a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Story filed September 16, 1996
We have spent considerable time in our radio features and the Cleveland Jazz History book discussing the many native Cleveland musicians who have made significant contributions to the history of jazz -- pianist, arranger and composer Tadd Dameron; trumpeters Freddie Webster, Benny Bailey and Bill Hardman; guitarists Bill de Arango and Jim Hall -- and many others. But none of them can match what is happening today with another native Cleveland jazz artist.
Joe Lovano, a graduate of Euclid High School, the son of a longtime outstanding Cleveland area musician, a saxophonist who cut his musical teeth playing with Clevelanders in Cleveland jazz clubs, has been voted by Downbeat magazine’s panel of 89 outstanding jazz critics as "The Jazz Artist of the Year." He beat such standout jazz artists as Wynton Marsalis, Sonny Rollins and Keith Jarrett. It’s the second consecutive year that Lovano has received the highest honor in the world of jazz.
Not only was Lovano voted "Jazz Artist of the Year" for the second consecutive year, his group placed number four in the voting for Best Acoustic Jazz Group, he ranked number two in the competition among tenor saxophonists, and his album, Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard, ranked number four among all jazz albums.
All of this comes on the heels of Lovano’s 1995 honors: "Jazz Artist of the Year," voted by both the Downbeat panel of critics and by the magazine’s readers, number one among tenor saxophonists and Jazz Album of the Year, Rush Hour, with Gunther Schuller.
Just seven years ago, in 1989, Clevelander Lovano was virtually unknown on the world jazz stage. The Jazz Critics Poll that year ranked him ninth in the "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" category. How did he come so far so fast? In an article accompanying this year’s Jazz Artist of the Year ranking, Downbeat’s Thomas Conrad says, "The short answer is gratifying: sheer excellence still sells." Conrad writes, Lovano’s "recordings and his well-attended concerts present an instrumentalist of vast technical command whose interest encompass a broad spectrum of the art form and whose spirit continually pushes the creative envelope." He goes on to say, "The support for his stature is now all but universal. Young outcats love his fearlessness; middle-aged mainstreamers respect his impeccable fundamentals."
During the past year, the Cleveland native has toured and played almost non-stop. He went to Europe last fall, performed at New York’s Lincoln Center where he played a piece called "New York Fascination," which he was commissioned to compose, toured Japan with Cleveland guitarist Jim Hall (who used to play in Cleveland with Joey’s dad, Tony "Big T" Lovano), played at jazz festivals in San Francisco, Atlanta, Cleveland and Los Angeles.
To give you some idea of Lovano’s busy schedule, here is a rundown of where he played in one month this past summer: July 1 -- at the Montreal Jazz Festival, July 4 -- at the Iowa City Jazz Festival, July 5 -- at Ohio State University, July 6 -- in Chicago, July 9 -- in Zurich, July 10 -- in Copenhagen, July 12 -- in Paris, July 13 -- at the Hague, July 15 -- in Munich, and from July 16 to 31, 14 concerts in different cities in Italy, France and Spain. That’s a total of 20 concerts in the United States and Europe during the 31 days of the month of July.
The coming year promises to be just as hectic, including another new album scheduled for release by the end of this year. It has already been recorded and it contains Lovano’s readings of some of the standard songs associated with singer Frank Sinatra. Considering the broad appeal of the subject matter, it could very well become the biggest album yet for Lovano.
The Clevelander who grew up listening to his father practice at home, who played in the house band with Ernie Krivda at the Smilin’ Dog Saloon on West 25th Street, who went to Berklee in Boston, who toured with Woody Herman, who played in New York with the Mel Lewis Orchestra, and who has been recording for Blue Note since 1991 -- is now at the top of the jazz world.
Lovano has already achieved a position in jazz that none of his Cleveland predecessors ever reached, even such illustrious names as Tadd Dameron, Freddie Webster, Benny Bailey, Bill Hardman and Bill de Arango. A major part of not only Cleveland jazz history, but all jazz history, is now being written by the tenor saxophonist from Euclid.
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Copyright 1996 Joe Mosbrook
You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available from some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries, and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-397-9900).