(February 26, 1956 - July 7, 2016)
When Steve Grover played at The Press Room one Sunday night this past May, his audience had no way of knowing that it was the last time they’d get to hear this wonderfully talented drummer and composer perform. But little more than six weeks later, Steve would be gone, a victim of cancer.
Grover grew up in Lewiston, Maine, and was living in Farmingdale at the time of his death. He was only 60, but he packed a lot into the time he had, earning an enviable reputation as a drummer, as a composer, and as a teacher.
Fellow Maine jazz musician Brad Terry, himself a world-class clarinetist and jazz whistler, and who recorded the album “Remember” with Steve, recalls the first time he met the young drummer:
“Steve Grover, 17-18 years old at the time, politely asked and politely waited to be invited to sit in and play a few tunes with the “pros” at the Sunday afternoon sessions I was running at the Warehouse Restaurant in Lewiston. Soon afterwards I asked him to join me with some teaching through a National Endowment grant. I had no idea it would be the beginning of a treasured 43-year friendship. I’ll miss him.”
A serious, committed student of music from the very beginning, Steve took his first drum lessons in 1965 at the age of nine. His instructor, Dick Demers, recalls the very first lesson: “I left the studio, went back in and talked to my wife and said, ‘I just started a nine-year-old. The kid is so smart, he acts like he was a senior in high school.’ He was just a bright kid, and I knew he was going somewhere.”
Steve went on to college at the University of Maine in Augusta and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Feeling there was still more to be learned about drumming, he studied in the late ’80s/early ’90s with world-class drummer Bob Gullotti, who recalled their relationship:
“Steve was a fine drummer already when he started studying with me. He wanted information that would expand his language skills. Needless to say he was the perfect student who did all the work and then some. He was quite fast in grasping everything I would give him. He would learn it and then expand on it almost instantly. He turned very quickly into a comrade rather than a student. He was exceptional in his music, and I will miss his friendship and his music forever.”
While drums were Steve’s primary instrument, he also learned piano along the way, developing into a quite skilled pianist. No doubt his knowledge of piano was useful to him as a composer.
His compositions were many, among them a set of songs based on the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Grover’s “Blackbird Suite,” as he called it, was the 1994 winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz/BMI Jazz Composers Competition. It was presented in a special performance at Lincoln Center, as Steve shared a table with his first drum teacher, Dick Demers, along with Herbie Hancock, and former Vice President Al Gore.
His compositions and his recordings will now be part of Steve Grover’s legacy. And so too will be the scores of students who learned from him and now carry his legend forward.
As Steve lay in his hospital bed in the final days of his life, one such student visited him. “You have been the single largest influence on my life,” he told him.
Now that’s a legacy to be proud of.
Sources: Portland Press Herald, Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal, Brad Terry, Bob Gullotti