Joe Lovano Us Five: Live At The Village Vanguard How do you play the highly distinctive compositions of Charlie Parker while sounding like yourself? The monster tenor saxophonist gives it a shot with his double-drummer band Us Five.

Joe Lovano. John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com hide caption

toggle caption
John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com

Joe Lovano.

John Rogers for NPR/johnrogersnyc.com

Joe Lovano Us Five in Concert - 01/12/2011

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132682252/132888307" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

How do you play somebody else's songs and still sound like yourself? It's a central challenge of jazz — so often an art of interpretation — and it's especially difficult to answer with Charlie Parker's compositions. Dense and virtuosic, they often sound as if they originated in his distinctive style of improvising.

But the saxophonist Joe Lovano has given it a shot. His current working band, the loose double-drummer unit Us Five, has issued Bird Songs, a new record of tunes from the Charlie Parker songbook. And it sounds very little like the way Parker played his music. The Joe Lovano Us Five played selections from that record in a live WBGO/NPR Music broadcast and online webcast from the Village Vanguard on Wednesday, Jan. 12, at 9 p.m. ET.

Now a few years old, Us Five has enjoyed a lot of time on the road to develop its sonic identity. Lovano, a monster player in all directions, is the central focus on tenor saxophone and other strange saxes. But he swims amid the interplay of drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela (replaced on this gig by Matt Wilson), plus the additional lean muscle of pianist James Weidman and bassist Esperanza Spalding. And their collective take on Charlie Parker is a sort of 21st-century expressionism. It's Bird re-painted with broad strokes — Bird as a point of departure for a personal vision — and it's got a churning engine behind it.

Lovano was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where his father was a tenor saxophonist. He eventually took the lessons of the Cleveland clubs to Berklee College of Music, and then New York City. Lovano quickly found his way into everything between organ trios with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Brother Jack McDuff and big bands led by Woody Herman or Mel Lewis. He counts guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield as peers, collaborators and friends; he's one of the musicians of their generation to reach international stardom. Bird Songs is his 22nd record for Blue Note Records alone.

Lovano has long been in the regular rotation at the Village Vanguard; he once played in the Monday-night house jazz orchestra, and he's even made two albums there under his own name. In fact, he played in the long-running trio with Frisell and Paul Motian in one of the early editions of this Live at the Village Vanguard series. As for Us Five, it's already spent a few weeks at the Vanguard in recent years; for this residency, the group took the stage with some new additions to the repertoire.

Set List

Compositions by Charlie Parker unless otherwise indicated

  • "Yardbird Suite"
  • "Moose The Mooche"
  • "Lover Man" (R. Ramirez)
  • "Donna Lee" (M. Davis)
  • "Barbados"
Personnel
  • Joe Lovano, saxophones
  • James Weidman, piano
  • Esperanza Spalding, bass
  • Otis Brown III, drums
  • Matt Wilson, drums
Credits
  • Josh Jackson, producer and host
  • David Tallacksen, mix engineer
  • Michael Downes, production assistant
  • Lara Pellegrinelli, moderator
[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Grover Washington Jr. performs on stage during the "One Night With Blue Note" concert in New York on Feb. 22, 1985. Anthony Barboza/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Anthony Barboza/Getty Images

How Grover Washington Jr. Defined And Transcended 'Smooth Jazz'

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

In this radio episode, Jazz Night in America takes you to a tribute concert honoring the late musician, whose soulful sound was more than just "smooth."

How Grover Washington Jr. Defined And Transcended 'Smooth Jazz'

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/564442111/564555947" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Gurtman and Murtha Artist Management

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

Hear "America's First Lady of the Piano" explore the boundaries between classical music and jazz with host Marian McPartland in this 2004 episode.

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/562620476/562624249" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Jimmy Greene. Jimmy Katz/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Jimmy Katz/Courtesy of the artist

Jimmy Greene Remembers A 'Beautiful Life'

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The saxophonist's 2014 album was dedicated to the memory of his 6-year-old daughter, killed in the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Hear his quartet perform the genre-spanning music in concert.

Jimmy Greene's 'Beautiful Life'

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/418925379/418929187" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Teri Thornton, photographed on Jan. 1, 1990. Andrew Lepley/Redferns/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Andrew Lepley/Redferns/Getty Images

Teri Thornton On Piano Jazz

Revisit this 1999 episode of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, featuring the late vocalist and pianist a year before she lost her battle with cancer.

Teri Thornton On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/561711244/561802316" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Frank Stewart

Louis Hayes Celebrates His 80th Birthday In A Packed Jazz Club

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Jazz Night in America takes you to Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, where the hard-bop drummer celebrated his debut as a band leader and talked about fond memories and favorite sessions.

Louis Hayes Celebrates His 80th Birthday In A Packed Jazz Club

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/561069637/561555776" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The Nate Smith Band performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 14, 2017. (Christina Ascani/NPR) Christina Ascani/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Christina Ascani/NPR

Review

Tiny Desk

Nate Smith + KINFOLK

The drums take center stage at this Tiny Desk. Watch veteran jazz percussionist Nate Smith dazzle the NPR audience in a transfixing performance.

Japanese jazz pianist Makoto Ozone at an album photo shoot on February 1, 1986 in New York City. Waring Abbott/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Waring Abbott/Getty Images

Makoto Ozone On Piano Jazz

Revisit the pianist's first appearance on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, back when he was still a rising star in 1984.

Makoto Ozone On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/560367691/560368003" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top