Joe Lovano Earns a DownBeat Triple Crown

By
Lesley Mahoney
August 30, 2010
Faculty member Joe Lovano '72 earns accolades from <em>DownBeat</em> magazine's annual critics poll, rating as best jazz artist overall, best tenor saxophonist, and best band.
Regina Carter, Lovano, and Lew Tabackin perform at a Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival event at Symphony Hall in 2007.
Lovano and fellow alumnus Branford Marsalis '80 perform at BeanTown.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

He rattles off the names of industry cats like old friends. And they are. Saxophonist Joe Lovano '72 has played with a who's-who of the jazz world, and continues to be inspired by the work of late greats as well as those on the scene today.

Lovano—Berklee's Gary Burton chair in Jazz Performance and a faculty member involved in the Berklee Global Jazz Institute—earned a "triple crown" distinction from DownBeat magazine, rating tops in the annual critics poll for best jazz artist overall, best tenor saxophonist, and best band.

Voters in the poll are free to choose any industry artists, groups, and albums rather than choose from a set list of candidates. According to editor Ed Enright, Lovano is among a few who have won three or four categories in a given year. "It didn't surprise me at all, knowing how good he is and how good [his group] Us Five is," says Enright.

Lovano accepts these accolades with humility, privileged to have been selected among his contemporaries.

"It's overwhelming," says Lovano during a phone interview while preparing for a trip to Edinburgh to perform with Tommy Smith '86 and Gunther Schuller. "It's quite an honor to be recognized in that light by international critics and international readers."

Lovano is continually inspired by his peers along with the "real giants" who have passed. "If we live in the library of sound and spirit, the music is always fresh. Losing Michael Brecker, for example—we're not in a room with him but his output and passion [prevail]."

Lovano wasn't the only one to garner the attention of critics. Alumni have placed 102 times in the poll. It's noteworthy that in the overall jazz artist/rising star category, 6 of the 11 are alumni: Anat Cohen, Esperanza Spalding, Lionel Loueke, Miguel Zenón, Christian Scott, and Julian Lage. Meanwhile, faculty member Greg Osby, student Grace Kelly, and staff member Matthias Lupri also rated. In addition, Lovano's band Us Five includes Spalding and former faculty member Francisco Mela.

"I'm really proud to kind of lead the pack," says Lovano. "So many cats have been through Berklee through the years and have made an amazing impact on the creative music world. There's a real gravitational pull to Berklee. It has to do with all the alumni who have gone through, great faculty, and the direction [president] Roger Brown is taking."

To Enright, Berklee's mark on the poll is telling. "It just goes to show you the quality of artists that Berklee is capable of producing," he says.

Kudos aside, for Lovano, it's really just all about the music. He sees jazz as an art that continues to evolve in interesting and dynamic ways, thanks to those making it. "Jazz has always been about the players," he says. "No one asked Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy, or Charlie Parker to play like that. Music comes from soul and life. If you can tell your personal story as you develop as a musician, that's what jazz is all about."