Joe Lovano is a lucky man and he knows it. "Who would have imagined I'd start playing with Hank Jones when I turned 50, he told me recently after returning from a string of European gigs with the pianist. His respect and admiration for Hank serves as the catalyst for what is now a truly remarkable ongoing collaboration, most notably on the new Blue Note CD, Joyous Encounter.
In fact, Joe's eclectic seventeen Blue Note recordings bear witness to a number of noteworthy associations over his distinguished career, but this one is rather unique, bringing together two Jazz families.
Not surprisingly, Joe's recognition of the importance of his elders has always been a key component of his music. Joe's father, Tony "Big T Lovano played Jazz for his young son from the day he was born. Joe explains that "my dad was a fantastic saxophonist 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.
"Big T's brothers Carl and Nick were also musicians, playing trumpet and tenor. They gigged around Cleveland and raised their families with the same love of music as their brother Tony. So Joe Lovano grew up as part of family deeply committed to this music. He learned from his elders and remembers that "when I was first playing in public, my only goal was to be able with these cats.
Not only did Joe play with the cats from Cleveland, but his eclectic musical life has taken him all over the planet, gigging with the best musicians, and leading diverse groups that have established him as one of our most influential creators.
In 2002, tribal elder Hank Jones invited Joe to guest on several trio gigs. The following June, together with George Mraz and Paul Motian, under Joe's leadership as a Quartet, they recorded "I'm All For You, a ballad collection hailed as one of 2004's Top Ten. While touring last summer, they developed more of a repertoire and in September, they returned to the studio for Joyous Enconter.
Joe considers Hank "a national treasure. His playing inspires us to express ourselves as deeply as possible, that's why he's been associated with everyone from Miles Davis to Coleman Hawkins and Ella Fitzgerald to John Coltrane. He's been on the scene from the beginning.
"Hank turned 86 last July, before we recorded this CD and we had a big birthday celebration for him at the Caramoor Jazz Festival, where I serve as artistic director. The Quartet played and it was incredible the way different generations of musicians can come together in this music.
Two other members of the Jones family have also played an important role in Joe's musical life, Elvin and Thad. "Elvin had just passed right before our summer tour," Joe explains and Hank took Elvin's passing really deeply. They were very close, musically over the years. So we started playing 'Crescent, usually as an encore. On the CD, it sounds like an encore as well.
As a young man finding his place in this musical, John Coltrane's immortal "Crescent, which featured Elvin Jones, was a particularly important record for Joe. "I had a wonderful relationship with Elvin Jones, he explains. "I first sat in with him in 1973 at a club in Cleveland called the Smiling Dog Saloon. After that, I sat in with Elvin many times and started to sub in his band for Pat LaBarbara and Sonny Fortune though the 80s, around New York. I toured Europe with Elvin's Jazz Machine in 1987, right after my dad passed, and after Elvin lost Thad. In 1997, Elvin joined Dave Holland and I for my recording, 'Trio Fascination: Edition One.' So, here, we played 'Crescent' as a special dedication to Elvin and his amazing contribution to this music.
Although Joe never knew Thad, Hank's younger and Elvin's older brother, the music the trumpet/cornetist/composer/arranger created also touched him deeply. Thad wrote his first jazz arrangement at age 13 when he was a trumpet player in his uncle's band in his native Pontiac, Michigan, along with Hank and Elvin. In the 1940's he served in the army, led a band of his own, and played with other bands before joining the Count Basie band in 1954 and establishing himself as an important figure in this music. In 1965 Thad and drummer Mel Lewis formed their award-winning jazz orchestra and for the next 13 years this amazing band became an American jazz institution. Thad relocated to Copenhagen in 1979, where he spent his final years.
Joe played Thad's music nearly every Monday night for the eleven years he was part of the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and three of Thad's originals are included on "Joyous Encounter, "Don't Ever Leave Me, "A Child is Born, and "Quiet Lady.