Legendary in the music industry as a top producer and innovator, Larry Rosen came to Miami and launched Jazz Roots, an Adrienne Arsht Center series that for eight years has paid tribute to great entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole and Ray Charles.
Friday night, some of music’s top jazz performers will repay the favor in an Arsht Center tribute concert to GRP Records co-founder Rosen, who died a year ago of brain cancer at age 75.
“We are honoring a legend among legends,” Arsht Center President and CEO John Richard says of the concert. “To Larry With Love — A Star-Studded Tribute to Larry Rosen” will feature Dave Grusin, Arturo Sandoval, New York Voices, Tom Scott, Cyrille Aimee, Will Downing, Shelly Berg and the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.
“It’s our intent that Jazz Roots remains a signature series of resounding importance in our community,” Richard says. “That’s the kind of pizazz Larry brought to the equation. That was very much part of the allure — Larry’s reputation over the years, his reputation in the jazz industry and his friendships he established over his career.”
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Such was Rosen’s influence that when he needed to adjust the sound for jazz at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, he called in an old buddy — Phil Ramone, one of the 20th century’s best-known recording engineers and album producers, who personally mixed several of the live Jazz Roots concerts.
This season’s Jazz Roots lineup — now curated by Berg, dean of University of Miami’s Frost School of Music — includes Dave Koz’s Christmas show, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the Branford Marsalis Quartet with guest vocalist Kurt Elling and a blues-and-jazz tribute featuring Berg and rock legend Steve Miller.
Friday’s special tribute show stars Rosen’s best friend in the business: Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer and pianist Grusin (the “G” in GRP Records), who in 1959 first heard and hired the high-school drummer to play for singing star Andy Williams.
“He had a lot of things going,” Grusin recalls about the teenage Rosen. “He was writing a book for drummers. Sort of an instruction book with technical hints. He eventually got this published. He was doing all this stuff when he was a kid. I thought if anyone is serious about this line of work, it was him.”
Best known to TV audiences for co-writing with Marilyn and Alan Bergman the theme to “Maude,” Grusin has won 10 Grammy awards and scored classic films including “The Graduate,” “On Golden Pond,” “Tootsie,” and “The Milagro Beanfield War,” which won him the 1988 Academy Award.
Grusin, 82, says he discovered Rosen when the teen drummer played with the Newport Youth Band.
“He was mostly doing club gigs, bar mitzvahs, everything a young freelance drummer was doing. He was very confident. He was a very good big-band drummer,” Grusin says. “The only problem was that Andy was trying to be a pop singer. At our age, everything was bebop, but that wasn’t the gig.”
Grusin took a chance on hiring Rosen, who stayed with Williams for six years. “That was sort of the beginning of us,” Grusin says. “That’s how it all started.”
Eventually, Grusin and Rosen moved into record producing, and in the 1970s they formed Grusin/Rosen Productions. GRP pioneered digital recordings, and in 1979 Rosen engineered and co-produced Grusin’s “Mountain Dance,” the first non-classical digitally recorded album.
GRP became known as “The Digital Master Company” and was among the first to release all its titles on compact disc. Their roster included some of the brightest stars in jazz: Corea, Patti Austin, Spyro Gyra, Ramsey Lewis, Arturo Sandoval and Diane Schuur, among many others. The label received 80 Grammy nominations and had 33 wins. It also was voted by Billboard magazine the Top Contemporary Jazz Label for five consecutive years.
MCA Music Entertainment (now Universal Music Group) bought GRP in 1990. “It ended up being somewhere about $60 million, “ Rosen told the Herald in 2011. “That’s something for a drummer from the Bronx whose mother didn’t want him to be a musician.”
Actually, his mother, Vivian, didn’t mind him being an amateur musician, but she wanted him to play the accordion.
“I’m not going to play any accordion. If I’m going to play anything, it’s going to be the drums,” young Larry told his mom.
“His mother got him a really good drum teacher,” according to Rosen’s widow, Hazel, who keeps their winter place on Fisher Island.
Hazel said she and Larry “only knew each other for one day when we decided to get married.”
They wed in March 1965 after a two-month engagement. “My so-called honeymoon was a couple of months after we got married, in Lake Tahoe on the road with Andy and Dave.”
The Rosens eventually had a son a daughter and four grandsons. They stayed married a half-century, mostly living in New Jersey and close enough to the big jazz clubs in New York.
From 1970 to 1990, through Rosen’s biggest years at GRP, Hazel taught high school Spanish during the day and went clubbing with him at night.
“It was like a great adventure. You never knew what was going to happen next,” Hazel says of life with Larry. “He would say to me, ‘It's never boring, right?’ ”
If You Go
▪ What: Jazz Roots: To Larry With Love — A Star-Studded Tribute to Larry Rosen featuring Dave Grusin, Arturo Sandoval, New York Voices, Tom Scott, Cyrille Aimee, Will Downing, Shelly Berg and the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.
▪ Where: Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
▪ When: 8 p.m. Nov. 4
▪ Tickets: $45 to $125 each. www.arshtcenter.org.