Fri 12/28-Sat 12/29
Jazz tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano is always on the lookout for the next groove, a new vibe and unexpected improvisation.
Such adventure finds the Cleveland native, who grew up in Euclid, returning home for a fun-packed holiday. Not only is the music legend getting ready to release his latest project Trio Tapestry, which features Cleveland drummer and longtime friend Carmen Castaldi, as well as pianist Marilyn Crispell, in January, but he’s also recording a pair of sold-out concerts December 28 and 29 at the BOP STOP at The Music Settlement. The performances are set to air next year on NPR’s Jazz Night In America.
Oh, if this wasn’t enough, Lovano will also be celebrating his birthday during his two-night stint.
CoolCleveland talked to Lovano from his upstate New York home about his new trio, his memories of Cleveland and his special birthday celebration.
CoolCleveland: Congrats on Trio Tapestry. How did the project come together with Carmen Castaldi and Marilyn Crispell?
Joe Lovano: Regarding Carmen, we grew up together. He came back to Cleveland area 15 years ago and since then we’ve been playing a lot. Carmen played with Marilyn once. She came to Cleveland and they did a duet about three or four years ago. They had a really nice communication and Carmen was on my Viva Caruso recording on Blue Note Records.
CC: The track on Trio Tapestry that I keep going back to is the laidback “Razzle Dazzle,” which in some ways belies its textbook expectation of something fast and over the top.
JL: There’s a club in Denver called Dazzle. I started writing that piece when we were playing there. So the vibrations in the club brought the razzle into the Dazzle. It’s about the expression and the subtleties and the attention to details that makes the music what it is. That has a real melodic flow and the melody stays with you the whole piece.
CC: That description also in many way also epitomizes your creative spirit.
JL: You know, in this particular setting, playing in a trio with Marilyn and Carmen, it was all about creating music within the music, trying to really feel what each other is playing and have the direction be free within that actual structure and form of the tune. So each time through it has a different kind of energy. Sometimes it’s where you play it in the set, and how you perceive each other’s vibrations. For me, the whole idea of improvising together is not just playing at the same time, it’s trying to play together and follow the sound.
CC: The Trio Tapestry liner notes describe the music as searching for “a spirit lake, an unpredictable smiling dog, the rare beauty of expression.” I love that description, as well as the album track “Smiling Dog,” which is obviously referencing the old Cleveland jazz club.
JL: The Smiling Dog, the energy in that place was incredible between 1970 and 1976. The Dog was on W. 25thStreet and it had originally been a Hell’s Angels kind of a place in the front. The back was an old bowling alley turned into a music venue. Weather Report played one of their first gigs in there. It had all kinds of music. I played in a bunch of different groups there. It had all of these local cats playing opposite everybody. It was wild. During the mixing and matching sessions for the new album, that title came up with the energy of that piece. It was maybe 1975, right before I moved to New York City. I was like 21 or 22, and my quartet — with Carmen on drums — played opposite Elvin Jones. That piece is inspired by that moment.
CC: I love how the Smiling Dog over the decades has become its own aesthetic or mind space for you.
JL: Well, yeah, it’s definitely part of my roots and inspiration for a lot of music I’ve been a part of since that period.
CC: Regarding NPR recording the upcoming concerts, how did that come about?
JL: About a year and a half ago, I played in Washington D.C. with McCoy Tyner. I was approached by some folks from NPR wanting to do something with me. I thought we could do it in Cleveland at the Bop Stop and turn it into a real historical event in my life and for the cats in Cleveland. They loved the idea and it kind of snowballed into a crazy two nights.
CC: How special is it to return home for these shows?
JL: You never know what’s going to happen. I’ve had a really amazing career through the years playing with some of the real true masters. All different generations. That was always the key thing to me. When I was 15, my dad was one of the leading saxophone players around Cleveland. All my lessons were about learning how to play music and how to play for people and developing a repertoire. Sitting in with his group at that age gave me the confidence to play with some older cats that were really active players like Eddie Baccus, Ernie Krivda, Ron Busch, Val Kent, Greg Bandy. They’re going to play with me on the second night at the Bop Stop. Those personalities and musicians from Cleveland always inspired me to try to develop and be myself and feed off their inspirations.
CC: And, you’re celebrating your birthday.
JL: These will be my last notes of 65 on December 28 and my first note of 66 on Dec. 29. It’s kind of crazy. I’m thrilled it’s going to happen in Cleveland.