Generating JazzTenor saxophonist Joe Lovano joins legendary pianist McCoy Tyner in the Samueli Theater, December 13 and 14
By Cristofer Gross
Jazz musicians are deeply respectful of tradition, and just as determined to break with it.
For nearly 40 years, tenor saxophone giant Joe Lovano has been honoring the past while ushering in the future by recording and touring with both established and emerging artists.
This year his cross-generational work has included teaching at Berklee College of Music, where he holds the Gary Burton Chair in Jazz Performance; touring with his Us Five band, which includes next generation superstars like bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Francisco Mela; and touring alongside Wayne Shorter's group to mark the celebrated saxophonist's 80th year.
To cap 2013, Lovano will share the Samueli Theater stage with the legendary McCoy Tyner on December 13 and 14, just days after the pianist turns 75. Tyner's trio will feature bassist Gerald Cannon and Mela.
The range of experience, talent and drive these four musicians bring, and the eras they represent, promise a truly unique evening of performance. Tyner continues to dazzle more than a half-century after he shot to the front ranks of jazz in 1960. In that year alone he was on the historic first recording of Benny Golson's "Killer Joe" as part of Golson's Jazztet, and then began a five-year run with the John Coltrane Quartet that produced Coltrane's famous recording of "My Favorite Things," the albums A Love Supreme and Crescent, and much more.
Tyner and Lovano performed at The Center in 1997 and 1998, respectively. The first time they played together was at Yoshi's in Oakland in 1999, in a quintet with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Jonathan Moffett and drummer Billy Higgins. In 2006, Lovano, Tyner, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts recorded McCoy Tyner Quartet, an album AllMusic calls "proof positive that Tyner's game is still very much on, and hovering at a very high level."
It was further proof that Lovano feeds on this convergence of many ages, cultures, styles, and experiences.
"At the same time I'm doing Us Five with Esperanza and Francisco and Otis Brown and James Weyman, I was playing with Hank Jones," he tells Revue from his home in upstate New York. "And the music, the energy, the ideas were all crossing into each other. When you play with older cats and very mature improvisers like Hank or McCoy, it fuels your ideas incredibly. You relax into the music you feel, you know? You realize you don't have to push, or rush to get to anything because it's all so happening.
"And then," Lovano says with a laugh, "the energy of the younger folks who are really hungry to play and are on the edge in another kind of way: that always adds something incredible to the whole mix."
Both Tyner and Lovano grew up surrounded by veteran jazz musicians. In Philadelphia, Tyner's mother let him use her beauty parlor for local jam sessions. So brilliant was the 15-year-old that the locals who showed up included pianist Bud Powell, a family neighbor, and Coltrane, who would have to wait until Tyner was 21 to have him in his quartet.
Fifteen years later in Cleveland, Lovano was playing with established professionals who were friends of his saxophonist father.
"As a teenager learning music, I was able to play with musicians in my dad's generation and that was a key element in developing," Lovano said. "Plus my dad had an amazing record collection, so I grew up listening to all the masters, McCoy Tyner among them.
"When I moved to New York and got the gig with the Woody Herman band, I was 23 and comfortable enough to give him what he needed, and in return he let me stretch out and develop in my way. So that cross-generational mix, of not only music but respect and love, is part of the development. When you're embraced by people that you aspire to, it builds your whole concepts and confidence."
Lovano has about 30 recordings as a leader, all on the Blue Note label, with two recent discs that honor past milestones by tapping new energies. Streams of Expression is his 2006 look at the Miles Davis-Gil Evans Birth of the Cool sessions, arranged for a tenor lead by his friend Gunther Schuller, who played French horn on the original 1957 dates. In 2011, Us Five explored the Charlie Parker songbook on Bird Songs.
Next year, he and trumpeter Dave Douglas continue to co-lead Sound Prints, and he and Spalding have formed a new collective quartet with Jack DeJohnette and Leo Genovese called Spring that begins touring in the spring.
"Growing up, under my dad's tutelage, I became comfortable as a teenager playing with older cats, while finding people in my generation to play music with, too," Lovano says. "Motown was big, and I was in all kinds of groups playing all kinds of music. And that foundation really stayed with me always."
Cristofer Gross is a frequent contributor to Center publications.
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