PSU’s saxophone star, Nicole Glover, makes jazz look easy

Nicole Glover decided she had to play the saxophone after hearing jazz on her father’s car radio.

“My dad first started listening to jazz when I was only eight or nine; he discovered it,” Glover explained. “And then he would play it in the car and the house and I immediately took a liking to it. The earliest records that my dad had were records from [John] Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. I just fell in love with the sound of the tenor saxophone. And I was pretty sure that that’s what I wanted to do.”

Now, at the tender age of 22, the Portland State senior has already performed at the Jazz a Vannes festival in France and recorded with pop-jazz celebrity Esperanza Spalding.

Glover’s musical philosophy is to maintain an active ear. “I try to check out as much as I can,” she said.

While she is especially influenced by saxophonists Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, she also counts French composer Maurice Ravel as a main inspiration.

“His music moves me in a special kind of way that very few people do,” she said.

Glover’s current projects are just as diverse as her listening routine. She is a member of pianist-composer Barra Brown’s group, which incorporates elements of pop and folk in an improvisation-based music. She also plays with R&B legend Ural Thomas. In addition, she plays and writes for an avant-garde free-jazz trio with drums and guitar.

“I’m trying all sorts of stuff!” she said.

As one of only three recipients of the William Bradford Mersereau, Jr. Endowed Scholarship, Glover feels endlessly grateful. The scholarship, which was established by PSU music composition alumnus Brad Mersereau, is awarded to outstanding jazz instrumentalists and composers in their senior year.

“It’s just an amazing gift, a big help to push me through college, because I wasn’t sure I was going to finish at all,” Glover said.

She credits much of her recent success to PSU.

“[The school] has definitely helped put my name out there,” Glover said.

Glover feels that PSU’s jazz program is unique because of the amount of personal attention paid to students’ musical development.

“The educators in the program…are sincerely committed and motivated to help the students progress, grow into themselves and learn as much as they can. At some schools, it seems like teachers show up, do their thing and leave. I just feel like that’s something special that PSU has—that personal investment,” Glover said. “It’s more intimate.”
That close attention translates into deeper musical relationships between the students.

“There’s a community of people my age who really want to play, and I’ve made some very strong personal relationships with other PSU students that I learn a lot from. It’s not just learning from the teachers. Everyone learns from everyone,” Glover said.

PSU jazz professor Alan Jones said, “Nicole does every musical assignment with a sense of joy and wonder. She works consistently and very hard, but to the outside world that work appears effortless.”

The saxophonist has an exciting February planned. Activities include several appearances at the PDX Jazz Festival, including a performance with the quartet of New York pianist Helen Sung and an onstage interview with saxophone prodigy Grace Kelly. Future goals of Glover’s include developing a body of original music, recording her own album and touring internationally.

“I would love if music could be a catalyst for me being able to see the world,” Glover said.

More information about Nicole Glover at