JOE LOVANO : Following in the Big T’s Footsteps

Like father, like son--that’s Joe Lovano. Growing up in Cleveland with a tenor-saxophone-playing dad named Tony (Big T) Lovano, young Joe had an instrument in his hands by age 5.

Lovano, who honked out his first faltering notes under his father’s guidance three decades ago, is emerging as one of the most important tenor saxophonists of his generation.

After long stretches with the Woody Herman and Mel Lewis bands in the ‘70s, Lovano became one of New York City’s busiest jazz musicians in the ‘80s, working with Tom Harrell and John Scofield (he recently appeared with the guitarist at the Strand in Redondo Beach).

Lately, he’s begun to shed the sideman image, making some striking recordings on his own--including the soon-to-be released “From the Soul” on Blue Note.


But none of it, he feels, would have happened without the counsel of Big T.

“My dad was a really open cat,” Lovano explained. “He played out of the style of Illinois Jacquet and Gene Ammons. But his ears were open. He had Ornette Coleman records and Miles and Coltrane. He even had Archie Shepp, and he liked Pharoah Sanders a lot. But he never told me what to listen to. He just let me discover stuff.”

Lovano’s own style is drawn from many eras of jazz tenor saxophone playing.

Coursing through his solos are the slipping and sliding of Lester Young, the rich harmonies of Coleman Hawkins, the boppish convolutions of Dexter Gordon and the avant-gardisms of Ornette Coleman. It’s a potentially confusing blend but one brought together by Lovano’s solid grounding in fundamentals.


“When I’m improvising, I don’t just want to play what I know,” he said. “I want to play the unknown, and I want to find out what everybody else around me knows, as well. That’s what real improvising is.”

Lovano follows another of his father’s adages--don’t just listen to saxophonists. “My dad taught me to study what the drummer plays, study what the bass player plays,” he recalled. “That taught me a lot about how to play the saxophone.”

Big T Lovano died a few years ago, but not before he had a chance to make a recording (“Hometown Sessions”) with his gifted offspring.

“I moved in a different direction from my dad’s style, but in one way we’ll always be the same,” Lovano said. “He told me there’d always be room for honest music. And, bottom line, that’s all I really ever want to be--an honest musician.”