (then) recent catalog. For me, the African rhythms were new and exciting. Back then, McCoy Tyner was the kind of performer who was so intense that you couldn't help but listen. Of course, I've always liked performers like that.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I'm principally a lyricist, and I think the most important thing I'm doing is to convey joy and even silliness. Music is a divine thing, yes, but my view is that many musicians are far too serious for their own good.
Did you know...
I am America's grade inflation czar. I know more about college grading practices than probably anyone in the world. It's a kind of funny expertise. It means that I get quoted and interviewed on this topic now and then and I get to appear on CNN and ESPN as a talking head.
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I would say it's not healthy but there are signs that it can get better. There's too much of a tendency to simply recreate the great recordings of 50 years ago. There's a resistance to change from venues and jazz radio stations that stems from a desire for jazz audiences, ever graying, to just listen to the stuff they heard when they were 22 years old.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there is a crop of new musicians out there with spirit, energy and tremendous talent. If they can bring a new, younger, audience into the mix, the state of jazz will improve markedly.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
I don't think jazz can grow. I hope it can stay alive by continuing to attract new people who are interested in somewhat complicated music performed with verve. Keeping jazz alive will depend on making sure that performers know how to entertain. It's all about live performance right now. Your standard audience wants to have a good time first and foremost; you need to deliver.
What is in the near future?
I'm working on a series of Yiddish songs. Yiddish was my first language. I'm trying to capture and the nuance and mood of my childhood neighborhood without being nostalgic.
I'm a geophysicist specializing in water supply and water quality issues. Basically I apply math to environmental problems. It's well known that music and math go together. I taught as a professor at Duke University for many years, but decided that I needed to be independent of the traditional work place with all of the endless meetings, strange politics, and piles of paper.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
My dream was to be a Major League catcher. But as a talent scout who saw me said, "We can teach you how to hit, but we can't teach you how to throw." Next up was my dream to sing at The Met. It turns out there are a lot of wonderful baritones in this world and I'm not one of them; I'm a good but not great opera singer.
If I couldn't do music at all, I'd write mysteries. My main character would be a dyslexic, lapsed Orthodox Jew, a saxophonist who has a tendency to come upon dead bodies at 2 a.m. on his way home from gigs. Read that last sentence again, please. Don't you think that I had better stick to music?