Groovin’ with Euge Groove
by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
Alright, what can I say about this cat? He’s one of the best in your face sax players in the business, formerly of the Mighty Horns of Tower Power. Great new album out, I’m talking about Narada Jazz recording artist Mr. Euge Groove.
Euge: Wow what an introduction. You’ve got me blushing. (laughing)
Smitty: (laughing) Hey what can I say? So how are you doing man? It’s great to talk to you.
Euge: All’s well. It’s nice to be staying put for a moment. We’re back in California and it feels good.
Smitty: Cool. You recently finished your tour with Joe Cocker. That must have been nice.
Euge: Yeah, it was a very cool experience actually. We’ve been traveled to all parts of the country. The first tour I did with Joe was back in 1994 and this is the first time I got to open for him. It was a completely different audience. These are die hard rockers, and some of them don’t want anything to do with the jazz stuff at first. I can usually win them over in the end, but I’ve seen some really interesting hand gestures after only playing a few notes.
Smitty: I bet.
Euge: It’s been interesting. (Both laughing)
Smitty: I can just imagine.
Euge: But it’s been all good though. If it was always easy all the time, you don’t appreciate it. I kind of knew it going into it though. Someone that went to Woodstock in the 60’s might not be your typical smooth jazz fan.
Smitty: Exactly, yeah.
Euge: I knew it was going to be tough in some parts of the country, in some arenas. But as a whole it was really good.
Smitty: Think of yourself as a smooth jazz ambassador.
Euge: There ya go, putting in good will.
Smitty: Isn’t it cool though, to win them over?
Euge: Yeah you know I’ve got about 25 minutes to get to that point. It takes quite a lot of energy. And you probably thought I was kidding with some of the hand gestures but it’s true. While performing in one east coast city, I don’t think I’d been on stage for 30 seconds and there were three guys on front row in tie died t-shirts. One guy threw his hands up at me. So I immediately jumped off stage and just started playing in his face in front of 4,000 people.
Smitty: That’s the “in your face” Euge I know. (laughing)
Euge: It’s kind of like you have to take it by the horns. And his buddies just cracked up about it. For some reason, just the term smooth jazz infuses some bad connotations in some people. I don’t know what that’s about but it’s definitely the case. There’s an ad out now for some power drink that says real men don’t listen to smooth jazz.
Euge: And it’s a negative ad based upon smooth jazz.
Smitty: Wow, I hadn’t heard that.
Euge: Yeah, I mean there’s a billboard in Hollywood about it and they’ve been running radio spots on it in LA. And that’s the kind of stuff that we’re up against. I think it’s the term, smooth jazz. It has a negative vibe to it and I don’t really know where that came from. They’re using it as a negative ad campaign, that means there’s something wrong with that word, and I don’t know what that is.
Smitty: Perhaps it is unfamiliarity. And when that happens, some people form their own opinions. But it’s cool to introduce the music so that people can get a clear vibe of what it is and make their choice. And I think it’s great what you’re doing. I take my hat off to you because you’re actually spreading the word and doing your own thing at the same time.
Euge: You know, an inch at a time, whatever it takes. (laughing)
Smitty: Exactly! Let’s talk about Euge Groove. You were playing the piano at a very young age, and then you skipped to the sax. Why did you make that transition?
Euge: Fortunately I was able to do that and my best friend played sax and I figured if I learned to play sax too, we’d be able to hang out more. So that was really the ulterior motive for the saxophone.
Smitty: And just look how it turned out.
Euge: Yeah. I mean I wish I could say I heard some great jazz sax master and that’s what made me want to play. But I was nine years old and you’re not really thinking about that then.
Smitty: We all come from different directions, and I think that’s a cool thing that you had that intention and that you stayed with it.
Euge: I immediately fell in love with it (Sax). I was really blessed with some great teachers that really motivated me and got me into playing the horn.
Smitty: Yes. Teachers are very important at an early age. It sort of forms that nucleus of what it takes to continue in the later years would you say?
Euge: For me yes. I’ve heard players that had so very little formal training but they are absolutely incredible. But for me I think it was great. I had a really good first teaching background. I studied strictly classical music on the sax up until college. There was no jazz or rock and roll or any of that, it was strictly a classical background. It left me with two things, one was a good foundation but the other thing is I really didn’t know where to go with it. I really wanted to be a music professional to some degree from the time I was ten years old, but I had no idea what that entailed.
Smitty: That’s interesting; you said you knew that you wanted to be a music professional at ten years old.
Smitty: Wow! So did you have a vision then? Or did you just know this was what you wanted to do?
