By David Moye
Joe Lovano is known as a sax player, but, at heart, he’s a storyteller.
At least that’s how he sees it.
“To play music, you have to have an approach,” he said. “You have to learn the technical details. All the things that allow you to put together a story.”
Lovano’s own story, which includes a stop at Anthology on April 27, actually begins before he was born.
Lovano is a second generation jazz musician. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952, he began playing alto saxophone as a child and his father, tenor saxophonist Tony “Big T” Lovano, schooled Lovano not only in the basics, but in dynamics and interpretation, but also regularly exposed him to live performances of international jazz artists such as Sonny Stitt, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
“I remember hearing him play things from an early age and, hanging around, you learn the names of people like Coleman Hawkins,” he said.
A prophetic infant photo of Lovano shows him cradled in his mother’s arms along with a saxophone.
“I just loved how the sound would vibrate,” he said.
Lovano learned his lessons well and by the time he was in college, he was playing with many of the guys who played with his dad, including Stan Getz.
And although he grew up influenced by the Beatles and James Brown, he kept looking back to the musicians of his Dad’s era for further inspiration.
Especially Charlie Parker, who inspired his newest album, “Bird Songs,” a collection of songs written or made famous by “Yardbird” himself that includes the work of 2010 Best New Artist Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding.
Although Parker’s influence has been constant since his debut in the mid-40s, Lovano believes Bird was so above most of the other musicians playing with him that it took a while for others to catch up.
“Most of the guys playing with him were used to swing or standards, and they weren’t always able to stretch out and explore,” Lovano said. “Guys like Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Thelonious Monk, they made music for listening, not dancing.”
As a result, a lot of bebop still remains complex and accessible to the average listener raised on, say, smooth jazz, but Lovano follows a code that he hopes allows newbies to enjoy his music as fervently as the faithful.
“If you speak clearly, people will understand what you say,” he said. “I want people to walk away from a show singing what I play.”