In His own words – Kent Grover

Musician First Class Matthew Tremel • America's MusiciansAugust 2022 • August 2, 2022

U.S. Navy Musician 2nd Class Kent Grover, assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), plays the saxophone during a concert at the National Conservatory of Music in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Oct. 17, 2019. Comfort is working with health and government partners in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean to provide care on the ship and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems, including those strained by an increase in cross-border migrants. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Bobby J Siens)

On July 6, 2022, at an elementary school in Libreville, Gabon, Musician First Class Kent Grover added another country to the list of places he has performed with the U.S. Navy fleet bands.  Gabon is country number 37 for Grover, who joined the U.S. Navy as a musician in 2016.  

KG: I come from a musically active family. My mom studied clarinet throughout college. Growing up, my siblings and I each played instruments, sang in a local choir, and took piano lessons. I always knew I would play a band instrument, but it wasn’t until I was in high school and met Eric Skidmore, a local band director, that I really fell in love with the saxophone. 

Eric had a huge sound and I remember the excitement I felt the first time I heard him play. I never knew the saxophone could sound like that! Shortly after that first meeting, I started taking weekly private lessons with Eric. One of the best things Eric shared with me was his music collection. Each week, he would send me home with a different CD to check out. He introduced me to Charlie Parker, Eugene Rousseau, Stan Getz, David Sanborn, John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, and so many other great saxophonists. Eric’s excitement over those recordings was contagious. It was through my lessons with him and listening to those recordings that I learned how music could truly be a medium for expression on a deep and meaningful level. That changed my life.

After graduating high school, Grover attended Brigham Young University-Idaho where he earned a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies.  As an undergraduate, Grover had three classical saxophone works commissioned, including one by composer Aaron Pike. Grover continued his education by attending Brigham Young University where he earned a master’s degree in saxophone performance.  

KG: One of my closest mentors was my undergrad saxophone professor, Dr. Mark Watkins. I remember coming home from classes one day and complaining to my wife about how I felt like my quality of work never seemed to please Dr. Watkins. After some deep reflection, I realized that in some aspects of school I hadn’t really been “giving it my all.” Dr. Watkins wasn’t trying to pick on me, rather, Mark had the courage to demand the best out of me. He saw potential in me that I wasn’t accessing. He helped me raise my own standards, both in music and in life, to a higher plane. He held me accountable to giving the best efforts that I could. He helped me shed the amateur mind set of “good enough” and strive for delivering a professional product in all that I do. 

Mark was so genuine to me, as well. I came to know without a doubt that he cared about me and wanted more than anything to see me succeed. I could feel that he believed in me and that made me believe in myself. It would have been easy for him to overlook my weaknesses and flatter my ego with undeserved praise, but instead he cared enough about my success that he refused to let me skate by with subpar performance. Mark helped me confront my weaknesses and together we worked at turning them into strengths. Mark didn’t just teach me the saxophone- he taught me to strive to be the best version of myself that I could be.

In 2016 Grover auditioned and won a position with the U.S. Navy fleet bands. After attending recruit training and the Naval School of Music, Grover was assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces Band in Norfolk, Virginia.  

KG: I joined the Navy because I wanted to see the world and play the saxophone full time for a living. It has been an incredible ride so far. I have been to 37 different countries, performed for presidents, prime ministers, dignitaries, celebrities, and millions of audience members. Whether it’s playing on live TV, teaching master classes at a local school, or supporting a community event, I love that I get to serve my country by playing music. 

One of the most powerful experiences I have had was sharing the stage with local musicians in Peru. We had never met each other before that day, and we didn’t even speak the same language, but performing music together tore down all barriers and connected us. It was that day when I first saw in action how music truly is the universal language.

Grover is currently a member of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa Band in Naples, Italy.  He is working on his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Boston University where he is researching the theory of work adjustment and how collegiate musicians who enlist in the U.S. Navy expand their identities to include musician and sailor.

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