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Joe Lovano - Bird Songs

On January 11, 2011, Joe Lovano Us Five will release Bird Songs, an exploration of the Charlie Parker songbook and the Grammy-winning saxophonist’s 22nd album for EMI’s Blue Note Records (the release of which will mark his 20th year on the label). Lovano will launch the album with a week-long engagement at the Village Vanguard in New York City (January 11-16), and an NPR Live At The Village Vangaurd session that will be webcast on the NPR Music website and broadcast on WBGO at 9:00pm ET on January 12. See below for a list of Lovano’s 2011 tour dates.

“I didn’t approach this as a tribute record,” states Lovano, dispelling right off the bat any preconception that the album is a mere retread. Bird Songs breaks the mold of Bird tribute records. It’s a thrillingly adventurous, thoroughly modern, and uniquely personal look at one of the most influential figures in jazz history by one of the most important voices in the music today.

Us Five turned out to be the perfect vehicle for his exploration. Lovano’s dynamic young band features drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, pianist James Weidman, and bassist Esperanza Spalding who was just nominated for Best New Artist at the 2011 Grammy Awards. Us Five’s debut recording—2009’s Folk Art—was a wide-ranging set of Lovano’s original compositions that resulted in the band being awarded Best Small Ensemble of the Year at the 2010 Jazz Journalist Association Awards and winning the Best Jazz Group of the Year category in the 2010 DownBeat Critics Poll. Lovano completed a double-triple of awards in 2010 by also winning the JJA’s Musician of the Year and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year, and DownBeat’s Jazz Artist of the Year and Tenor Saxophonist of the Year.

One of the keys to approaching a project like Bird Songs for Lovano was to take Charlie Parker out of the museum and place him in a living, breathing continuum that reaches back to the musicians who had a deep impact on Bird’s development (Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster), but also refracting Bird’s music through the musical prism of those he deeply impacted (John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Wayner Shorter). But most importantly, Lovano sought to personalize Bird’s music.

“I wasn’t trying to play like Charlie Parker at all,” Lovano explains. “I was playing from his influences, from where he was coming from, and from the influences of all these amazing cats who were his disciples. I wanted to focus on his incredible compositions, the themes, the harmonic structures, the forms of his tunes and try to open them up and turn them inside out in a way to create my own melodic and rhythmic variations. I wanted to create my own recording. You can’t tell someone else’s story.”

Lovano intentionally made a decision to not approach this music on alto saxophone, Bird’s main instrument. Eight of the album’s eleven tracks—all songs either written by or associated with Parker—feature Lovano on his signature tenor saxophone, though he also performs one song each on straight alto (“Blues Collage”), his unique double-soprano horn the aulochrome (“Birdyard”), and in its recorded debut a G mezzo soprano (“Lover Man”). “For me the tenor saxophone is my voice,” he explains. “I explore a lot of different horns within the woodwind family that fuel my ideas, but I wanted to really play this on tenor because that’s who I am.”

“At the young age of 34 Charlie Parker passed and left us with open questions about what would be. 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. Bird Songs is my humble attempt to answer some of those questions in my own way.”

The track listing for Bird Songs is as follows:

1. Passport

2. Donna Lee

3. Barbados

4. Moose The Mooche

5. Love Man

6. Birdyard

7. Ko Ko

8. Blues Collage

9. Dexterity

10. Dewey Square

11. Yardbird Suite


Jan. 11-16 – Village Vanguard – New York, NY (Us Five)

Jan. 22 – Science Center Theater – Blue Bell, PA (John Scofield-Joe Lovano Quartet)

Jan. 27 – Schwab Auditorium – Park, PA (John Scofield-Joe Lovano Quartet)

Jan. 28 – Music Center at Strathmore – North Bethesda, MD (John Scofield-Joe Lovano Quartet)

Jan. 29 – Grand Opera House – Wilmington, DE (John Scofield-Joe Lovano Quartet)

Jan. 30 – Swyer Theater – Albany, NY (John Scofield-Joe Lovano Quartet)

Feb. 18-19 – Tanna Shulich Hall – Montreal, Quebec (solo)

Feb. 22 – Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola – New York, NY (Playing Our Parts Benefit)

Mar. 4 – Impart Arts Center – Wroclaw, Poland (Us Five)

Mar. 11 – Blue Note – Milan, Italy (Us Five)

Mar. 12 – Sala Concerti Del Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi – Torino, Italy (Us Five)

Mar. 13 – Club Kiff – Aarau, Switzerland (Us Five)

Mar. 14 – Moods – Zurich, Switzerland Moods (Us Five)

Mar. 24 – Wackerhalle – Burghausen, Germany (Us Five)

Mar. 25 – Ronnie Scott’s – London, UK (Us Five)

Apr. 2 – Folly Theater – Kansas City, MO (Us Five)

Apr. 4-5 – Dakota Jazz Club – Minneapolis, MN (Us Five)

Apr. 7-10 – Jazz Showcase – Chicago, IL (Us Five)

Apr. 21-22 – Rialto Theater – Atlanta, GA (solo)

Apr. 28-May 1 – Jazz Alley – Seattle, WA (Us Five)

May 2 – Kuumbwa Jazz Center – Santa Cruz, CA (Us Five)

May 3 – Yoshi’s – Oakland, CA (Us Five)

May 5 – Tribeca Performing Arts Center – New York, NY
May 20 – Philadelphia Museum of Art – Philadelphia, PA

..:: Source: Blue Note Records ::..