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...Steve Grossman
by Danilo Memoli

When "Jazzitalia" asked me to write something about my activity in the Steve Grossman Quartet, I felt a little weird: I thought that a musician should (play and) write "the" music, instead of (talking and) writing "about" the music...
On the other side, I thought, there are things that the journalist, the critic or the listener cannot really understand about the intimate, passionate, conflicting and dynamic world of the music as it is played, suffered and loved night after night, mile after mile by men who, through their music, basically just express their inner humanity.

I also considered that if I did accept to write something about my musical adventure with Grossman, I would have had the opportunity to let the readers know a bit more about a person that to music always, constantly gives all himself, without saving anything; this thing (true for many other "generous" musicians) is too often forgotten (even though the pure "listener", who doesn't know much about "semiotic applications of the musical language" or "the aesthetic developments of extemporaneous creation"... keeps clapping his hands to the generous flood of swing that emanates from the bell of  Steve's old Selmer).

I believe I don't need to remind anybody that Steve Grossman holds an important part in the history of jazz: in the early 70's, when he played with Miles and then with Elvin (together with Dave Liebman), and when he founded the "Stone Alliance" trio with Gene Perla and Don Alias, he had indeed invented an original language on the saxophones (both tenor and soprano), a language of great stylistic and emotional impact, that formally descended from that of some great models of a near past ('Trane had left us in '67 - but Steve told he heard him more than once with his quartet... McCoy, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin ........ I can imagine the shock: he was 13 - 14 years old!), but was also a projection ahead, harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated and modern, although simultaneously well rooted in the tradition; and it was a language full of a new strenght, a nearly beastly strenght, a strenght that even today we have the privilege to hear in his sound, at the same time aggressive and romantic, although never mushy.

Steve is held in great consideration by the many musicians he met, even by those who did not have professional contacts with him. I read once that Bob Berg and Michael Brecker, when asked to name who was in their opinion the most important saxophone player among the many of their generation (today they're all more or less fifty years old), both answered without hesitation "Steve Grossman!".

Since the 80's, Steve has toured at least half of this world, from North to South America - where he lived for long time - and to Japan, often settling in Europe and then returning to his birthplace, where his old parents and his two brothers still live: New York - the crib of the arts of the 20th century, the extraordinary source of an incredibly creative energy (I recommend all musicians to go there for some time - I did in '97 and '98, and it was an intense - and not only musically - journey, full of emotion, and quite hard for me to describe).

Touring all these countries, Steve has played and recorded with musicians of acclaimed artistic level (for example McCoy Tyner , Chet Baker , Sal Nistico , Tom Harrell , Elvin Jones , Art Taylor , Barry Harris , Cedar Walton , recently Michel Petrucciani and Johnny Griffin), but also with many other good and less famous sidemen, and often with "local" rhythm sections, young musicians willing to give him their support and live an experience that with no doubt gave them an opportunity to grow, musically as well as humanly. A beautiful quality Steve has is that he never stops learning: he listens to you, he follows you, and he learns; Steve wants to play with you and for you, and when the band is on the stage the dialogue begins, at times in an unexpected way: it can happen without any warning to be surprised by how fast, of a nearly feline rapidity, Steve reacts to what he hears/feels and interacts with you. He understands when you're tense, when you're happy, when you're relaxed or unsecure... and in the same way, he lets you understand with no hesitation his states of mind.... yeah, 'cause if you do something good Steve always tells you, he gives you enthusiasm; and how about if you make a mistake? He's always there, and - today very nicely, but always with character - he discreetly informs you that he understood the error, he somehow mocks you and simultaneously stimulates you to do better... he is a very sensitive person, so playing with him is always a particular and different event; an event that often transcends the music itself, and turns into an ethical fact. 

Being a serious musician, Steve has a deep respect and knowledge of the musical tradition; from Duke to Count Basie, from Tatum to Bird, Powell and Monk, from Sonny to Mc Lean and Ornette, from Elmo Hope to the last Coltrane , from Joe Henderson to Woody Shaw ..... all the great musicians of jazz, those who made it's official history but also those who have not been able or determined to make it, are in Steve's mind and heart: that's why when he plays a ballad, or a blues, or anything else, listeners feel and hear in his sound not the mere presence of various styles, but that of a whole world that comprises them all: namely, the world of Jazz. That's the point, Steve is jazz! It doesn't matter if you're playing a slow blues, a fast modal tune on a latin tempo, an intricate harmonic sequence of be-bop, or a torch-song from the 20's. He doesn't know jazz, he is jazz.

He writes his own music, often simple and beautiful tunes; he can play the piano, and they say he is also a good drummer - I never heard him, but I can easily believe it: he has an excellent sense of time, and an always intense relationship with the drummer (every now and then, in the middle of a solo, he turns back and watches Max - Massimo Chiarella, the drummer - right in the eyes, crossing the swords with him for an energic duel of ideas; that's when Stefano - the bassist in the quartet - and I understand: it's time to leave them alone, they have their things to talk about, we hush and listen, and when the discussion ends BUM! we all take over again...). 

From approximately four years Stefano, Massimo and I have the privilege to play in Steve's "italian" quartet (but we also go to foreign countries whenever it's possible), and the musical/human relationship is gradually enhancing; the repertoire is more refined, the mutual understanding grows; a cd was recently published (the first under my name) with several original compositions, where the fantastic New York trombonist (of italian family) John Mosca, an old schoolmate of Steve's, joined us on five tunes. It was beautiful to hear Steve play some first-sight charts, side by side with John (who unlike Steve plays in a big band section practically every day). Recently, I thanked Steve for his great work, and he answered "well, I'm a musician, what else should I have done?". True. But some days ago, while listening to the music after a long time we played it (it was released in 2002 although it was recorded in June '99), I understood that the same pathos was right there, even when for the first time Steve sight-read the charts of tunes he had never heard before. To me, this means making music with the heart, not only with the brain. For this, and not for his professionality, I thank him.

Jazzmen know that it's not easy to keep a band together, since musicians often work with various groups, which is great as it allows you to make new and stimulant encounters. Therefore, interplay is a slow but rewarding conquest: with few monthly concerts, often divided by days of inactivity, it is not simple; when we happen to have long gigs, like at the Chet Baker Club in Bologna which hires us to play for three subsequent days every six weeks, the results are clear.

I'm sure that to the many musicians who met him, Steve has always given something important: an advice , a solo, a sound, a little confidence, a purpose-made provoking word..... all things that form the personal character as well as the musicality of those who had, or will have, the beautiful opportunity to play with him.
Danilo Memoli

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Inserited on 7/5/2008 at 20.30.11 by "Kapace"
Great article about Steve.
His playing is transcendant and takes us along with him wherever he goes.

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Last Modified Date: 10/07/2002

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