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Steve Grossman, saxophonist picked by Miles Davis, dies at 69

Steve Grossman, a saxophonist who caught the jazz world’s attention at 18 when he was recruited by Miles Davis, died on Aug. 13 in Glen Cove, New York. He was 69.

His younger brother and only immediate survivor, Myles, said the cause was cardiac arrest.

Mr. Grossman was playing at the Village Gate in Manhattan in 1969, just a year after entering the Juilliard School, when Davis walked in. Mr. Grossman was virtually unknown at the time, but Davis — an astute judge of talent whose sidemen over the years included John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and other future stars — decided he wanted him in his band.


Mr. Grossman, who played tenor and soprano saxophone, joined at an opportune moment. Davis had recently finished recording the album “Bitches Brew,” a watershed in the fusion of jazz and rock, and his music was beginning to find a larger and younger audience.

He had big shoes to fill. He replaced Wayne Shorter, considered by many to be one of the greatest saxophonists and composers in jazz history, who had been with Davis since 1964 and left to form the band Weather Report with keyboardist Joe Zawinul.

Mr. Grossman’s work with Davis, both in concert and on records like “A Tribute to Jack Johnson,” impressed musicians and listeners alike.

After about a year with Davis, Mr. Grossman went to work with another high-profile bandleader: drummer Elvin Jones, best known for his long tenure with Coltrane. Mr. Grossman, who like most saxophonists of his generation was deeply influenced by Coltrane’s music, stayed with the group until 1976 — for much of that time alongside another Coltrane disciple, Dave Liebman — and soon became recognized as a leading light of the post-Coltrane school.

“He’s like the baby of the group,” Jones said in a 1971 interview. “He takes up where John Coltrane left off, but you just have to hear him to really appreciate the tremendous talent that he has.”


Mr. Grossman’s first album as a leader, “Some Shapes to Come,” on which he was backed by bassist Gene Perla, drummer Don Alias and keyboardist Jan Hammer, was released in 1974.

By the late 1970s, he was leading his own groups. Shortly after that he moved to Bologna and began performing at festivals around the world with various small groups, including Stone Alliance, a trio with Perla and Alias.

Steven Mark Grossman was born on Jan. 18, 1951, in Brooklyn. His mother, Rosalind (Lippman) Grossman, was an amateur pianist and jazz enthusiast. His father, Irving, worked as an executive at RCA in Manhattan and went on to become president of the audio equipment company KLH.

When Mr. Grossman was a teenager, his father accepted a new job with RCA and the family moved from Plainview, New York, on Long Island, to a suburb of Pittsburgh. Mr. Grossman, who had begun playing alto saxophone at 8, formed a quintet called the Uniques with his trumpet-playing older brother, Hal, who died in 2006. The group performed at the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival.

After five years in Pennsylvania, the family returned to Long Island. Mr. Grossman took private saxophone lessons with Joseph Allard, a teacher at Juilliard, while attending Bethpage High School, and Allard coordinated with the high school so Mr. Grossman could graduate early and begin his studies at Juilliard.


Later in life, Mr. Grossman mostly performed in Europe. He returned to Long Island a few years ago and stopped performing for health reasons.

Mr. Grossman released more than two dozen albums as a leader, many of them for the French label Dreyfus Jazz, and though he never became as well known as some of his contemporaries, he was held in high esteem by other musicians.

In a 2012 interview, his fellow saxophonist Liebman recalled his lasting impact. “He definitely had a way of playing that was unique,” Liebman said. “He was the best of all of us.”

In 2009, Mr. Grossman performed at Jazz Standard in Manhattan to enthusiastic crowds. It was his first New York appearance in nearly 15 years.

“It’s good to be back home,” he said one night as he left the stage.