Joe Lovano is a post bop jazz saxophonist, alto clarinetist, flautist, and drummer who has been one of the world’s premiere tenor saxophone players since the 1980s. Lovano is a Grammy winner and has received several nods on Down Beat magazine’s critics’ and readers’ polls. He is married to jazz singer Judi Silvano.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Lovano was exposed throughout his early life to jazz by his father, Tony “Big T” Lovano. John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Stitt were among his earlier influences.
He developed further at Berklee College of Music where he studied under Herb Pomeroy and Gary Burton, then served a big band apprenticeship with Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd and the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.
Cleveland tenorman “Big T” Lovano was his son’s first inspiration, teaching him all the standards, how to lead a gig, pace a set, and be versatile enough to always find work.
Joe started on alto at age six and switched to tenor five years later. He attended Berklee before working with Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith. After three years with Woody Herman’s orchestra, Lovano moved to New York and began playing regularly with Mel Lewis’ Big Band. This influence is still present in his solos. He often plays lines that convey the rhythmic drive and punch of an entire horn section.
In the early ‘80s he began working in John Scofield’s quartet and a bass-less trio with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell. Steeped in the tradition of Ornette Coleman, Motian’s recordings show off Lovano’s avant-garde abilities.
Lovano has enduring musical partnerships with John Scofield and Paul Motian, having participated in some of their more noteworthy projects over the years. He is currently a jazz artist on the international level. His live work, specifically “Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard,” garnered a Down Beat “Jazz Album of the Year” award.
Other releases include Trio Fascination and 52nd Street Themes. In the late 1990s, he formed the Saxophone Summit with Dave Liebman and Michael Brecker (now deceased, replaced with Ravi Coltrane). He played the tenor saxophone on the critically acclaimed 2007 McCoy Tyner album Quartet. In 2006 Lovano released Streams Of Expression, a tribute to cool jazz and free jazz. He did this with the help of Gunther Schuller who contributed his “Birth Of The Cool Suite”.
Joe Lovano and Hank Jones released an album together in June 2007 entitled Kids. Lovano also currently leads his quartet with Berklee Faculty and students Esperanza Spalding, James Weidman, and Otis Brown.
Sound Observations with Joe Lovano
By David Moye
Joe Lovano is known as a sax player, but, at heart, he’s a storyteller.
At least that’s how he sees it.
“To play music, you have to have an approach,” he said. “You have to learn the technical details. All the things that allow you to put together a story.”
Lovano’s own story, which includes a stop at Anthology on April 27, actually begins before he was born.
Lovano is a second generation jazz musician. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952, he began playing alto saxophone as a child and his father, tenor saxophonist Tony “Big T” Lovano, schooled Lovano not only in the basics, but in dynamics and interpretation, but also regularly exposed him to live performances of international jazz artists such as Sonny Stitt, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
“I remember hearing him play things from an early age and, hanging around, you learn the names of people like Coleman Hawkins,” he said.
A prophetic infant photo of Lovano shows him cradled in his mother’s arms along with a saxophone.
“I just loved how the sound would vibrate,” he said.
Lovano learned his lessons well and by the time he was in college, he was playing with many of the guys who played with his dad, including Stan Getz.
And although he grew up influenced by the Beatles and James Brown, he kept looking back to the musicians of his Dad’s era for further inspiration.
Especially Charlie Parker, who inspired his newest album, “Bird Songs,” a collection of songs written or made famous by “Yardbird” himself that includes the work of 2010 Best New Artist Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding.
Although Parker’s influence has been constant since his debut in the mid-40s, Lovano believes Bird was so above most of the other musicians playing with him that it took a while for others to catch up.
“Most of the guys playing with him were used to swing or standards, and they weren’t always able to stretch out and explore,” Lovano said. “Guys like Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Thelonious Monk, they made music for listening, not dancing.”
As a result, a lot of bebop still remains complex and accessible to the average listener raised on, say, smooth jazz, but Lovano follows a code that he hopes allows newbies to enjoy his music as fervently as the faithful.
“If you speak clearly, people will understand what you say,” he said. “I want people to walk away from a show singing what I play.”