Music News & Reviews

Jazz saxophonist does his Groove thing

By categorization, his blend of pop, jazz and R&B is smooth. But when Stephen Eugene Grove picks up a saxophone, the groove is huge — or, as he calls it, Euge.

That's because for the past decade, Grove has recorded, toured and established smooth jazz under the professional name Euge Groove. From the time the singles Vinyl and Sneak a Peek established his sound and fan base in 2000 and continuing to his 2007 album, Born2Groove, whose tunes continued to chart through the first of this year, Grove has become one of the most visible saxophonists in instrumental pop music.

In short, Grove is Groove — and groove is good.

"I don't think fans so much make the labels for the music I play as critics do," Grove said last week from Los Angeles before a recording session for his next album. "Fans just like music. There are always going to be 10 percent that are really into it enough to follow all the labels. But most fans, especially for what I do ... they just want to have a good time. They don't want to overanalyze things.

"Now, the flip side of that are the live shows. To be able to turn that music into a more engaging performance is really great, to get to where the show really interacts with the audience and makes them a part of the music."

Grove performs Saturday at Equus Run Vineyards as part of the African American Forum's annual series of smooth-jazz concerts. This is the first time he will bring the Euge Groove sound to life in Central Kentucky, which is surprising when you consider that his wife, Susan, is a Georgetown native and that his in-laws live in Lexington.

But this won't be Grove's first time on stage in the area. Not by a long, long shot.

In November 2000, with his debut album 6 months old, Grove performed at Rupp Arena behind Tina Turner during her extensive farewell tour. Opening the show that night was pop, blues and rock veteran Joe Cocker. Grove has played with him, too.

Among the other acts with which Grove has toured are Tower of Power and Richard Marx. The list of celebrities with whom he has recorded includes Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Heart, Paula Abdul, Aaron Neville and a few dozen others.

Almost without exception, though, these collaborations predate Grove's solo career as Euge Groove.

"I've learned something from every one of those artists," Grove said.

Perhaps one of the most mutually beneficial of these alliances was Grove's four-year stay with the brassy Bay Area funk troupe Tower of Power. During Grove's tenure, 1988 to 1992, TOP went from a band struggling to maintain its commercial profile to worldwide tours and recordings supporting the then-unstoppable Huey Lewis and the News. for Grove, though, TOP was the band that brought the saxophonist to the West Coast from Miami, where he studied and began his career as a recording-session artist.

"That whole experience was just so incredible for me," Grove said. "I had just moved to California. I went to school in Miami and was still hanging out there, playing some pretty good gigs. But the music scenes in Miami and Los Angeles were night and day.

"To this day, I tell people I got my degree at the University of Miami, but I got my education in the University of Tower of Power."

And then came Turner, the uncontested matriarch of pop, soul and funk (well, maybe behind Aretha Franklin). When Turner announced that she was retiring from performance life after her 2000 tour, Grove figured his days of backing up other artists, grand as they were, had ended. But Turner couldn't help hitting the road again in 2008, and Grove went along.

"When I got the call from Tina's manager, I almost thought it was a joke," Grove said. "I really thought she was done with touring. But it was a great experience being able work with her one last time."

Grove was committed to the Turner tour through May of this year. Then he packed his bags yet again for an outing called the Guitars and Saxes Tour with fellow smooth-jazz and fusion artists Jeff Golub, Jeff Lorber and Jessy J. That tour, plus the few dates Grove is playing on his own this summer, is being balanced with recording sessions for the new album that Grove hopes to release as early as October.

"Knock on wood, things are at an amazing place for me right now," he said. "The tour is a blast, and the record almost seems to be putting itself together. I think this last year has probably been the happiest time of my career."

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