Joe Lovano

Photo © Jimmy Katz

2013 Monterey Jazz Festival Artist-In-Residence. This program is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the greatest musicians in jazz history,” GRAMMY Award-winning saxophone giant Joe Lovano has distinguished himself for over three decades as a prescient and path finding force in the arena of creative music. The secret to Lovano’s success is his fearless ability to push the conceptual and thematic choices he has made in his quest to find new modes of artistic expression within the jazz idiom.

Lovano was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952, and began playing alto saxophone as a child. A prophetic infant photo of Lovano shows him cradled in his mother’s arms along with a saxophone. His father, tenor saxophonist Tony “Big T” Lovano, schooled Lovano not only in the basics, but in dynamics and interpretation, and regularly exposed him to live performances of international jazz artists 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. Lovano’s early professional gigs were as a sideman with organists Lonnie Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and a three-year tour with the Woody Herman Thundering Herd from 1976 to 1979.

After leaving Herman’s band, Lovano settled in New York City where he eventually joined the Mel Lewis Orchestra for its regular Monday night concert at the Village Vanguard, playing from 1980 to 1992 and recording six albums with the Orchestra. 

To this day, Lovano finds time for very special performances with the Vanguard band and recently paid tribute to Thad Jones with Thad’s brother Hank Jones, on the 2007 GRAMMY-nominated release, Kids: Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.

Lovano joined the Paul Motian band in 1981 and has since worked and collaborated with John Scofield, 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, Ornette Coleman, Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer and many more.

Lovano’s illustrious relationship with Blue Note Records began in 1991 and includes eight GRAMMY nominations with a win in the Best Large Ensemble category for 2000’s 52nd Street Themes.

Also in recent years, Lovano has spent a good deal of time collaborating, both in the studio and the concert hall, with two other premier tenor saxophonists of his generation--Dave Liebman and the late Michael Brecker in the collective Saxophone Summit. Their first release, Gathering of the Spirits, was released in 2004 on Telarc. After the untimely passing of Michael Brecker, Lovano and Liebman were joined by Ravi Coltrane on their acclaimed sophomore release, Seraphic Light.

In early 2008, Joe replaced Joshua Redman in the tenor saxophone chair of the touring and studio ensemble, the SFJAZZ Collective. Also in the Collective were trumpeter Dave Douglas, trombonist Robin Eubanks, and fellow Blue Note Recording Artist vibraphonist Stefon Harris. They joined Miguel Zenon, Renee Rosnes, Matt Penman and Eric Harland in this popular ensemble of some of today’s most exciting jazz players.

Lovano’s 2008 release and GRAMMY-nominated Symphonica placed him in front of the world-renowned WDR Big Band and WDR Rundfunke Orchestra performing some of the saxophonist’s most acclaimed and cherished compositions as arranged and conducted by Michael Abene.

Since 2009, Lovano’s main vehicle for his exploration has been Us Five, a dynamic young band—which features drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist James Weidman. The band’s most recent release, the GRAMMY-nominated Bird Songs (Lovano’s 22nd album for Blue Note Records) is an exploration of the Charlie Parker songbook that breaks the mold of Bird tribute records. In 2011, the JJA (Jazz Journalists Association) named Bird Songs Recording of the Year and named Us Five Small Ensemble of the Year. It was also the DownBeat Editor’s Pick for Album of the Year. Us Five’s debut recording, 2009’s Folk Art, was a wide-ranging set of Lovano’s original compositions that resulted in Us Five being awarded Best Small Ensemble of the Year at the 2010 JJA Jazz Awards and winning the Best Jazz Group of the Year category in the 2010 DownBeat Critics Poll. Lovano completed a double-triple of awards by also winning the JJA’s Musician and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year, and DownBeat’s Jazz Artist and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year.

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