One of the greatest jazz musicians and teachers in Maine history died Thursday afternoon.
Jazz drummer and composer Steve Grover, whose composition “Blackbird Suite” won one of the world’s most prestigious music competitions, died at Maine General hospital in Augusta surrounded by friends and family.
Grover, who lived in Farmingdale, was 60 years old. Friends and fellow musicians said Grover had been battling cancer.
“I’ve been introducing Steve to Portland audiences for a very long time and I always introduce him as the most significant jazz musician in Maine history. I firmly believe that,” said Paul Lichter, who has known Grover since he started playing drums at Lichter’s Portland jazz club, Cafe No on Danforth Street, in 1988.
Grover had been on the faculty at the UMaine Augusta for many years. Grover had also taught music at Bowdoin College and Bates College since the 1980s.
“Over and above his being a first rate teacher, he was a mentor to a generation of jazz musicians who have gone on to perform all over the country and the world,” said Lichter.
Grover was born in Lewiston in 1956 and attended Berklee College of Music and the University of Maine at Augusta, according to his faculty profile. He played with guitar legend and music educator Lenny Breau, who was born in Auburn, from 1978 to 1982.
Though Grover was known as a superb jazz drummer, he was also a skilled composer, for which he received international recognition.
In 1994, Grover won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz/BMI Jazz Composers Competition for “Blackbird Suite,” a set of related songs based on the Wallace Stevens poem, “Looking at a Blackbird.”
The competition is regarded as the world’s most prestigious jazz competition. Past judges have included Dave Brubeck, Quincy Jones and Diana Krall.
Portland musician Tony Gaboury played with Grover for 40 years and called him his best friend. Gaboury played guitar in one of Grover’s groups, the Steve Grover Sextet. Though Grover’s health was failing, they performed a gig just three weeks ago.
Grover taught at the Maine Jazz Camp from 1984 to 1997, including a two-year stint as its director, Gaboury said.
“Except for possibly Don Doane, I would say that Steve had the biggest impact of anyone on Maine’s jazz scene,” Gaboury said. Doane died in December at age 84.
Christine Correa, director of the Maine Jazz Camp, said she and her husband, Frank Carlberg, met Grover in 1988. The couple now live in Brooklyn, New York.
Carlberg said he met Grover while playing gigs at a Portland restaurant called the Blue Moon. Grover listened to his group and apparently liked what he heard. Carlberg and Correa, a vocalist, played “countless gigs” over the years with Grover.
“It was immediately clear that he was a man with wide ranging interests, remarkable knowledge and a passion for music,” Carlberg and Grover wrote in an email. “For Steve it wasn’t really about him, but always about the music.
“He had a musical mind of the highest caliber. Yet it was his kindness and humanity that might have been the greatest gift of all,” they added.
Grover’s accomplishments as a drummer and teacher were recognized Thursday on his Facebook page, which filled up with comments from friends and fellow musicians about the man so many admired and loved.
“My time with Steve was short, only a few years, but the influence he has had on me is massive,” wrote Carlton Trott. “Over the past years particularly I’ve heard his voice in my head often, especially when leading my own groups and composing. If you care about music at all do yourself a favor and listen to the “Blackbird Suite” and know that an actual legend is gone.”
“A creative and brilliant composer, interactive and tasteful drummer, intuitive adjudicator and supportive colleague, Steve was a great friend to so many in the music world. His touch will be felt for years to come,” Chris Humphrey wrote.
Former student Cameron Lopez wrote, “I owe a huge part of my passion for music and playing drums to this man. He was my first and only private drum instructor and always took an interest in my success as a musician. Thanks a ton Steve. I will miss you a lot.”
Gaboury said musicians from across Maine are already planning a concert in Grover’s honor. It will be held at the Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. The date and time for the concert has not been determined.