Interview: Joe Lovano discusses his new CD “Bird Songs”

Interview: Joe Lovano discusses his new CD “Bird Songs”
By: Melissa Berry
January 20, 2011
  Bird Songs CD Release Date 01/11/2011

“the essence of performance is…say something the way you want to say it at that moment.” Joe Lovano, Jan. 20th ‘11
(Los Angeles, California)
Joe Lovano is one of those wonderful musicians who is not only musically astute and articulate but verbally articulate as well.  In a conversation recently, and it was a conversation, not an interview, Mr. Lovano proved to be very forthcoming about his new CD “Bird Songs” amongst other things, and a great conversationalist. We talked about everything from Charlie Parker (of course!), to a couple of Mr. Lovano’s new saxes one of which one is custom and premiered on this album, teaching and his Chair at Berklee College of Music and being an Associate Professor at NYU, and syncopation and swing.
            This first thing I just had to ask him about were the cuts on his new CD that are also on Charlie Parker’s album “Birdsong” which features Miles Davis. On the new album, Lovano and Us Five perform Parker classics, such as “Donna Lee,” “Moose The Mooche,” “Ko Ko”, “Barbados,” and “Yardbird Suite.” After listening to Lovano and Parker’s recordings done decades apart, the first question was about Parker’s dexterity and playing at such a blistering pace and Lovano’s more thoughtful and in-depth interpretation of the music.   Part of his answer to this was basically the difference in time and location historically.
Parker was the Swing Era and the location was the Swing ballroom with big bands.  People came to dance, syncopation and the drummers helped create the kind intensity required in a space this size. Then the jazz clubs started to happen. The location became more intimate as did the listening in these packed little rooms.
“Putting this recording together I kept wondering how Bird would have developed within these tunes, not just as the incredible soloist that he was but as an arranger and band leader. From what we know about him it is clear that he was into the world of music beyond so called Jazz and Be Bop and I’m sure we would have all been surprised at every turn in his approach just as we were with Miles, Coltrane, Sonny and Ornette, four of his most distinguished and celebrated disciples. At the young age of 34 Charlie Parker passed and left us with all of these questions about what would be. This recording is my humble attempt to answer some of those questions in my own way.”                              
Mr. Lovano’s “own way” also includes using two saxes that are unique to him and one to this album in particular. The debut of his custom mezzo-soprano sax is heard on “Loverman”. Made for him in Copenhagen by P. Jessen, the bottom notes have the quality of the top of an alto sax, while the top notes have to quality of the bottom notes of a soprano sax. The sound on “Loverman” has a tone timbre all its own. It has a certain fresh and youthful quality without the familiar overtones associated with the other two saxes.
Also on this album is the Aulochrome which looks like two soprano saxes joined side by side and can be played in tandem or separately depending on how the mouth piece is manipulated and being able to produce a chromatic scale moving from the lowest on one to the highest on the other.  On “Birdyard” it’s possible to hear Lovano play a duet with himself in an amazing muscial dialogue. Mr. Lovano explained to me that it really an ancient Greek instrument that started as a reed pipe and was used in original music.  He found they were being made in Brussels by Fabrizio in 2000 and has been including one ever since.
 With “Bird Songs” Mr. Lovano has made some already existing music his own.
There are the recurring motifs: “Moose the Mooche” with a taste of “I’ve Got Rhythm”, “Ko Ko” with some “Cherokee” setting the tone, “Barbados” with the original Afro-Cuban flavor, an extrapolated version of “Yardbird Suite”, and the recurring themes and ongoing threads throughout the album. It’s no wonder that the opening cut is “Passport”. Mr. Lovano’s “Bird Songs” gives us a jazz passport to the past, present and future with his very personal innovative musical understanding and creativity.
For more upcoming information about Joe Lovano just go to