My first exposure to the music of Steve Grover came about 15 years ago. that time, the drummer had already built quite a reputation in local jazz circles and beyond as an important educator, sideman and band leader/composer.

In the latter capacity, he hit the big time when his “Blackbird Suite” won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute/BMI Jazz Composers Competition in 1994. The recording of that piece in 1997 was followed by several other fine discs.

Grover knows the music as a professor would but, unlike some academics, he also understands on a visceral level that music is about much more than just concepts and notations.

While teaching primarily at the University of Maine in recent years, the 54-year-old Lewiston native has been able to maintain a busy schedule of gigs and projects. His latest release, “Flying,” is a disc of Beatles tunes that he recorded with a quintet (sextet on one cut) this past summer. It’s available at www.cdbaby.com, and can also be obtained by writing to Grover at [email protected]

 

Why did you decide to do an album of Beatles tunes now?

I was using Beatles music for my ear-training class at UMA, and had a book of songs I had transcribed. I started to work with a few of them for fun. I think the first one was “Things We Said Today.” We played that tune in my UMA student ensemble Jazz on Tour, and it came out well, so I decided to (write) some more arrangements and started playing them on my own gigs. I put together enough music to dedicate a few gigs at One Longfellow Square to the music of The Beatles, and at that point I decided to record.

 

Were you always a fan of their work?

I grew up with the Beatles. The reason I play music is because of their inspiration early on when I was a kid. I like everything they ever did.

 

What led you to the particular song selection of the disc? It seems like you have chosen pieces from each Beatles period. Was that intentional?

It was partially intentional. I developed ideas that seemed to work for what we wanted to do, which is to play jazz and improvise on songs that reflected my take on harmony.

 

Your arrangements run the gamut from fairly tight and straight ahead to some that are more loose and improvisational. How does an arrangement come into being for you?

I wanted a variety of things to play. Most of the songs have fairly detailed harmonic constructions that I created, but I wanted more open things too, like we play in my trio. “Come Together” is open after the head, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” gets free pretty quickly. The rest are song forms with lots of chords generating a certain feeling and flow.

 

I know you’ve worked with most of your band members on this disc for many years. Does the familiarity make it easier to work together?

I wanted to record with musicians I play gigs with the most. Everyone in one way or another is either from Maine or lives here. They are very patient with me, and I give them a lot of room to play they play the way I would if I played those instruments. So I don’t need to say much to them except a few things about the chart — this goes here, play back to the sign, etc.

 

What other projects do you have upcoming?

I have a new CD with Tony Gaboury called “Plays The Music of Bill Evans.” It features Andrew Rathbun on saxophone and Chris Van Voorst Van Beest playing bass. We recorded it a few years back, and it is just being released, which I’m happy about. Bill Evans is a favorite of mine and Tony’s.

This Beatles project with my quintet continues with another CD release at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick Oct. 22. It’s a great place for music. I think people will like this band who are not necessarily jazz fans, and jazz fans will dig the playing. Plus, people who know Beatles’ music will be entertained by it too. We have CDs for people to buy at the show. So come by and say hello.

 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.