The mainstay stays

By Lawrence Cosentino

Bassist David Rosin and the joys of sticking around

Some faces pop up a lot in old movies, like Walter Brennan, Michael Caine or that blustery cop Bud Jamison who’s in all the Three Stooges shorts.

One of JazzFest’s recurring stalwarts is bassist David Rosin, who’s been deep in the mix since the festival began 17 years ago. Just look for the lanky I-shaped frame, seriffed by a beret, kindly yet firmly addressing a plump double bass.

At only 39, Rosin seems to be entering his “rediscovered-by-Quentin-Tarantino” phase. He led a wild afterglow jam at East Lansing’s Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in June and brings a high-octane quartet with up-and-coming Grand Rapids trumpeter Chris Lawrence to JazzFest Saturday in Old Town.

Unlike many MSU jazz grads, Rosin never left the area, settling in as a music teacher while gigging in lower Michigan, but he resisted at least one serious New York temptation.

On one of saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s teaching visits to MSU, Rosin sat in and played with his group a few times. “So many great musicians come through here, and I’ve gotten to work with almost every one of them,” Rosin said.

For a young player, sitting in with Marsalis is about heady as it gets. Marsalis invited Rosin to crash at his place and check out the New York scene when Rosin’s first teaching gig, at Sexton High School, suddenly turned up.

He doesn’t regret staying. Plentiful gigs in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids are an hour or so away.

“If you’re a bass player, and you can play, you work,” he said. “There’s so many good bass players in the state, but we never see each other outside of a festival.”

Rosin grew up in Westland, a suburb of Detroit.

His grandfather, Herb Rosin, played piano and drums and led a Detroit-area big band in the 1940s. Herb Rosin often played with his friend John Baldori, father of noted Lansing-area musician “Boogie Bob” Baldori. Through a convoluted family history (David Rosin’s paternal grandmother was a Baldori), Rosin counts several Baldoris as relatives, including second cousin “Boogie Bob.” His uncle (actually great-uncle) Pete Baldori, a bassist, was a big influence on Rosin’s choice of instrument.

At first, Rosin was enamored with early hip hop, especially the Beastie Boys, but came to absorb jazz under the influence of his grandfather, father and “Uncle Pete.”

While Rosin was in high school, his dad took him to see every jazz giant that blew into Detroit, from pianist Gene Harris to vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Bassist Ray Brown, who led one of the all-time greatest jazz trios, made an especially strong impression. At JazzFest this year, Rosin will premiere a new work dedicated to his dad, who died eight years ago. “It’s in the style of his favorite type of jazz, a Ray Brown trio vibe,” Rosin said.

Rosin has two degrees in music education, both from MSU. In the 1990s, jazz studies were blossoming at MSU. Rosin’s original major, mathematics, was demoted to half of a double major along with music, then to a minor, and then to a memory.

Now Rosin is in his sixth year teaching strings at East Lansing High School and loves teaching, both for its own sake and for the freedom it gives him to pick his jazz gigs.

“I don’t have to do every single gig that comes along — society gigs (weddings and rich people’s parties), six hours for 50 bucks,” he said.

In school, between string work with the likes of Bach and Mendelssohn, Rosin wows his students with YouTube clips of charismatic performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

The Rat Pack?

“They love that clubhouse feeling,” Rosin said. “Besides, show them someone with as much talent as Sammy Davis Jr., and it stops them in their tracks.”

On stage, Rosin is all business. He won’t stop a tune with showbiz flash or mystical, keening digressions. His idols are hard swinging bassists with a strong sense of time, like his teacher, Rodney Whitaker, his enduring idol, Ray Brown, and the bassist’s bassist, Danish jazz great Niels-Henning rsted Pedersen.

For JazzFest, Rosin was asked to bring in out-of-town folks, so he assembled a quartet of musicians well known in the Grand Rapids jazz scene.

Pianist Terry Lower, a mentor of Rosin’s since the latter was a kid, is a hard-swinging melodist in the mold of Oscar Peterson and Red Garland. Drummer Fred Knapp — Rosin’s “musical comrade” through 10 years, innumerable gigs and four CDs — will again lock minds to clench into a tight rhythm section.

Rosin’s secret weapon (to Lansing audiences, at least) is Chris Lawrence, a fiery young trumpeter who has recently become the “go-to” horn man in Grand Rapids.

Rosin knows his way around JazzFest as well as anyone. At the first festival, he put together a quintet with his college jazz buddies on the North Stage. Since then, he has played in myriad combinations, from his own trio to a romp with visiting pianist Johnny O’Neal and drummer Randy Gelispie to a blazing gypsy-jazz gig with the Hot Club of Detroit to a fun date last year with singer Betty Baxter.

This year, with Lawrence aboard, Rosin promises a high-energy set that will make ears perk up from a block or two off. “After all, it’s an outdoor thing, beer tent and all that,” he explained.