Joe Lovano

You might think by glancing over the list of accolades (Grammy awards and nominations, multiple Down Beat Critic’s and Reader’s Poll Tenor Saxophonist Of The Year awards, and on and on) garnered by saxophonist/composer Joe Lovano, that this renowned musician has found a tried-and-true formula for success, and that he has. Unlike lesser artists who will take what seems to work for them and keep coming back with more of the same, the secret to Lovano’s success is his fearless ability to always challenge and push the conceptual and thematic choices he makes in a quest for new modes of artistic expression and new takes on what defines the jazz idiom.

Joe Lovano was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952, and began playing alto sax as a child. A prophetic early family photo is of the infant Joe cradled in his mother’s arms along with a sax. His father, tenor saxophonist Tony “Big T” Lovano, schooled Joe not only in the basics but in dynamics and interpretation, and regularly exposed him to jazz artists traveling through such as Sonny Stitt, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Upon graduation from high school he attended the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston where he met and began playing with such future collaborators as John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Kenny Werner. He had been searching for a way to incorporate the fire and spirituality of late-period John Coltrane into more traditional settings. At Berklee he discovered modal harmony: “My training was all be-bop, and suddenly there were these open forms with deceptive resolutions. That turned me on, the combination of that sound and what I came in there with. I knew what I wanted to work on after that.” In 1994 Joe was given the prestigious “Distinguished Alumni Award” from Berklee and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1998. Berklee also awarded Joe the first “Gary Burton Chair for Jazz Performance” in 2001.

In the more than 30 years since his days at Berklee, Joe has performed and recorded with a Who’s Who of contemporary jazz artists. From his first professional gigs in the 70’s with Lonnie Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and the Woody Herman Thundering Herd; through his work in the 80’s with Paul Motian, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins, Dave Holland, Ed Blackwell, Michel Petrucciani, Lee Konitz, Abbey Lincoln, Tom Harrell, McCoy Tyner, Jim Hall, and Bob Brookmeyer; and into the 90’s and the new millenium when he has leapt to the forefront as a band-leader himself, bringing in collaborators young and old, such as John Abercrombie, Ed Blackwell, Tim Hagans, Joshua Redman, Mulgrew Miller, Christian McBride, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Elvin Jones, Dave Douglas, Hank Jones, Dave Liebman, and Michael Brecker.

His first high-profile gig that brought him national attention was with guitarist John Scofield’s Quartet, with whom he recorded and toured for three years in the early 90’s. Of his playing Scofield says, “He’s very sonically aware – he thinks about the effect different instruments and different personalities will have. He was perfect for what I was doing – his sense of swing and his tone reminded me of the older guys, in a really positive way.” Now it’s 2008, and these two old friends are back in the spotlight with the latest version of the John Scofield and Joe Lovano Quartet.

“It’s fair to say that he’s one of the greatest musicians in jazz history.”
-Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

“Move over Pavarotti, the greatest Italian tenor around today isn’t Luciano, but Lovano.”
-Will Friedwald, The Village Voice

“Lovano . . .fully justifies the growing view of him as an important, world-class jazz talent.”
Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times

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