"I was around a lot of beautiful energy as a kid. My dad was one of the leading modern jazz saxophonists in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Two of my uncles played sax—one of them also played clarinet—and another uncle played trumpet. My dad was my main influence and inspiration. Just hearing him practice in the house really got to me; his tone just vibrated the house. He was also my teacher, and I learned a lot of things by ear, because he would play for me and I'd have to repeat it back. We'd practice together, and there was a certain sense of how to blend with another saxophone player that was really instrumental in developing my approach."
"I learned about playing with people when I went to rehearsals with my dad at 15 or 16, hearing him play with different players and rhythm sections, like piano, bass, and drums, or trios with organs. I would also see them play song after song without music in front of them, and because I wanted to play with those guys—I wanted them to dig me—I tried to memorize the tunes they were playing. Once you retain the melodies, the whole process of playing variations is alive in your concept."
"In my own teaching, I reach back into all those early lessons about how to teach yourself, how to put it all together from the elements of the music, how to play within the interpretation of the melody, and how to play with people. When I say 'elements' I mean polyrhythmic structure and development, and harmonic sounds, colors, voices, and scales. It's the harmonic rhythm that the bass player and piano player are playing, and the polyrhythmic conception that the drummer is playing within that harmonic sequence."
"I do a lot of unaccompanied playing and try to get everybody to do that, as well. It's important to develop a solo unaccompanied approach—to learn a tune on your own on your instrument, not playing along with a record, but embracing your own sound. Every time I play, I want to have a joyous feeling when I embrace my horn. Because jazz, to me, is your personal expression on your instrument. Every time you play is a summation of where you've traveled as a player, and that comes out in your music. It's not how fast you can play this lick, or this pattern. It's developing an approach that lets you be free on your instrument to execute your personality within whatever kind of music it is."
- Honorary doctorate, Berklee College of Music
- 2000 Grammy winner for Best Large Ensemble, 52nd Street Themes; eight Grammy nominations
- 2000 Down Beat Readers Poll Album of the Year, Trio Fascination: Edition One
- 1999 JazzTimes Readers Poll Album of the Year, Trio Fascination: Edition One
- 1999 Bell Atlantic Jazz Awards winner, Best Tenor Saxophonist and nominee, Musician of the Year
- 1998 New York Jazz Awards nominee, Musician of the Year, Improviser of the Year, Best Tenor Saxophonist
- 1998 Jazz Journalists Association Critics Choice Awards nominee for Musician of the Year, Best Improviser of the Year, Best Artist/Band in Performance, Best Combo of 1997 (Joe Lovano Sextet), Best Tenor Saxophonist of the Year
- 1997 Grammy nominee, Best Instrumental Performance, Celebrating Sinatra
- 1997 Jazz Journalists Association Critics Choice Awards winner, Album of the Year, Quartets Live at the Vanguard, and nominee for Musician of the Year, Best Instrumentalist, Best Working Band (Joe Lovano Quartet)
- 1996 Grammy nominee, Best Jazz Small Group Album and Jazz Solo, Quartet Live at the Village Vanguard
- 1995 and 1996, Jazz Artist of the Year, Down Beat Critics Poll and Readers Poll
- 1994 Grammy nominee, Best Jazz Small Group Album, Tenor Legacy
- New recording, Symphonica, is all original compositions for full symphony and big band