Euge: I knew that I wanted to be playing in a band with my friends for the rest of my life. I thought “this is cool, I get to play music and I’m with my friends and everyone is all smiling and happy, this is what I want to do.” But I didn’t realize that high school band doesn’t pay anything.
Smitty: That’s for sure.
Euge: Seriously. That was what I wanted. Then it was, I’ll go to New York and play in a pit orchestra. I had no idea where I was going. Then I got into college and was exposed to all these different styles of music and I had some great teachers there, some great music business teachers there. And that’s when I figured out the direction that I wanted to go with music.
Smitty: When you got into the University of Miami a school with so much jazz history, and there you are with all of your classical history that had to be sort of a different feel.
Euge: I was certainly the outcast.
Smitty: How’d you feel your way through that?
Euge: Well I kept my head down and kept to my studies. What I was suppose to do and absorbed everything. And extracted what I liked about it and quite frankly what I didn’t like about jazz, because there were things that I didn’t like. When I heard David Sandborn, he was for me the missing link. For me he had a really classical background but he was playing this contemporary style and this big bright vibrant tone and perfect intonation and technique and all of these things that were a little more foreign to me. That made me think “oh this can be jazz too, I like this.”
Smitty: You’ve got that reputation of that big horn sound and that in your face vibe. Would you say that came from your classical background or your Tower of Power days? How did you develop that style?
Euge: I think again it was a combination of things. My personality is like that, it’s hard for me to tone it down, just personally speaking. It’s a combination of things. I got hooked on the Texas Tenors and that kind of sound. And Junior Walker, I loved him, King Curtis, Fathead Newman. These were guys that I loved. They all had these sounds that were kind of in your face. So those were the kind of people I was learning from. Gato Barbieri was another one; in the late 70’s I got hooked in his stuff and that was right in your face. So these were some of the early people that influenced me when I switched over to tenor because I was an alto player. I have a really diverse background too, I think that helped me.
Smitty: Richard Elliot also plays with a style like yours. He’s paid some very nice compliments to your style of music. Talk about your association to Richard Elliot.
Euge: (laughing) Well see now that’s really funny, because I listened so much to him. I mean, I’ll be honest, I stole a lot from him. Especially when I got into Tower, I was replacing him when he left to do his solo group full time. I replaced him at Tower of Power. I used listened to so many live board tapes of him and really get into how he did the gig, because he was really brilliant at that gig.
Smitty: Yeah, great minds think alike.
Euge: And I never felt as adequate at that gig as I thought he was. My whole tenure, four or five years I was with that band and so I learned a ton from him.
Smitty: You held your own there I’ll tell you. And you can go back and listen to that and you can hear that rich sound when you’re playing on that album. It’s a really nice sound.
Euge: Well I appreciate that.
Smitty: So talk about your latest record. Talk about your concept for your latest record.
Euge: Livin’ Large!
Smitty: Livin’ Large, where did that come from?
Euge: I think the concept for every record for me, this being my third one, is to make a better record than the one before. You know you’re kind of sitting down and you have a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen or a blank cd in the burner and there’s just nothing on it, it’s a scary moment. You have to come up with 10 songs or 50 minutes of music or something like that. It’s a scary moment. You’re just not sure which direction to go in. This time there were a couple of songs that, I sat down and wrote a few things and played it for Paul Brown. He had a couple of tracks that he played for me. It kind of just came together right. The one that really stuck out in my mind was the track Livin’ Large itself. And I said, “this is where I want to go”. It’s got that great 70’s feel good vibe to it and it’s a song that if there was nothing else but myself and piano I could sit down and play that song. And that was kind of the basis for doing it. I wanted to do stuff that was still groove oriented, but it had more song content to it.
Smitty: It’s funny that you mentioned starting with a blank cd or the blank chart, because I’ve adopted the saying that says; “Music is a picture that’s painted on a background of silence.”
Euge: (laughing) Well that’s true, absolutely. It’s a scary time starting a new cd. You don’t know which direction it’s going to come. It’s like birthing a child, they’re all beautiful but we don’t know where they’re going to end up.
Smitty: I remember at some point when you were doing this record, you said that you had this really great feel. Were you telling us that you were livin’ large at the time?
