Today, I was informed by a friend, that a mutual friend posted on their Facebook page that saxophonist Steve Grossman, had died.
If you are or were a private student of mine, a follower of my posts, my YouTube Channel, have listened to my podcasts, or have ever purchased any of my books, you know that not only was Steve Grossman one of my teachers, but he was a major influence on my playing and teaching method as well.
In his honor, I'd like to tell my account of how I met Steve, and the time that I had studied privately with him.
It was back in 1982 that I had transferred to the Manhattan School of Music (NYC) as a sophomore from the University of Bridgeport (CT). At Bridgeport, I was a Composition/Jazz Studies Major. Although I enjoyed my freshman year there, playing in the Senior Big Band, killing my Music Theory classes, struggling with my piano lessons :-D, and getting my improvisation and reading chops up, I still didn't really think I was learning my instrument the way I really wanted to.
After a lot of thought, I decided to learn the way the masters had learned; playing classical in school, and playing jazz in the clubs at night. So, I auditioned for the Manhattan School of Music. (MSM did not have a jazz degree program at that time) I passed my audition, and I became a student of the famous saxophone guru Joe Allard. Studying with Joe was an absolutely amazing experience, but I'll save that for another post.
While I was at Bridgeport, I was studying Charlie Parker, practicing patterns, writing tunes, jamming with my school mates, and practicing, practicing, and practicing, I needed inspiration as to "how I wanted to play". I heard many living alto saxophonists at the time, but I didn't feel that "spark" for what I was looking for. While I was checking out the concert section in New York's now defunct "Village Voice" ( I miss that paper), I saw that Steve Grossman was playing at an Upper East Side club called "Eric". I remember hearing about him from friends of mine who were tenor saxophonists. They spoke in the highest regard of him. So, needless to say, I had to go hear him.
As I sat in the club, I was astonished at what I had heard. Not only his technical abilities, but the way he weaved in and out of the chord changes with such ease, I knew that I had to know what he was doing! Did I ask for lessons then and there? No. I was quite a shy guy and I couldn't imagine him taking me on as a student, somehow.
I later asked Joe Allard about Steve Grossman and discovered that he was also a former student of Joe's like many other famous saxophonists like; Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, David Liebman, Eric Dolphy, Dave Tofani, and more. Joe advised that I check out Steve's embouchure closely!
A couple of months later while reading the "Village Voice", I found an ad anouncing that Steve Grossman was accepting students! I called right away. The calls were filtered by someone else in order to screen potential students. I relayed that I was a student at MSM and currently studying with Joe Allard.
I later received a return call from Steve himself. After a short conversation, my first lesson was scheduled.
At my first lesson, Steve's then wife, Graciela, prepared Earl Grey tea for us. Steve had almost a cold look in his eyes, which could be very intimidating (I was afraid of him, as in having great respect for his abilities). Nonetheless, Steve was very friendly and willing to help. We spent the beginning of each lesson with tea and listening to records. After almost an hour we'd then start playing.
We would talk about what or who we were listening to, he'd write something out, we'd play it, we'd jam to play-alongs, we'd switch horns (he played great alto! - he started as an alto player with Horace Silver), he'd give career tips, personal anecdotes, share stories from his times with Miles Davis, and with Elvin Jones, etc. At each lesson, I had always spent two hours at his apartment, and he'd only charge me for one hour. His wife told me in confidence that Steve really liked working with me.
Although, I was only with Steve Grossman for about three or fourth months before he started touring again, my lessons with him skyrocketed my playing, and I use those techniques I had learned then, today still. I continue to teach what I've learned from him.
Steve Grossman lived for many of his last years in Bologna, Italy, and I had heard him perform in Munich, Germany many years ago, and I was surprised that he still remembered me. :-)
On the 13th of August, 2020, Steve Grossman suffered a heart attack, fatally. The World of Jazz has lost another great musician, educator, and inspiration for many musicians.
R.I.P. Steve Grossman
I'll miss you dearly.