"I'm going to be playing with the Ed Soph Trio down there," saxophonist Joe Lovano says from New York of his upcoming performance at the Dallas Museum of Art. "I haven't done that in a long time, go somewhere and play with some local guys. But I've known Ed for a while, and he's a beautiful musician. And we're going to have a good time."
The loquacious Lovano has been part of NYC's "downtown scene" since the mid-1970s. Lovano hooked up with Lonnie Smith's band and toured the country playing the chitlin' circuit before landing in New York in 1976. He then joined Woody Shaw's traveling band--"We came to Dallas quite a bit with Woody," Lovano notes--before he earned a spot in Mel Lewis' lineup for a weekly gig at the Village Vanguard, which kept Lovano's Monday nights occupied for the next decade.
During this time, he was also able to play with many different musicians and mature as a composer. "There was this whole avant-garde thing happening," Lovano says of NYC jazz in the 1980s, a decade that, at the time, seemed more rooted in a return to tradition than experimentation. "The scene was really busy. There were all these clubs that weren't the main clubs the way the Blue Note is now, but they were places to play with a lot of different musicians, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to keep playing with them over the years."
After a few albums on Soul Note, Lovano began his long association with Blue Note Records in 1990, a run that's yielded some of the stronger major-label jazz releases of the decade. His 11 albums with the label form a compact prism of Lovano's many interests. Last year's 52nd Street Themes revisits bebop with a stylish, contemporary flair, while his latest, Flights of Fancy: Trio Fascination, Vol 2 finds Lovano teaming up with a diverse trio of instrumentations and lineups to explore the different moods and textures a trio can muster. He hits it straight-ahead with his working trio of bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Idris Muhammad, but he also dips into eclectic combos with saxophonist Billy Drewes and drummer Joey Baron, harp blower Toots Thielemans' and pianist Kenny Werner, and the fiery, lyrical team of trumpeter Dave Douglas and bassist Mark Dresser.
And critics and his peers have taken note of his evolutions. Just last week, the Jazz Journalists Association named 52nd Street Themes album of the year and Lovano musician of the year, so Lovano will be coming into town on a high note. "We're probably going to play some stuff off 52nd Street and Flights," Lovano says. "You know, it'll be a mix of originals and solid classics."