Back in 2000, when veteran touring saxman Steve Grove gave himself the cooler moniker of Euge Groove and dove headfirst into the solo artist waters of smooth jazz, his well established pals Boney James, Rick Braun and Peter White gave him some wise advice: be patient.
He would be touring the world with Tina Turner through the end of that year, but Groove - whose resume includes Joe Cocker, Richard Marx and Tower of Power - was determined to go out on a limb and give up the lucrative sideman life. “They knew the supreme sacrifice I was going to make,” Groove recalls, “but said it would take time to get my feet in the door at radio and to expect some tough going for the first few years.”
Well meaning as they were, the cats were wrong; in a competitive marketplace, the Hagerstown, Maryland native, newly signed to Warner Bros., was an immediate smash on the airwaves and at retail. His first single “Vinyl” (from his self titled debut) set a record by spending 27 weeks on the Radio & Records NAC/Smooth Jazz chart. “Sneak A Peak” was nominated for Song of the Year at the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards, and his follow-up album Play Date had two #1 radio hits, starting with “Slam Dunk.”
The economic realities of the music business caught up with Groove’s charmed life in the middle of 2002, ironically the very week “Rewind” hit the top spot on the airplay chart. He was about to enter the studio to record his third album when Warner Bros., facing cutbacks in its jazz division, put him in a holding pattern. Euge quickly opted out of his contract and was quickly snatched up by Narada Jazz. The concept behind his new Livin’ Large was finding ways to express gratitude and enjoy life to the fullest extent, despite such wavering fortunes.
“The one thing I can always control is writing and recording great songs, but it’s about more than that,” he says. “It’s about rediscovering a zest for living and life, and when I look at the big picture, the blessings have been over the top for me. For a long time, I was so caught up in the business aspect of my life that it was affecting things at home. Even to the point of being too upset to help my six year old daughter with her homework. So a year ago I told my wife, we have got to figure out a way to enjoy life more.
“Because I’m so focused on the positive, I’m totally at peace with what happened at Warner’s, and know I’m lucky to have gotten this far,” Groove adds. “I’ve been in the business a long time and know the realities. You think you’ve got it made when you sign with a major label, but really, anything can happen. The most important thing is still having the opportunity to express myself. I included the two versions of Sly Stone’s ‘Thank You (For Letting Me Be Myself)’ (one with vocals and rap) as a way of telling my fans I appreciate their support.”
That tune and a sweet, lyrical cover of James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” (his wife’s favorite all-time song) set the listener up for a batch of Groove originals (all written or co-written by him) that create a perfect balance of modern urban flavors and 70s sensibilities. “While I was working on the album, I was thinking of the music of TOP, Barry White, David Sanborn, The Brecker Brothers and all that old school funk and R&B,” he says. “That’s what I grew up on.”
Consistent with its theme, Groove ensured that he would enjoy the process of recording this album more than previous projects by handing over all the reins to genre super producer Paul Brown, who had done four tracks each on the first two. Groove took off the producer hat and just played the sax for the first time.
“It was a much better experience just being able to concentrate on playing,” he says. “I could concentrate on making the sound as good as possible, without worrying about sitting and editing things for 12 hours at a time, like I used to. I’m still learning to be patient. I’m always working on my style and my chops, and hopefully a unique style has come through. I’ve been fortunate, but the competition among sax players at radio is intense. When I sit down and write a tune, I’m never thinking about airplay but just making the most romantic and soulful record I can.”
After completing the recording, Groove figured out a way to live large in the ultimate way, combining business with pleasure. He and his family rented a house for several months on Lake Como in Italy as the saxman toured Europe and parts of Russia with world renowned Italian singer Eros Ramazotti.
“I had toured with him before, and believe me, it wasn’t easy being a sideman again, after all this time away,” he says. “In some ways, it’s easier, but after tasting solo success, it’s obviously less rewarding. I had a lot of excess energy to deal with. Still, the opportunity was too good to pass up. My wife and I dreamed of living in Italy, and this gave us the chance. We are truly living large, living in a dream world that only opened up for us when we started focusing on the positive and finding joy in every moment.”
MORE NARADA JAZZ: In time for Valentine’s Day, Narada Jazz released a engaging 12 track compilation called The Love Project, a nice way to experience smooth jazz/funk versions of classic romantic tunes and sample the label’s increasingly diverse roster and other genre greats. Euge Groove’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” leads the pack, followed by “For The Love Of You” (Frayne Lewis, producer of the Urban Knights series), “All This Love” (Jeff Lorber), “A Song For You” (Joyce Cooling) “Free” (Walter Beasley), “Love TKO” (Alex Bugnon), “Moondance” (Nancy Wilson & Ramsey Lewis), “Wonderful Tonight” (Warren Hill with Jeff Golub), “Baby Come To Me” (Urban Knights), “What The World Needs Now” (David Benoit) and “Everyday” (Peter White).
Hopefully, the intent of this disc is less to give radio easy playlist additions (when these artists have more deserving original material) and more to expose them to new audiences. Over the years, Narada’s other divisions have made an art form out of artist samplers, and it’s good to see its smooth jazz division following suit.
**Over the holidays, my jazz photographer friend Cary Gillaspie and I were going over our respective top ten lists for 2003, and he told me that Art Good, host of the syndicated JazzTrax show and promoter of the Catalina Jazz Festival, picked Jeff Golub’s Soul Sessions as his top pick. I remember being blown away by it as well, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t included it in my Top Ten or runner up lists. Most likely, it was a scheduling issue, as Jazziz asked me to compile the list just before the Golub CD came out. Embarrassed by my oversight, I urge all lovers of blues, rock and funky jazz to enjoy this disc at once.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO:
1) Michael McDonald, Motown (Motown) – The husky voiced Doobie goes groovy on this shimmering tribute, a Grammy nominated adult contemporary valentine to an era that continues to serenade us. As good as it is, it makes me hungry for the originals.
2) A Smooth Jazz Affaire (Native Language)
3) Richard Smith, Souldified (A440 Music)
4) Elton John, Here and There (MCA)
5) Down To the Bone, Cellar Funk (Narada Jazz)