Alumnus Dan Love is Spreading the Rhythm of Engineering and Jazz
’Round midnight, the band begins to find its pace, warming to the room’s acoustics. A trumpeter steps toward the edge of the stage and delivers an impassioned solo, the notes now intimately entangled, now isolated in staccato flashes. Drinking it all in with apparent delight, Dan Love (EE ’51) is in his element, playing host to a captivated audience at Steamers, Southern California’s premier jazz club.
Cool cat and jazz impresario may seem improbable roles for the nearly 80-year-old IIT alumnus, whose career in electrical engineering has earned him almost every honor the field affords, as well as taken him around the world. Such eclecticism seems to serve him well, however; he hasn’t missed a beat since earning his degree at IIT in 1951.
Love was born in Fall River, Mass., in 1928. The son of a career Navy man, he enjoyed a carefree childhood, describing himself as a somewhat indifferent high school student. There wasn’t much to do in the declining textile mill center, though every now and then someone exciting would blow into town, as when legendary performer Cab Calloway showed up to dazzle the locals.
Things changed around the time Love turned 15, when momentous events set his life on a more serious track. Love vividly recalls the occasion: “I was traveling to my aunt and uncle’s in Rhode Island when I heard the news on the car radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor,” he says. Love was apprehensive, as his father had already been called back into the Navy.
Three years later, with America’s war seething in the Pacific, he followed in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Navy. He left aboard an attack cargo craft, the USS Hydrus, passing in stages through Pearl Harbor and the Solomon Islands to Guadalcanal, where the ship anchored.
During landing operations on Okinawa, Love witnessed the notorious kamikaze pilots. Fortunately, he survived the ordeal, taking part a few months later in Operation Magic Carpet, the massive effort to return American troops to the United States at war’s end.
Returning to the States was tough at first. Dan found himself with few inspiring job prospects and decided it was time to get serious about his studies. At IIT, he found a mentor in one of his early professors, Eric T. B. Gross—a pioneering engineer and engineering educator—who saw great promise in the young man.
As Love’s adviser, Gross taught him the value of hard work and motivated his young disciple toward excellence. In return, Gross found a worthy and appreciative protégé in Love. “It was inspirational that someone was interested in me. He always encouraged me to do something enriching,” Love remembers.
It was during these formative school days, between lectures and cramming for math and physics exams, that Love was seriously drawn to jazz, a flirtation that soon turned into an abiding passion. “In the dorm, I was exposed to many cultures: Americans from many parts of the country and people from South America, Turkey, Africa, Europe, and Asia. I didn’t own a radio, but I heard others play music from jazz to classics to pop tunes. I often attended concerts in Grant Park.”
The improvisational daring and creativity of jazz offered a respite from the rigors of his engineering coursework and an occasional break from the engineering crowd, “a pretty straight-laced bunch,” Love recalls with a laugh. Whatever the case, he soon became immersed in the music of such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, and the Brazilian master Antonio Carlos Jobim, the prolific composer of “Girl From Ipanema” and other classics.
Love passed his affinity for jazz to his son Terence, who took up the tenor sax and would later open Steamers Jazz Club and Café in 1994. This regional oasis for musicians and aficionados alike—the L.A. Times praised, “Steamers hosts the who’s who of Los Angeles jazz”—eventually proved an irresistible attraction for Dan. He joined in the enterprise to help with logistics and, of course, to soak up all the free jazz.
Dan also hosts the popular Monday night event featuring big band music. Helping jazz lovers find the best seats to take in the evening’s sets and overseeing the business of running a successful club may seem a long way from Love’s early days as a study-worn engineering geek. Looking back, he recalls that after graduation, he found a job in a Chicago steel mill, where his intuitive talents in the field made an early impression.
Working in a roundhouse that serviced diesel locomotives, Love encountered one of his first real-life engineering conundrums. A compressor had been malfunctioning, and, as test engineer, he was asked to identify the problem. Easier said than done, as a number of senior members, including the shop foreman who’d been on the job 25 years, had applied their talents, to little avail. Love found a neglected schematic taped to the wall and recognized that the diagram didn’t match the compressor’s configuration: a resistor was missing, yielding improper starting current when he measured the circuit with an ammeter. Once the missing piece was inserted, the long-vexing problem was solved. Love prepared a paper on this engineering riddle for Power Magazine.
It was a nice break for a fresh grad. Love’s problem-solving talents grew as he migrated to the specialization of forensic engineering—an investigation of material failures or malfunctions, often involving criminal liability. Immersion in this then-unfamiliar discipline made Love an authority on engineering safety. Eventually, he applied his expertise to the oversight of fossil and nuclear power plants, work that would take him around the world, including an extended stint in Spain as an employee for Bechtel.
With his company, Love Consulting, Dan has conducted countless investigations. In addition to probing engineering complexities, the work often involves delicate legal maneuverings to assess responsibility. “It’s really a mind game to determine what happened,” he says.
Despite his semi-retirement, Love’s science affiliations haven’t been entirely replaced by the bohemian allure of the California jazz community. This summer, Love will act as a jury member for nominees to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Fellows program, the most coveted honor in the field. Love was made a fellow in 1987 and looks forward to the challenge of helping to select this year’s inductees. He is clearly proud of his standing among the field’s elite: “To become a fellow is to have made significant accomplishments and to be one of less than 0.1 percent selected annually for membership elevation.”
When queried on the career prospects for students contemplating the world of electrical engineering, Love’s enthusiasm was palpable. “There’s just so much activity in the field today, in communications, sensing, computers, entertainment, power….I wish I were young and just entering engineering now!” Should you need more inspiration than that, drop by the club when you’re in the neighborhood. Your host will give you an earful about the distinctive rewards of music and science and the gratification that comes from living a vibrant life (that is, if he finds a spare minute!).