Since he emerged as a solo artist with his 1991 album Landmarks, tenor saxophone player Joe Lovano has grown increasingly more bold and ambitious in his explorations of modern jazz. Playing with his own Lovano Quartet at such venues as the Village Vanguard in New York City and touring the United States in late 1993, the longtime sideman has stepped out of the background to develop a style of his own. “Lovano’s sound on tenor sax, especially—but on alto, soprano, flute, and the clarinet family, too—has quietly become a keynote of the 90s,” Howard Mandel wrote in Down Beat.
Lovano’s sound responds to the history of modern jazz and, drawing on his unique experiences, expands it. He grew up with the music of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Art Blakey, and from the 1970s into the 1990s he played with jazz artists Woody Herman, Mel Lewis and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Paul Motian, John Scofield, and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.
Lovano finally left the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Scofield’s quartet in late 1992 to focus on his own music. “To be an honest musician, you play from your history,” Lovano told Down Beat’s Mandel. “Of course, we play from the history of the music around us, too. But your history, what you experience, is what really comes out if you can get deep inside yourself, the music and the personalities of the people you play with.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 29, 1952, to tenor sax jazzman Anthony “Big T” Lovano, Joe received exposure to modern jazz at an early age. The young Lovano experienced the music of local jazz players as well as some of the pioneers of free jazz, a movement away from the dominant jazz style of the mid-1950s. Jazz artists that Lovano could not hear live could be found in his father’s extensive jazz record collection. As a result of this exposure, Lovano gained enough expertise to tour while still a teenager, playing on the local club circuit opposite such leading Cleveland figures as drummer Elvin Jones and saxophonist Stan Getz.
Throughout his career, Lovano would remember the excitement of the 1960s jazz scene and strive to recreate it in his own playing. “That was a beautiful period for creative music, given the interplay among all the players in those different groups,” Lovano was quoted as saying in Down Beat. “Jazz is a very social music; it’s a lot about your contemporaries and how everybody feeds off each other. I know Coltrane played
For the Record…
Born December 29, 1952, in Cleveland, OH; son of Anthony “Big T” Lovano (tenor saxophonist); married Judi Silvano. Education: Studied with Gary Burton at Berklee College of Music, beginning in 1971.
Saxophonist and bandleader. Played tenor saxophone with Lonnie Liston Smith, mid-1970s; appeared on first recording, Smith’s Aphrodisiac for a Groove Merchant, 1974; toured with organist “Brother” Jack McDuff, mid- 1970s; moved to New York City and joined Woody Herman’s band, 1976-79; played with Mel Lewis and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, 1980-92; played with Paul Motian’s trio, mid-1980s; member of John Scofield’s quartet, 1989-93; joined Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, late 1980s; organized Wind Ensemble and Joe Lovano Quartet, 1989—; has toured U.S., Europe, Japan, Chile, and Hong Kong.
Addresses: Record company —Blue Note, 1370 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
how he did because of how Sonny was playing down the street. I really try to feel that now.”
In 1971 Lovano attended Berklee College of Music, where he met future music partners Bill Frisell and John Scofield. Three years later, in 1974, he made his first recording with Lonnie Liston Smith on Aphrodisiac for a Groove Merchant. After a brief spell working with Smith and another touring veteran, “Brother” Jack McDuff, Lovano moved to New York City in 1976 and joined the Woody Herman band. In 1980 he joined the big band of Mel Lewis and the following year teamed up with drummer Paul Motian. The late 1980s found Lovano touring Europe, where he recorded Worlds, a French album based on his tour de force performance at the 1989 Amiens International Jazz Festival.
Village Voice jazz critic Gary Giddins attributed Lovano’s stellar rise during the 1990s to his work with drummer Paul Motian rather than to Lovano’s first independent recordings. While Giddins complimented Village Rhythm, recorded on the Soul Note label in 1989, he lauded Lovano’s work on three previous albums by Motian: “I bet if those records had been released on a major label, not a reader of this page would be unfamiliar with them—they are that good.” Motian led tenor saxophonist Lovano, guitarist Bill Frisell, and bassist Charlie Haden for the recordings Misterioso, on Soul Note, and Monk in Motian and Paul Motian on Broadway Vol. 1, on JMT.
