About a year and a half ago, the folks at National Public Radio approached saxophonist Joe Lovano about participating in their Jazz Night in America Recording Sessions, a program that features live performances by jazz luminaries like Lovano.
“I have worked with them in the past, but they wanted to do something new with me,” says Lovano in a recent phone interview. “I thought about it for a minute and told them I maybe wanted to do something with them in Cleveland and not just with my New York band. I wanted to put together a group with some of my mentors.”
As a result, Jazz Night in America will be on hand next week when Lovano performs on Friday, Dec. 28, and Saturday, Dec. 29, at the Bop Stop.
Currently based out of New York, Lovano has fond memories of growing up in Cleveland. His father, a popular player on the local scene who played alongside jazz icons such as Stan Getz, showed him the ropes.
“It was really fun to be a part of the musical landscape in Cleveland as a kid,” says Lovano. “My dad was one of the major players in town on saxophone. I grew up around his whole passion and record collection and hearing him practicing and rehearsing with groups. By the time I was a teenager, I was beginning to learn the repertoire of what I heard him play. In my mid-teens, I got to sit in and play with musicians from my dad’s generation. That was my lesson.”
Lovano says Cleveland had a particularly vibrant scene even though the club scene had changed since the late ’60s when many of the older venues had closed.
“In the early '70s, there was a big scene going on,” he says. “I had the chance to play opposite a lot of people at the [now-shuttered] Smiling Dog. I played opposite Lonnie Smith in 1974 and I went on the road with Brother Jack McDuff after playing with him at the Dog. I first sat in with Elvin Jones in 1975 and had a relationship with him through the years. I played with him and he recorded with me on one of my major releases on Blue Note. That was all a springboard to things I would do in the future. The Cleveland scene for me was really rich and beautiful.”
Lovano’s forthcoming album, Trio Tapestry
, introduces a new group with pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi. It’s his first as a leader for the label. Dedicated to the Cleveland musicians who inspired him, it features 11 new compositions that Lovano says represent “some of the most intimate and personal music I’ve recorded so far.” A meditative number that finds a gentle piano melody mixing with an evocative saxophone solo, the album’s single, “Seeds of Change,” possesses a unique beauty.
A methodology Lovano learned via composer Gunter Schuller informs many of the songs.
“We want to play in a beautiful, peaceful environment,” says Lovano. “We wanted to create something that wasn’t aggressive and bombastic. We wanted to follow the sound of each other’s ideas. I tried to write compositions that gave way to those things.”
Castaldi, who now lives in Cleveland, has played with Lovano since their teenage years in Cleveland, and the two even moved to Boston together to attend Berklee College of Music in 1971.
“At the time I moved to New York, Carmen moved to the West Coast with a group of musicians," says Lovano. "During my travels, I was always going out to the West Coast, and we would play and see each other. Even though we didn’t play together as often as we would have if Carmen came to New York, we kept in touch and lived in a similar inspired world of jazz.”
Given all the Cleveland connections involved, Lovano says he’s particularly excited about his two upcoming shows at the Bop Stop.
“This journey has been amazing,” he says, adding that he’s not sure when the program will actually air on NPR. “I just try to be in the moment of now all the time. It’s been a rich, beautiful life. NPR will record both nights, and there will be interviews and segments featuring me speaking about Cleveland and my relationships with folks. Somehow, we’ll put it all together in one show. The post-production will be challenging, that's for sure.”
Joe Lovano, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28 and Saturday, Dec. 29, Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave., 216- 771 – 6551, musicsettlement.org. Sold out.