JOSEPH SALVATORE LOVANO was born in Cleveland, Ohio on December 29, 1952, and grew up in a very musical household. His dad, Tony, aka "Big T," was a barber by day and a big-toned tenor player at night. "Big T," along with his brothers Nick and Joe, other tenor players, and Carl, a bebop trumpeter, made sure Lovano's exposure to jazz and the saxophone were early and constant.
Not surprisingly, Lovano began playing the alto at five, switching to the tenor a few years later. By the time he got his driver's license at 16, Lovano was a member of the Musicians Union, Local 4, and working professionally. He started playing club dates (sometimes subbing for his dad), and Motown cover bands, eventually saving enough money from these gigs to put himself through college.
After high school, Lovano attended Berklee and his college years were pivotal, a precursor of future collaborations and career opportunities. Lovano had been searching for a way to incorporate the fire and spirituality of late-period John Coltrane into more traditional settings, and at Berklee, he found it, discovering modal harmony.
During his Boston years, Lovano was part of a vibrant scene, always jamming and meeting new musicians, something he has done his entire life. To finance his education, he continued working club dates and other assorted gigs, including an organ trio engagement he shared with future Nonet member George Garzone down in Boston's combat zone.
His Berklee instructors also played a key role in his development, including Herb Pomeroy, who led the big band, Joe Viola, head of the saxophone department, Andy McGee, a saxophone teacher renowned for his advanced improvisation concepts, the inspiring improvisation instructor John LaPorta, and Gary Burton. Lovano was in Burton's number one ensemble during the vibist's first semester on the faculty at Berklee.
Twenty years later, Lovano was the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from Berklee and an honorary doctorate in 1998. Berklee also awarded Lovano its first endowed chair, The Gary Burton Chair for Jazz Performance in 2001.