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Saxophonist Joe Lovano's tribute to 52nd Street swing and bop.

Wednesday, Sep 12 2001
Known variously as "Swing Street," "Bebop Alley," or simply "The Street," a storied stretch of New York's 52nd Street once teemed with the nation's premier jazz hot spots. During the 1930s and '40s, legendary nightclubs like the Onyx, the Famous Door, and the Three Deuces hosted all-night jams by jazz revolutionaries, from big-band leaders Duke Ellington and Count Basie to fiery beboppers Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. "52nd Street was such an influential place in an influential period," says popular tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano on the liner notes to his Grammy-winning album 52nd Street Themes. "It brought so many styles together, and that's what I'm always trying to do."

From his work in the '80s and early '90s with small combos led by boundary-pushers Paul Motian and John Scofield to his successful career as a solo artist and group leader in more recent years, Lovano has distinguished himself as a broad-minded jazz composer and improviser of depth, maturity, and inventiveness. For 52nd Street Themes, he assembled a nonet of seasoned players (among them pianist John Hicks, drummer Lewis Nash, and alto saxophonist Steve Slagle) and a book of classic tunes (by Billy Strayhorn, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis) freshly arranged by old-school saxophonist Willie "Face" Smith. Unlike many similar tributes to the swing and bop eras that put the Street on the map, Lovano's effort thoroughly convinces. Though his tunes swing conventionally, there's an openness to the arrangements that gives the music a less codified or museumlike feel than that of, say, the stuffy Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Lovano's stunning evocations do more than merely preserve the songs and styles of jazz past; they bring them back to life.

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Sam Prestianni


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