With the album Landmarks, released by Blue Note in 1991, Lovano debuted as a bandleader, composer, and arranger on a major U.S. label. Zan Stewart of the Los Angeles Times, referring to the album’ material, called Lovano “one of the major jazz players of the ’90s.… Nothing here is mundane.” Also reviewing Landmarks, Rolling Stone’s Steve Futterman described Lovano as “a dream player for the Nineties who mixes romance with risk.”
In the albums following Landmarks, Lovano articulated a still sharper style. “He just gets better and better, though he’ll have to go some to top this album’s ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Central Park West,’” a critic for Village Voice wrote in a review of Lovano’s From the Soul. Both From the Soul, on Blue Note, and Sounds of Joy, on Enja, were recorded in 1991 with the participation of the late drum master Ed Blackwell. On these albums, Lovano played tenor, soprano, and alto sax in addition to alto clarinet. “Sound of Joy is where I got deeper into who I am,” the musician told Bob Blumenthal of the Boston Globe.
Released by Blue Note in 1993, Universal Language was esteemed as Lovano’s “most intensely personal and adventurous undertaking to date” by Down Beat’s Bill Milkowski. Incorporating the vocals of soprano Judi Silvano—Lovano’s wife—with wordless voice lines circling tightly around his own themes, Lovano achieved “unusual voicings that the session sustains,” according to John Fordham of the Guardian. “Universal Language is by far the saxophonist’s boldest sweep idiomatically,” Fordham continued. For this album, Lovano played with the seven-piece Wind Ensemble that first appeared on Worlds. Milkowski concluded in Down Beat that “Lovano makes an evolutionary leap in his career with this remarkable album.”
When Tenor Legacy was released in 1994, critics acclaimed Lovano as possibly the most innovative tenor player around. “A sensitive ballad interpreter with a romantic streak, Joe Lovano is also a spirited, free-thinking improviser who loves to work the high wire without a net,” Milkowski wrote in Down Beat “He straddles the worlds of bebop and freebop more successfully than any other tenor player around today.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Stewart compared Lovano to jazz saxophone greats Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, observing, “There are many who think that Joe Lovano, with his incantatory blend of unbridled spontaneity and be-bop roots, is the jazz tenor innovator of our day.” Tenor Legacy also features the young jazz star Joshua Redman, top drummer Lewis Nash, and seasoned percussionist Don Alias, all of whom drew out Lovano’s best playing. Lovano’s distinct style on Tenor Legacy revealed the influence of Thelonious Monk and modern jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. The musicians who assembled to record Tenor Legacy formed a new band, the Joe Lovano Quartet. While Lovano’s Wind Ensemble anticipated a five-week tour of Europe in 1993, his new Lovano Quartet began a U.S. tour in the fall of the same year. In the Boston Globe, Lovano was quoted as describing the Quartet as “kind of an offshoot of the Wind Ensemble, but more intimate.”
Lovano has taken his music to international audiences and hopes to grow from that exposure. “This last year I’ve played in Chile, I’ve been in Europe a bunch of times, played all over Japan and Hong Kong. The different flavors of the countries and their people—if you let all that influence you, your music can go anywhere,” the jazzman explained in Down Beat. “That’s what Duke Ellington did, and look at all the beautiful music he gave us. To respect different cultures and let all peoples into your life to influence you is a rich thing—it filters in through my music, for sure. I don’t ever want to lose that.”
Tones, Shapes & Colors, Soul Note, 1986.
Village Rhythm, Soul Note, 1989.
(With Aldo Romano) Ten Tales, 1989.
Worlds, Label Bleu, 1990.
Landmarks, Blue Note, 1991.
From the Soul, Blue Note, 1992.
Sounds of Joy, Enja, 1992.
(With Paul Motian and Bill Frisell) Motian in Tokyo, JMT, 1992.
Universal Language, Blue Note, 1993.
Tenor Legacy, Blue Note, 1994.
(With John Scofield) Time on My Hands, Blue Note.
Such, David G., Avant-garde Jazz Musicians: Performing “Out There,” University of Iowa Press, 1993.
Atlanta Journal & Constitution, February 29, 1992; September 3, 1993.
Boston Globe, September 26, 1993.
Down Beat, March 1993; June 1993; June 1994; July 1994.
Guardian, July 16, 1993.
Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1991; March 27, 1994.
New York Times, March 10, 1994.
People, April 4, 1994.
Rolling Stone, September 5, 1991.
Village Voice, October 1, 1991; November 3, 1992.
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