In Memory of Steve

Monday night, at my jazz gig at The Slipway, I was discussing an upcoming absence of mine, and inquiring with the guys in the band about a sub. Steve Grover’s name came up as a possibility as a sub, but guitar player Dave said “I think I heard he’s struggling with cancer.” That’s the first time I heard such a thing.

In 1990, I was a Jazz and Contemporary Music major at the University of Maine, Augusta. The jazz program there was highly regarded at the time; it was where players went who couldn’t afford Berklee. I, of course, couldn’t afford Berklee, so UMA made a good choice. It was affordable, a fine school, and only an hour away from my parent’s house, so I could live at home. So I did. And Steve Grover was my drum instructor.

So intense was that music instruction that the one hour weekly lesson actually counted as two credit hours. I learned so much from Steve in that one semester, it’s unreal. So much of who I am as a jazz player came directly from Steve. I took jazz band in high school, and studied drums privately, but not really JAZZ drumming. That all came from Steve. Steve taught me the hemiola. Steve taught me independence, and comping. Steve beat alternating sticking into my head. He taught me how to count out loud by insisting that I do it–something I try to get MY students to do. And it was Steve that realized I’d been playing my right and left flams backwards for years! He made me go back and re-learn them–something that was very hard to do. All this stuff from Steve.

Wednesday night, two days after the initial news that Steve might be sick, I see a note from a mutual friend and trumpet player on Facebook. Steve’s in hospice. Hospice?! As I read down through the comments, I see “Steve’s taken a turn for the worse. He’s not in hospice. He’s in the hospital. He’s not expected to ever come out.”

Last night, just before 6pm, I was just about to start another gig, when I took a quick glance on Facebook. Steve died. Rest in peace Steve. You made a difference in my playing, and you made a difference in me.

A Youtube Clip You’ve Nailed

I started working with a new drum student a month ago. He’s very talented, hungry, ready to practice, and already studying out of my college freshman textbook. He’s a freshman too: in high school. Anyway, I asked him a series of questions about what he’s learned from Youtube. Youtube is, in the words of my former pastor, free music lessons for people who can’t take music lessons. And that sorta is right. There’s lots on Youtube for us to learn. My student has learned a lot from Youtube, since he hasn’t been able to me challenged as much as he’d like from teachers around here. (Incidentally, I think I’m going to be another such teacher; I don’t think I have the chops to teach him much. I’ll probably learn more from him than he does from me.)

Anyway, one of the questions I asked him was “What Youtube video inspired you to practice a particular lick/feel/groove/fill/system, and that you worked on so much you actually learned it?” Here’s my answer…

I’ve posted before about Steve Gadd’s “Crazy Army” solo. The video of Vinny Colitua and Dave Weckl displaying their drum polyrhythm madness, and then how Steve plays a solo based on a drum corps marching beat. Well, I loved that video so much, I found the music for “Crazy Army.” And, based on some videos I watched on Youtube, I learned how to play it.

So now, music type person, what video on Youtube got you to get into the practice room, learn something new, and now you have mastered that particular lesson? Post a link in the comments!

Getting Into the Woodshed

So what was the impetus for me getting into the woodshed? Why have I all of a sudden been on a practice jag? I’ll tell you the story. Listen my children and you shall hear…

Iburgundy sparkle ludwigs was playing a gig at a local place here in Rockland ME. On this particular gig, I opted to use my ’66 Ludwig Super Classic kit. (Here’s some vintage drum knowledge for you.) Burgundy Sparkle was only available for 3-4 years, from about ’66 to ’69, with maybe some spill over on either side. Usually, you could count on Burgundy Sparkle being dated somewhere in those years. The Super Classic is a designation Ludwig used for a 22″ bass drum with a 13″ tom tom and a 16″ floor tom. This particular drum kit is everything one would want to see in a Super Classic; matching “keystone” badges, rail consolette tom mounts, “baseball bat” mufflers, and white painted interiors. It’s just a regular, unmolested, honest Ludwig drum kit in somewhat rare finish.

So anyway, on my break, I head to the bar for coffee (my usual drink of choice), and there’s a guy sitting there, regular looking guy, and he says to me “That’s a pretty interesting Ludwig kit you’ve got there. Is it vintage?” So of course I drum geek out on him, and tell him all about it. I ask him if he plays, and he says that he does. He then says to me “I also noticed your grip; you must’ve studied somewhere.” And so I recount how I was a music major for a little while at UMA, and at the time I was there the jazz program was highly regarded, and it was known as the jazz school you went to if you couldn’t afford Berklee. And I said, not a little smugly, “I studied with Steve Grover.” I looks at me quizzically. I inform him that Steve is the jazz cat to call for drums in ME.

So this part gets a little hazy. After this little bit of bragging on my part, the guy I’m talking to mentions his name; it’s Tom Oldakowski. Then Tom drops this other little bomb on me: he’s the drummer for Radio City Music Hall.

Over the last year, Tom and I have hung out a few times. When he’s in the area, we have lunch, talk drums, catch a local act, or whatever. And his aquaintance has really inspired me. As we talked that night, I told him that my hand work stinks. And it does. He, very kindly (everything he says is very kind), said he thought my hands looked good. They don’t. He’s being a gentleman. But meeting him has made me work on my hands. I’m actually practicing, not just playing drums along with some music on the stereo. And it’s because of a chance meeting in the little town where I live, where a big fish in a big pond let the big fish in the little pond know… Hey, you’ve got work to do.