Grammy Award-winning saxophone giant Joe Lovano has distinguished himself for some three
decades as a prescient and path-finding force in the arena of creative music. The secret to
his 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.
Since 2009, Lovano's main vehicle for this exploration has been Us Five. The band's most
recent release-Bird Songs- is Lovano's 22nd album for Blue Note Records and also
marks his 20th year with the label. While Bird Songs is an exploration of the
Charlie "Bird" Parker songbook, it breaks the mold of tribute records. At the 2011 Jazz
Journalists Association Jazz Awards, Bird Songs was named Recording of the Year
and earned Us Five recognition as the Best Small Ensemble of the Year. It was also the
DownBeat Editors' 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 earned the
quintet the 2010 JJA Jazz Award for Best Small Ensemble of the Year in addition to being
named the Best Jazz Group of the Year in the 2010 DownBeat Critics Poll. Lovano
was also named JJA's Musician and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year, and DownBeat's
Jazz Artist and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year.
Lovano was born in Cleveland and began playing alto saxophone as a child. A prophetic
photo of Lovano as an infant 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 also 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, Lovano attended the famed Berklee College of Music in
Boston. His 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,
performing from 1980 to 1992 and recording six albums with the ensemble.
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 others. His
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
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. After the untimely
passing of Brecker, Lovano and Liebman were joined by Ravi Coltrane.
In early 2008, Lovano replaced Joshua Redman in the tenor saxophone chair of the touring
and studio ensemble, SFJazz Collective.