Remembering Steve Grover: Jazz Musician, Educator

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A number of faculty members and former students have been adding their voices to the wider Maine music community in paying tribute to jazz drummer, composer, and educator Steve Grover, who died earlier this month. Grover was known to many at Bowdoin, where he taught percussion and composition as an applied music instructor.

Grover, who was also professor of contemporary and modern music at University of Maine Augusta, was 60 and had been suffering from cancer. Grover was known for his compositional work as much as his mastery of the drum kit, and in 1994 won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz/BMI Jazz Composers Competition for his Blackbird Suite.

Frank Mauceri

Frank Mauceri

Frank Mauceri, Senior Lecturer in Music
Steve was a gifted and prolific composer. His distinguishing contribution were his settings of modern American poetry. Only a very few jazz composers have seriously taken up the challenge of creating art song in the jazz language.

Steve’s Blackbird Suite, setting the poetry of Wallace Stevens, is his best known and most celebrated work. But he has also written beautiful settings of Jack Kerouac and Robert Creeley. Last spring we heard the premier of his Variations Suite, a wonderful collaboration with Bowdoin Writer-in Residence Anthony Walton.

On a more personal note.  Steve was a great friend. Music was his life’s work, but also his way of creating community. He was generous with his talents, and quick to welcome young, developing players into his working groups.

Anthony Walton, Writer-in-Residence, English
I met Steven Grover twenty years ago at a dinner party at the home of Bowdoin English Professor Elizabeth Muther and her husband Richard Nelson, who himself is a noted jazz guitarist and educator. He was sitting off in a corner quietly by himself, stolid and reticent as he often was when among those he did not know well, and Liz walked me over to him, saying something like “The way you two love Monk, you need to know each other.” She was right. And that mutual love of the music of Thelonious Monk culminated earlier this year in the release of Variations, a CD of Steve’s compositions that used fragments of my poem The Monk Variations as text.

Being involved in that project is one of the proudest moments of my artistic career. That something of mine was involved in the last project he would personally supervise is one of my greatest honors.

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Molly Ridley ’14

Molly Ridley ’14
Growing up in southern Maine, I first heard of Steve when I started getting into jazz piano in high school. I was introduced to him through one of my music instructors at Westbrook High School, David Wells, who played with and knew Steve quite closely. Bass player Tom Bucci, another musical mentor of mine who I began playing with in high school, was also a dear friend of Steve and encouraged me to learn as much as I could from him upon entering Bowdoin.

Needless to say, I was both excited and humbled by the opportunity to study composition with Steve for three out of my four years at Bowdoin. Looking back at my time at Bowdoin, rehearsals with Steve were always the most entertaining part of my day. His stories would always make me laugh and his lessons would inspire me to lock myself in a practice room for hours (I never had much luck getting other homework done after my lessons with him).

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Peter McLaughlin ’10

Peter McLaughlin ’10
Steve Grover has left the building, folks. I don’t even have to say it. Anyone who knew the man can feel his absence, because he was truly that great. A great man, a great musician, a great composer, a great educator. He was my teacher and mentor, and he’s had a heavy hand in turning me into the musician I am today.

Steve inspired so many. I honestly don’t think there’s another Mainer, who’s had as profound an effect on the musicians in this state. We’ll miss him dearly, but of course he’s not gone. He’s alive in every student, every colleague, every player he shared a stage with, and more. And of course, we’ve got the music and the music never dies.

 

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