Musical Wisdom from Joe Lovano

When it comes to art, unbridled passion is a good thing.

Well, maybe not too unbridled – since none of us want to end up in a drunken bar brawl to release agression brought on by a missed chord change. What I’m talking about here is the good kind of unbridled passion. The kind of passion that comes through with every note emanating out of the instrument  and uplifting all those within earshot.

For living legend Joe Lovano, unbridled passion is a way of life. Of course, this comes through in his playing, but it also comes through when Lovano  verbally shares his insights into the art of jazz.

In this article, I’ve amassed some great quotes from Joe that I got while rifling through a stack of online videos and interviews. I hope that you’ll find these as inspiring as I did.

The Pearls

“The idea of playing notes as words, and phrases as sentence structure, and choruses as paragraphs and chapters in a book, those ideas and those concepts are how you put solos together.”

– Joe Lovano on Lester (YouTube)

Joe advises to practice playing without a neck strap. He was inspired to practice this way from watching Joe Henderson play with his strap hanging down loose and supporting the horn with his hands. Says Lovano, “When you do that, you end up holding your notes too. Your notes get bigger. Sound gets more pronounced, and you start to actually feel the notes you’re playing as you’re playing them, and as you’re approaching them.”

– Joe Lovano Master Class – Intervals and Borgani Saxohpone (YouTube)

Joe approaches the rhythmic aspect of his solos differently based on the feel of the tune. For example, if the rhythm is quarter note-based, such as a tune with a walking bass line, he’ll play mostly eighth notes and quarter notes. However, if the rhythmic focus is half-note based, as in a half-time feel, he finds himself playing different phrases, getting a bit freer with the rhythm, and generally playing passages that are more densely populated with flurries of notes. When the rhythm revolves around the whole note, he’s playing even more notes within each bar while increasing the rhythmic liberties. Joe explains, “To draw from things that are happening from within the bigger beat gives me a lot of ideas that I draw from. I’m trying to build melodies within the harmonic rhythm of the tune, but letting the rhythm of the beat, and all the different perspectives and points in the beat influence me.” Joe continues, “Your feel changes when you play sixteenth notes off a half note, or eighth notes off the quarter note. Metrically they’re the same, but the feel of them changed.”

– A Master Class w/ Joe Lovano (YouTube)

On Sonny Rollins: “You never hear Sonny play anything that he doesn’t love to play.”

– Joe Lovano on Sonny Rollins (YouTube)

You have to draw from your history without trying to live in someone else’s shoes. You have to be yourself in your sound and in your approach, and understanding the history of music gives you a lot of foundation to build.”

“I don’t play free jazz. I play jazz free.

“I feel like the tenor saxophone is my main voice, but I play and practice on a lot of woodwind instruments, folk instruments, wood flutes and different sounds, and it really gives me a lot of ideas when I go back to my home base instrument, which is the tenor saxophone.”

– Joe Lovano – Streams of Expression (

“My father showed me how to get a stuffy reed to speak by shaving it down near the bark and away from the tip. He used a reed clipper to keep the tip strong. That’s why I started using harder reeds in the first place. I never used a clipper; instead, I would buy harder reeds and shave away from the tip to loosen the reed up. I find that with a harder reed I can articulate better and really play on the reed and it lasts longer. The way I tongue and cut off notes, I need to have a reed that has a strong tip.”

– (Taken from forum discussion on

“We all study the elements in the music, and deal with things today that we dealt with on day one. If you don’t do that, then I don’t think you can really play with the depth of your soul.

– The Dozens – Joe Lovano Selects Essential John Coltrane (