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Interviews

Joe Lovano: Inimitable Streams of Expression

By Published: February 28, 2012
AAJ: Talking about drummers, I read an interview where you said that Paul Motian once told you that you were playing behind the beat, because you weren't implying the changes before they arrived.

JL: Well that has to do with feeling the polyrhythms and anticipation, and not waiting for the harmonic rhythm to fall where it looks on the paper.



AAJ: So did Motian really influence you with his playing?

JL: With his playing, but he told me one time I was just behind the beat, and I was waiting for the harmony and then playing off the harmony. And he told me that, and right about that time was a big transition for me and I guess it was round 1980- '81. I was playing in a lot of different bands, doing a bunch of different things. I had been in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, I was experiencing a lot of different ways of improvising, and I sat in with Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
at the Village Vanguard with Mark Johnson and Joe LaBarbera
Joe LaBarbera
Joe LaBarbera
b.1948
drums
, and that was one of the first times I felt I was behind the chords.

Because Bill was comping, we played "Stella by Starlight," and he was ahead of me on every chord. He comped over the bar line, into the next phrase. And that was one of the first times I really felt, not of- center, but just not with it. At that period, I was still trying to play the saxophone or something, I'm not sure. It was at the beginning of starting to develop an approach about harmonic rhythm, and anticipating the changes, and using the chord I was in to go to the next chord, rather than play on the chord I was in. And playing with Paul and exploring the different ways of improvising through harmonies but in a free way, really opened up a lot of ideas.

AAJ: You explored free playing with pianist Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
b.1951
piano
when you were at Berklee. Can you tell me a little more about this and how it has influenced your voice today?

JL: Well you know when we first met we were way into all kinds of ways of improvising together. And playing standard songs and trying to play "famous" songs, of course, that's how I learnt how to play my horn. Playing with other cats. Up in Boston and back in Cleveland also, I was part of a group of people that played and improvised really freely, and tried to create the music spontaneously. We were influenced by Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
's music and the later period Coltrane. And also hearing Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, his quartet with Dewey Redman
Dewey Redman
Dewey Redman
b.1931
sax, tenor
, and Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
b.1937
bass, acoustic
, and Paul Motian.

So, I heard them in Boston in 1972, and I just wanted to figure out how to play with those cats. Because they were playing... they had all the roots and all the depth of everything I'd ever heard, plus they were playing in other ways, you know, communicating in another kind of way. But anyway, Kenny and I, and [saxophonist] Billy Drewes and a handful of us would play for hours and hours and hours and just improvise pieces of music. And not just crazy, free playing that was just energy. It was something different, you know. It was a certain period in free jazz where the approach was really to play with the same energy. We were coming at it from a more contemporary classical approach with a jazz feeling.

Kenny and I played a lot of duets together, for hours and hours and years and years. We played every day together for years. I mean, literally. From the early '70s and then in New York through the '80s into the '90s. I had a loft on 23rd for twenty year, from 1978 to '98, and every day there was something happening there. And Kenny had an amazing place in Brooklyn, on Bridge St, where every day, every night, we could play at his place. It was a separate building with a parking lot around it so we could play 24 hours a day. I would go to his place at 1:00 am and play all morning.

AAJ: You've mentioned so many influences and through your albums you cover numerous genres—historically you are coming from so many different angles. Do you think that has given you the tools to be an innovator?

JL: Well , I don't know. You're saying I'm an innovator—I'm trying to get myself together, but I think traveling a lot, experiencing playing with musicians in the multigenerational world that jazz is, and the multicultural world that we live in. Playing with players from North Africa and all over Europe, and the Orient—traveling to those places, collecting instruments, flutes, percussion instruments, gongs. I played a koto, I've had a koto since the first time I went to Hong Kong, around 1983 or '84, something like that. And just to sit and meditate on some tonalities, and things on different horns, that really influenced my writing and the things that I feel in music. So, my recordings reflect who I am and where I've been. They also project where I want to go. I think jazz is about your personal experiences, and the way they come out in your personal story. It has to be as wide as your scope about life and music and people. Playing with different people has definitely given me so many ideas and confidence about who I am, and your foundation is built on all of those things.


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