Joe Lovano Moves on to the Next Chapter


One key figure he cites is guitarist Bill DeArango (1921–2005), who merged heroic chops and a linear conception refracted from close study of saxophonist Lester Young, then, during the 1950s, returned to Cleveland, where he opened a music store, gave lessons and gigged locally. Another is guitar icon and Cleveland native Jim Hall, who, as a high school student, played with trumpeter Carl Lovano (one of Joe’s uncles); hung out at the one-chair barbershop that Lovano’s father, Tony Lovano, a high-level tenor saxophonist, owned to supplement his income as a musician; and, during the ’90s, collaborated with Joe in the quartet Grand Slam.

“Joe comes out of the straightahead bebop tradition from his dad,” said Castaldi, who shared an apartment with Lovano in Boston when both attended Berklee in the early ’70s.

“When I met Joe, I went to his house and there were all these jazz records—Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, everything swinging,” Castaldi continued. “His dad was a hipster, a lot of fun. Joe knows all those tunes, and can tell great stories on standard song forms. That’s part of who he is. We played some bar gigs doing polkas with Joe and his dad and a great keyboard player named Ace Carter. But one time in my basement, we played totally free with the bass player in our trio, Bill Plavan. We didn’t know what we were doing. A few hours later, I listened to the tape with my headphones—it was like a composition. The guys came back that night, and we all went, ‘Wow.’

“There’s no real forwards or backwards with Joe. It’s just speaking in his voice with integrity and growing in that voice. He’s been investigating that since I met him.”

In the liner notes, Lovano also mentions Plavan and drummer Ron Browning, who played in a trio that Lovano organized in Cleveland after leaving Berklee to help support his family subsequent to his father suffering a heart attack. In 1975, Lovano convened a two-drum quartet with Browning and Castaldi to play a week at Cleveland’s Smiling Dog Saloon opposite Elvin Jones, who invited the saxophonist to sit in for most of his run, launching a long relationship. At other times, Lovano played in an opening-set house band with DeArango, saxophonist Ernie Krivda and drummer Skip Hadden (who played on the 1974 Weather Report LP, Mysterious Traveler).

While enrolled at Berklee, Lovano was influenced deeply by an advanced ensemble class taught by vibraphonist Gary Burton. (Fittingly, Lovano now holds the Gary Burton Chair in Jazz Performance at Berklee.) Under Burton’s ministrations, Lovano analyzed for the first time the music of Wayne Shorter, Steve Swallow, Carla Bley and Chick Corea. Lovano recalled that these were “tunes I’d heard before, but never really played, with different forms and deceptive resolutions in the harmony, more polychords, different rhythmic feelings within the music. That class opened me up to the future. My development within the music also coincided with what I heard then on ECM.”

Lovano referenced his absorption of Keith Jarrett’s ECM solo album Facing You, as well the pianist’s “American Quartet” dates on Impulse! with Motian, Haden and saxophonist Dewey Redman, and ECM albums like the classic Burton-and-Corea collaboration Crystal Silence and saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s early offerings.

“A lot of the music we did before we went to Boston was very commercial,”’ Lovano said. “[Later,] we were reaching for something more spiritual, a way to be expressive.”

Whereas Lovano often generated an album per year as a Blue Note leader, ECM typically issues an artist’s albums at longer intervals. Lovano sees this as an advantage: “I’ll have an opportunity to let the music that’s there have a life of its own without having to follow it up immediately. I want to create a body of work that I can present in a flowing manner. Being with ECM will allow me to concentrate more on composing and putting together different groups, and letting them happen in the divine timing we live in.”

Lovano has grand aspirations for the next chapter of his career. The Trio Tapestry band will be on the road in 2019, including a week in May at New York’s Village Vanguard. He hopes to document a March event during a four-night residency at San Francisco’s SFJAZZ Center, where the trio will play opposite another Lovano-led trio (with Frisell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey), and also combine as a quintet. Also at SFJAZZ, Lovano plans to revisit material from 1993’s Tenor Legacy, a two-tenor encounter with Joshua Redman. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, who played with Lovano and Dave Liebman for about a decade in the group Saxophone Summit, is set to join the mix in San Francisco as well.

The SFJAZZ residency also will feature a night of duets with pianist Chucho Valdés, with whom Lovano toured and recorded live at Birdland in late 2016. In April, Lovano will tour with the Spring Quartet—Leo Genovese on piano, Esperanza Spalding on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums—for the first time since the group formed in 2014. In the summer, he’ll play the European jazz festival circuit with Diana Krall, and in the fall, he’ll present a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert with Sorey and Andrew Cyrille on drums, John Patitucci on bass, Kenny Werner on piano and Liberty Ellman on guitar for more of what he described as “episodes, ideas and different ensemble combinations to shape a set of music.”

“It’s all about relationships,” Lovano said. “The future of music—and of new music—is about [assembling] combinations of people, and then trying to create compositions that take you places within that combination. It’s a blessing to be within this legacy of the music.” DB

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