On a rainy autumn Saturday night in Tarrytown, just a few blocks from Main Street, saxophone king Joe Lovano is wailing on his horn as if his life depended on it. Playing a set of both standards and originals with his quartet at the recently reopened Jazz Forum, the 68-year-old musician emanates the fiery grace that has defined his career and has doubled as a salve for the tenacious coronavirus pandemic.
The son of Cleveland sax-man Tony “Big T” Lovano, the younger Lovano started playing the saxophone by age 5 before accompanying his father at local gigs and later subbing for him. The Ohioan went on to the Berklee College of Music, where he formed lasting partnerships with such future jazz luminaries as guitarist John Scofield and drummer Joey Baron.
Lovano, who now lives just across the river, in New Windsor, NY, cherishes the vibrancy of the wider New York jazz scene and may just be the fiercest saxophonist of his generation. He has performed with countless music legends, including Chet Baker and Abbey Lincoln, and garnered a Grammy, among several other awards. But is an intangible that marks his endurance: his drive to get constantly better at his art, an ever-questing spirit.
“Every time you pick the horn up, you’re at a humble beginning on the instrument,” Lovano says backstage, between sets. “You don’t have to just blow and finger notes. You have to do something with your notes and create from within the music, so you’re always studying new ways of how to play.” Having released his latest album, Other Worlds, with trumpeter Dave Douglas in May, Lovano perpetually seeks the sublime in his music and mesmerizingly expresses it.
“Every time you pick the horn up, you’re at a humble beginning on the instrument.”
Performing alongside his bandmates in Tarrytown, including the exceptional Leo Genovese on piano, Lovano conveys a near seraphic sound that echoes A Love Supreme-era John Coltrane while glimpsing the kind of music he wants to craft ahead. A quintessential jazzman, Lovano makes time to close his set with the ballad “Star-Crossed Lovers,” his horn sailing to the moon as any worries fade away. “Living in the repertoire that you create in your lifetime is a joyous thing,” Lovano reflects. “I just want to develop new, fresh ideas within that repertoire and continue composing into the future.”
And we’ll be waiting.