Euge: Yes. Livin’ Large became a running joke and then a mantra. (laughing) The song Livin’ Large; we hadn’t had a name for the album or that song and again Paul Brown, the producer on it was joking that we should call it Livin’ Large. “You’re Euge”, but a lot of people call me huge, that’s close to sounding like Euge, huge meaning large, and it just became this play on words thing. I went home to my wife and told her that we were going to call the album Livin’ Large and she just cracked up. “Oh yeah, we’re really living large” (laughing)
Euge: “You’re out of your lucrative side man thing that you were doing that was paying all of our bills and now you’re this starving jazz musician! Now we’re really living large”. Then we realized that livin’ large was more about the choices that you make, about enjoying life and not being caught up in all the things that you don’t have. It was more about how life goes on, regardless. So you can stress about it or you can enjoy the moment and we chose to enjoy the moment. We made a conscious effort to do that and change a lot of things in our lives. I mean just a ton of things in our lives as far as our outlook, our relationship, our proximity and things that we wanted to do but were too afraid to do before. We just kind of said screw it it’s going to be alright no matter what we do. Let’s just choose to do the things we really want to do. And that’s really when everything came together for us as a family and everything got better.
Smitty: So as far as your music and your career, your wife is a direct influence on that?
Euge: Oh yeah, absolutely! Every step of the way. She’s probably one of few that’s really honest with me about the music. Not everyone will tell you the truth and she does. Thank God.
Smitty: You’ve got to love that. Switching gears, you’re part of an incredible line-up for the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise out of Galveston, Texas in November. Talk to me a little about that, because you have performed on cruises before.
Euge: Yes, I’ve done the last two Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruises and I had a great time doing it. Then we got a call about this one and I just love doing it, I love the whole concept of being stranded on a boat with the formats most passioned fans. And then also the great players. It inspires me to push harder at the live performances and it’s a great place to learn from the other musicians. It’s a real joy.
Smitty: How is it different from doing a regular gig at an indoor venue or an outdoor festival?
Euge: You don’t really get to feel the fans; you don’t get to absorb as much energy from the people that come out to listen to the music. You don’t get to feel it as much when you’re in a venue that the people are only there for two or three hours. And if it’s a festival, schedule permitting, I’ll probably have to split and I don’t get to see the other performers. When you’re on a cruise however, that’s not the case. I get to watch the other musicians and again, get to learn from them. It kind of builds this whole energy. And again, with the fans, you see them everyday, at the pool, when you’re eating, you see them having cocktails in the evening and you get to hear a lot of their (the fans) stories which are inspiring.
Smitty: Yes I agree. When you say that you get this different vibe about yourself, is it more of a loose atmosphere as far as improvisation? Or is it still, I’m going to do things the usual way? Is it more improvisational with that kind of atmosphere on a ship?
Euge: Yes, there are definitely song structures for me that I rigidly adhere to. With the form of the songs, I do a lot of stuff with computer. I take a pretty extensive computer rig along with me for the extra sounds. So form wise I’m pretty adhered down to that. But I find that when I get inspired, I go for different notes and different melodies during the solos when I get so inspired. So it’s always fun to be pushed to a new place.
Smitty: Oh yeah! Now that you have finished your tour with Joe Cocker, what’s coming up for Euge Groove?
Euge: Euge Groove is finishing up album number four.
Euge: And I’m absolutely thrilled to death about this. It finally feels right to me. You know we were talking about sitting down with blank music or a blank screen, and I started to write for the record after the Guitars and Saxes tour last October. That’s when I sat down and really started composing the songs for this new album. And maybe in six or eight weeks I’d written every song by myself. I’ve never done that before, and I don’t think I started out that way but everything just started coming out right. It was just an interesting experience; I did a lot of research into music that I really liked. I went back and dug out a lot of recordings that I really liked, and listened to it, tried to get into it and tried to analyze what I really liked about it. So that’s where this record is coming from. I’m excited. TJN: Nice. So we can look forward to that later this year?
Euge: Yes the end of the summer. TJN: Great. You’re with Narada now? How’s that going?
Euge: They’re great. A very artist friendly label. They’ve been supportive of every whim that I’ve had and very different from past labels. All in a very good way. Everything is better, sales wise I think they’ve done a superlative job. So I’m looking forward to a long relationship with these guys. TJN: Yeah they’ve got a great crew. I love those guys over at Narada.
Euge: Yes they do.
Smitty: Well Euge it’s always great to talk to you, and have you on as our guest. I certainly look forward to seeing you in November on the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise. Finish that record because we want to hear it! EG: We’ll be hitting it right away, I have another months worth of work to polish the record off and I’ll be delivering on time for an end of summer release.
Smitty: Sounds great, we’re looking forward to it. We’ve been talking with Narada jazz recording artist, Euge Groove. His latest record is called Livin’ Large, and he’s got a new record coming out at the end of the summer. Got to look out for that one. And we certainly look forward to seeing him on the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise out of Texas. Euge, big ups and keep it real.
Euge: Thanks Smitty, all the best.