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Joe Lovano, Saxophonist
Joe Lovano began playing alto sax as a child in his birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio; a prophetic early family photo shows the infant Lovano cradled in his mother's arms along with a sax. His father, tenor saxophonist Tony "Big T" Lovano, schooled him not only in the basics but also in dynamics and interpretation, and regularly exposed him to jazz artists traveling through such as Sonny Stitt, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, and Rasaahn Roland Kirk. While still a teenager, he immersed himself in the jam-session culture of Cleveland where organ trios were common and Texas tenor throw-downs a rite of passage. In high school, he began to absorb the free jazz experiments of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Jimmy Giuffre, and was greatly affected by the interaction which occurred between the musicians.
After high school he attended the famed Berklee School 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, Lovano was given the prestigious "Distinguished Alumni Award" from Berklee.
Lovano's first professional job after Berklee was, not surprising given his roots, with organist Lonnie Smith, which brought him to New York for his recording debut, followed by a stint with Brother Jack McDuff. This segued into a three year tour with the Woody Herman Thundering Herd from 1976 to 1979, culminating in The 40th Anniversary Concert at Carnegie Hall, which also featured Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Flip Phillips, and Al Cohn.
After leaving the Herman Herd, Lovano settled in New York City where he continues to live. His early years were filled with jam sessions and rent gigs, but eventually he joined the Mel Lewis Orchestra for its regular Monday night concert at the Village Vanguard, playing from 1990 to 1992 and recording six albums with the Orchestra. In addition, he worked with Elvin Jones, Carla Bley, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, and Bob Brookmeyer, among others, eventually joining the modern drummer Paul Motion's band in 1981.
Beginning in 1991 with his first engagement as a leader (at the Village Vanguard), Lovano experimented with different ensembles, which reflect his searching and dynamic personality. As much a composer as player, he constantly seeks new ways to express his muse. His second Blue Note album Universal Language features the soprano voice of Judi Silvano, trumpeter Tim Hagans, and pianist Kenny Werner. His next album, the 1994 release Tenor Legacy, features tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, and received wide critical acclaim, culminating in a Grammy nomination for "Best Jazz Small Group Recording."
In all, Lovano has over 25 recordings under his leadership, including Joyous Encounter (2005) with the late, great Hank Jones, and his most recent, Folk Art, featuring his group, US Five, featuring pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, and Lovano on saxophones.