Grammy Award winner and multi-Grammy Award–nominated saxophonist Joe Lovano is at the top of his game, including being selected as Best Tenor Saxophonist in this year’s 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll. He brings his Joe Lovano Universal Jazz Ensemble to the Appel Room on October 18–19 for two performances each night.
Lovano’s latest group features six instrumentalists from across the entire spectrum of jazz, each of them also a renowned composer and bandleader. Plus, just added on vocals is Judi Silvano, another of his frequent collaborators. All Music Guide called Lovano’s Universal Language album “an unabashedly adventurous and risky project [that] works frighteningly well” in its 4.5-star review.
“This band has roots in some previous ensembles that I’ve presented with some new music written for the occasion,” Lovano explains. “My record Universal Language on Blue Note would be an example of the sound, with voice and trumpet and myself as the frontline. We’ll feature Judi Silvano with vocalese and Graham Haynes on trumpet along with Liberty Ellman on guitar and Kenny Werner on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and a double drummer setup of Andrew Cyrille and Tyshawn Sorey.
“This time I’ve added guitar, plus Kenny on piano. We’ll have a full orchestral sound: brass, woodwinds, voice, strings, and percussion. Kenny and I go way back to when we first met in the early ‘70s and collaborated on quite a few projects together on his recordings and on a lot of my recordings. He was part of that Universal Language release on Blue Note Records. We have a lot of roots together with all of these folks in this band. Graham Haynes and Liberty Ellman and Tyshawn Sorey are more new folks in a certain circle of players that I’ve been developing over the years. We’ve been playing together frequently, and it’s going to be a beautiful exploration.”
Lovano was born Joseph Salvatore Lovano in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 29, 1952. He grew up in a musical family and began playing the alto saxophone at age five, switching to tenor several years later. His father, Tony, aka Big T, was a barber by day, a tenor player by night, and a big influence on Joe. “My dad was a fantastic saxophone player with a really deep passion for the music. I grew up with his record collection, and when I was a teenager he’d bring me around to rehearsals and jam sessions,” Joe explains.
Lovano has toured with Gunther Schuller, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Bobby Hutcherson, Dave Brubeck, Billy Higgins, Dave Holland, Ed Blackwell, Michel Petrucciani, Lee Konitz, Abbey Lincoln, Tom Harrell, McCoy Tyner, Jim Hall, and Bob Brookmeyer, among many others. He has released approximately 40 albums as a bandleader or co-bandleader.
“I love to play music and I love to play with different people. Through the years I’ve developed an approach that is all-encompassing, and sharing the embrace is always something I’ve strived for as a player. I had an amazing career through the years, being able to collaborate with all kinds of folks… the different multi-generational, multi-cultural folk that create music. That’s what jazz is about.”
In recent times, many of the Royal Guard of Jazz have passed on. Who will stand up to take their place? Joe answers, “That fact has been part of this music all the time, for each generation. There’s always folks like myself and younger folk that come up with the inspiration of the elders. After a minute, you realize you’re representing the amazing history of the folks on your instrument and just music in general. The more you live in the library of sound and spirits, the more you appreciate the cats who aren’t with us these days. But they are with us spiritually—and it’s in the library. It’s a very magical place. But you have to realize that we’re representing the history of the music all the time, and I really respect that. My compositions and the collaborations that I’ve created for myself kind of reflect that idea.”
Joe Lovano has been a longtime favorite at Jazz at Lincoln Center. His classic duo collaboration with the late, great Hank Jones in 2007 is entitled, Kids: Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. He’s also performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center with artists from Esperanza Spalding to John Scofield. “Joe is very sonically aware,” Scofield notes. “He thinks about the effect that different instruments and different personalities will have. His sense of swing and his tone reminded me of the older guys, in a really positive way.”
“Cool Joe,” as his friends refer to him, is excited to bring this latest group to Jazz at Lincoln Center. “You have to be ready to expect the unexpected! With ensembles like this, there’s going to be a lot of things from solo, unaccompanied moments to duets and full instrumentation. I’m really looking forward to being a part of diggin’ it!”
Always with a smile and a positive attitude, Cool Joe says, “I’m happy to be having two nights in the beautiful Appel Room to present this ensemble and to be a part of that organization—not only for New York but for the whole jazz world in general.”
Scott H. Thompson is an internationally publisher writer and jazz publicist.