Joe Lovano Talks Village Vanguard Anniversary

You’ve seen the pieces that are starting to pile up about the Vanguard’s 75th anniversary. Team Gordon has been doing a strong job of keeping their little slice of jazz heaven alive and well. From Leadbelly to The Bad Plus, the stage has held a wealth of artists during the last several decades. Next week’s celebration finds Joe Lovano’s Us Five outfit on the case. The mighty saxophonist isn’t taking this gig lightly. He’s been a part of the Vanguard’s extended family for quite a while, performing with a multitude of outfits. There was a spark in his voice when he spoke about his memories of the place and his plans for the upcoming shows.

“75 years…it’s pretty amazing – business wise as well as art wise. These days we play in so many places and never meet the club owner. You might meet the managers and other people. But actually working with the owner? That’s rare. I came up with that kind of thing with my dad and the guys in Cleveland.  Playing for Lorraine and working there when Max was around is beautiful. The club itself has a warm feeling. When you play on a stage that you know Thelonious played on, and Max Roach, and Elvin Jones, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson,  all the cats – it’s amazing. I’ve had a chance to be in the audience and hear some of them and then to play there and have some of my heroes be in my audience – incredible.

As far as development goes… well, moving to NYC in the mid ’70s, joining the Mel Lewis band in the 1980 and being a part of that group every Monday night until ’91 or so. Playing there as a leader and within other groups. I sat in with Bill Evans there, just before he passed. Sat in with Elvin, too. Through the years, there were a bunch of different situations that arose – seems I was there a lot.  Playing the Vanguard teaches you, and humbles you; it made me go in the woodshed everytime – with a different inspiration.

Hearing Dexter Gordon might’ve been one of the first times I went into the club. It was right when I moved to New York. That’s one of the memorable first moments at the Vanguard. And also when Joe Henderson recorded The State of the Tenor. That same week I recorded my first session as a leader at the Jazz Coalition Center. It was for Soul Note: Tones Shapes and Colors. It might’ve been a Thursday night, if I remember right. Anyway, I was going to hear Joe Hen on all the other nights, and knowing I was going to make my first date that week got me excited. I was so happy to do a live record for my first record; that was important for me. It was like, “This is what’s happening, this is how I play.” In was recorded in real time, and the set was literally the record. That’s the way I orchestrated it. And to know that Joe was also recording? Really inspiring.

Lorraine loves making requests. Ha! She has favorite tunes and she loves the feeling of the music, and when you play things that touch her, she remembers it. She wants that feeling again and again and again. That’s the beauty of this music – how you can touch people.

We’re going to have some fun down there next week. We’ve got a lot of new music. And I’m going to touch on some things that reflect the Village Vanguard for me. Some compositions by some cats that were played down there. It’s the third years we’ve played with the band down there, and I’m really excited about this particular formation of Us Five.”

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