By categorization, his blend of pop, jazz and r&b is smooth. But when Steven 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 singles like Vinyl and Sneak a Peak established his sound and fanbase in 2000 to the tunes from his 2007 album Born2Groove that 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 prior to a recording session for his next album. “Fans just like music. There are always going to be 10% 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 over analyze 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 will the first time he will bring the Euge Groove sound to life in Central Kentucky. Such a headlining debut is especially overdue considering his wife Susan is a Georgetown native and that his in-laws reside in Lexington. But this won’t be Grove’s first time onstage here. Not by a long, long shot.
In November 2000, with his debut album a mere six months old, Grove performed at Rupp Arena behind Tina Turner during the singer’s extensive farewell tour. Opening the show that night was pop, blues and rock veteran Joe Cocker. Grove has played with him, too.
Among the others acts Grove has toured with internationally are Tower of Power and Richard Marx. The list of celebrities has recorded with includes Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Heart, Paula Abdul, Aaron Neville and a few dozen others.
Almost without exception, though, these collaborations pre-date the beginning of Grove’s solo performance 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, from 1988 to 1992, TOP went from a band struggling to maintain its commercial profile to part of worldwide tours and recordings supporting the then-unstoppable Huey Lewis and the News. But for Grove, TOP was the band that brought the saxophonist from Miami, where he studied and began his career as a recording session artist, to the West Coast.
“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 Tina, the uncontested matriarch of pop, soul and funk (well, maybe excepting Aretha Franklin). When Turner announced she was retiring from performance life after her 2000 tour, Grove figured his days of backing up other artists, grand as they were, had concluded. But when Turner couldn’t help hitting the road again in 2008, Grove was called back into action.
“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 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 the saxophonist hopes to release as early as October.
“Knock on wood, things are at an amazing place for me right now,” Grove 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.”
Euge Groove performs at 4 p.m. Saturday. 1 at Equus Run Vineyards, 1280 Moores Mill Road in Midway. Tickets: $50 general admission, $600 for reserved tables for 10. Call (859) 255-2653.