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Joe Lovano’s Hometown Band Offers A Hero’s Welcome

Joe Lovano

If there were a Mount Rushmore of Cleveland jazz, maybe on the bluff overlooking the West Flats, who would be on it? Albert Ayler and Tadd Dameron for sure, and maybe Eddie Baccus, too. Joe Lovano is still very much with us, but it’s not too soon to reserve a place for him up there, too.

Lovano’s career accomplishments, including his tenure with Bill Frisell in Paul Motian’s enormously influential trio, loom so large that it’s easy to forget that the saxophonist’s first big gig was with the Woody Herman Orchestra.

Trombonist Scott Garlock, the executive director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra with whom Lovano will play two concerts this weekend, remembers.

“I saw them with a date when I was in high school,” Garlock remembered “It was a snowy night; there may have been 15 people in the audience.”  A few years later, he and some college friends caught the Herman band at Akron’s Carousel Dinner Theatre. “Before they played, my roommate [who] was one of the sax players, said, ‘You’ve got to hear this guy [Lovano]. He’s great.’ And I said, ‘Well they’re all going to be great. What are you talking about?’”

Cleveland Jazz OrchestraJust the same, Lovano’s playing made a deep impression on Garlock, though he hardly could have known at the time that the two would share a bandstand on perhaps half a dozen occasions in the CJO’s 38-year existence.

“These are always really intense and deep musical experiences,” Garlock said. ”Although I won’t be playing this weekend, they have been some of the most meaningful hours of music that I’ve experienced.”

Paramount among these for Garlock is the week at Birdland in New York City that was captured on The Surprise of Being: Live at Birdland (CJO, 2007). That recording contributed not only its title to this weekend’s pair of concerts, which are part of the CJO’s season theme of Hometown Heroes, but also much of its repertoire.

Reprising the Birdland program, Lovano and the CJO will play former CJO bassist Dave Morgan’s arrangements of “Looking Glass,” “Viva Caruso” “Moon Palace,”  and as a feature for vocalist Judi Silvano “Bougainvillea.” The Sinatra portion of the program will also include “Only the Lonely” and Paul Ferguson’s arrangement of “Fly Me to the Moon.”  As a bonus, the band will reprise “Resolution” from the Jim McNeely arrangement of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” that the CJO played with Lovano.

If working and hanging with Lovano over the years has brought Garlock close to the man and his music, he remains astounded by how the saxophonist does what he does.

“Every musician has a signature of sorts, just like every composer has a signature, right? His sound is a pretty unique tenor sound, but [his] ideas are just not cookie cutter,” Garlock said. “Those couple of weird twists that he has in the line, it’s astonishing to hear. Nobody else would have thought to have done that, and that’s what you hear with Joe. That’s how you know it’s Joe.”

“Coltrane, Sinatra, and the Surprise of Being” with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and Joe Lovano Friday, May 5, 7:30 p.m., Maltz Performing Arts Center, 1855 Ansel Rd., Cleveland, from $27.50 available here. Saturday, May 6, 7 p.m., C3-Creative Arts Collaborative Center, 133 Merriman Rd., Akron, from $10 available here.

Trading Fours

There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.

“Rewind & Play”
Sunday, May 7, 8:35 p.m.
Cleveland Cinématheque, 11610 Euclid Ave., Cleveland (tickets)

One of the most compelling music events of the coming weeks isn’t a music event at all. French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis’ film is generating a lot of buzz for the way it interrogates the veiled racism that followed American jazz musicians to Europe. But politics aside, the 65-minute documentary offers a rare opportunity to watch one of the great piano masters at work. And to listen.

“Jazz Is Love – The Music Of Mary Lou Williams” with Deanna Witkowski
Sunday, May 7, 3 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation Of Erie, 7180 Perry Hwy, Erie, Pa. (tickets)

Sure this is a little bit of love for my old hometown, but to be fair, there’s probably no one on earth who knows more about Mary Lou Williams than Deanna Witkowski. The success of her Williams biography, “Force of Nature” (it won the 2022 ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Book Award and 2022 Jazz Journalists Association Award for Biography of the Year) can obscure the fact that as a pianist, Witkowski too is a force of nature. Don’t let the eternal–and infernal–construction on I-90 keep you from this lec-dem.

Jamey Haddad with Sullivan Fortner, Kip Reed and Bobby Selvaggio
Tuesday, May 7, 7 p.m.
BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave. Cleveland, (tickets)

Someday, perhaps not in the distant future, a musician will tell a story about their student days at Oberlin student when they couldn’t make their scheduled gig at Bop Stop with their teacher, Jamey Haddad, and the ringers who were brought in to replace them were Sullivan Fortner, Kip Reed and Bobby Selvaggio. Someday, you might tell a story about how your were there to see it too. I know I will.

Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.

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