Saxophonist Steve Grossman hasn't been a regular on the New York scene for many years but a crash course sampling of the many sessions he has recordedwith the likes of Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Barry Harris and Michel Petrucciani for starters as well as under his name as a soloist and with his own groupsshows how much excellent playing he has under his belt.
And soon there will be those sets this Brooklynborn, Long Islandbred musician will be doing with the Al Foster Quartet at The Kitanoperformances that will offer a chance to hear how he sounds live these days.
So where's he been all this time?
South America (where he picked up his penchant for Latin-influenced music, check out 1977's Brazil with trumpeter Marcio Montarroyos and Stone Alliance, featuring Grossman with bassist Gene Perla and percussionist Don Alias), Europe, Japan, you name it. He has also lived in a lot of places outside the United States, especially in Italy: "I started in Amsterdam and basically kept moving south."
"But what you really want to know is what was it like to be handpicked by Miles? Scary. I was very young, I started recording with him when I was 18. It was pretty scary to play with Miles Davis, and I'm just getting out of high school really.
"Some people obviously told him about me and he started showing up at gigs I was doing. Then I got the call and I started making all these things. That was right after Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969). One day it would be me... One day it would be Wayne Shorter... And then he asked me to go with him. I think it was 1969 or 1970."
Grossman remembers Miles was colorfuland not just onstage. "I was playing one Sunday in this club, I don't remember [which] and that's when he came down and he showed me these four bullet holes in his Ferrari when they took his instruments in Bedford-Stuyvesant, because he didn't want Kenny Dorham to open for him... Me and Dave Liebman had a double quartet kind of thing, two tenors, one pianist, two basses and two drummers. Miles asked me to come out and see the Ferrari; he'd had this problem in Brooklyn at some club, they kept all his instruments; it was some kind of Mafia thing. They put four bullet holes in his red Ferrari."
"I think there was another time at the Village Gate. It was Miles opposite Monk. There were a lot of people backstage like Woody Shaw, Lee Morgan."
Heady times, but this is now. "You have to go forward," says Grossman, adding "I never thought I'd make it to this age. When I was 25 I looked older than I do now."
Born in 1951, he's 57. As this interview was conducted by telephonehe lives in Bologna, Italythere are no visual clues. So it's impossible to know if that perception is correct. Have to take his word for it. Over the phone, though, his voice is particularly distinct. It sounds gravelly, much lived-in, like that of a person who is waking up.
How his other "voice"that famous tenorexpresses itself will have to wait for that gig with Miles alumni Al Foster. But a hint of what's to come perhaps can be gleaned from those many fine recordings (check out Do It (Dreyfus, 1993), with Barry Harris, Reggie Johnson and Art Taylor which Grossman says he especially likes, the Stone Alliance recordings or his 1991 Steve Grossman, In New York album (Dreyfus, 1991) with McCoy Tyner, Avery Sharpe and Art Taylor) and that past of his muchstoried youthto which it seems natural to seesaw back to from time to time.
"I was trying to see what Coltrane was doing in the '60s. I still am. To me, he covered it. He was a very big influence on me. You know, since I was 15, 16. Even earlier, when I was 10, 11. I started with Charlie Parker when I was about eight. I started to play alto saxophone then. I had an older brother [now deceased] and we started listening at about the same time. I guess it was through him and an uncle I had who got me my first records. I became a Bird freak."
So the trajectory of his musical life was set early. He played a little baseball with kids he grew up with, but music took over. "I used to play with guys much older than me. And now, I'm the oldest." He laughs. Things "turn around."
Speaking of younger musicians, one thing he'll do while here in New York is hear some of the local talent; perhaps he'll find people he'll want to play with down the road. A priority is visiting family, his 86 yearold father, his younger brother and his niece.
He's been back and forth for recordings but the last time he did a live gig in New York was "probably in the early or mid '90s." So catch him now.