From his Grammy-nominated symphonic work to his role as Gary Burton Chair of Jazz Performance at Berklee College of Music, Joe Lovano fearlessly challenges and pushes his conceptual and thematic ventures in a quest for new modes of artistic expression and new ways to define the jazz idiom. In 2014 Lovano won awards for Multi-reeds Player and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year from the Jazz Journalists Association and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year from Down Beat Magazine. He has released 23 celebrated albums on the Blue Note label; with the last three focusing on his quintet, Us Five.
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.
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.
In recent years, Lovano has spent a good deal of time collaborating with two other premier tenor saxophonists of his generation – Dave Liebman and the late Michael Brecker in the collective Saxophone Summit. In 2008, Joe assumed 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.
As Ben Ratliff opined in The New York Times, “It’s fair to say that [Lovano’s] one of the greatest musicians in jazz history.”
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