A scale of sax and song
A scale of sax and song

He is the veteran American saxophonist with the formidable international reputation. She is a young Australian singer. So how did the two get together to make music?

Katie Noonan explains how her husband, saxophonist Zac Hurren who plays in her group Elixir, idolised fellow sax player Joe Lovano, whose career now spans more than four decades.

"Joe was playing in Sydney and my husband and I met him after the gig," Noonan says. "As Zac is a sax player he knew all about Joe Lovano and insisted we should meet him."

From that first meeting grew a musical relationship that resulted in Noonan flying to New York to record her album Blackbird - a jazz-inspired re-interpretation of the songs of Lennon and McCartney - with Lovano not only playing on the album, but co-producing it.

Lovano's clout on the New York jazz scene led to Noonan being able to recruit guitarist John Scofield, drummer Lewis Nash and legendary bassist Ron Carter to play on the recording sessions for the album, along with Melbourne pianist Sam Keevers.

But that was back in 2008, and since then Lovano and Noonan have gone their separate musical ways. That is, until the Perth International Jazz Festival director Graham Wood used his persuasive powers to reunite the musicians especially for the festival.

Lovano's jazz ensemble of Perth musicians and Noonan and her band Elixir will perform separately and together at the Perth Concert Hall in the headline act for the festival, and will be joined by Vince Jones and his band.

Jones is the foremost cool-school jazz vocalist in Australia, whose career has led the way in tempting younger male singers to enter the world of jazz. For many years back in the 90s Jones and the young hipsters in his band were the headline act at many York jazz festivals, although his appearances in WA since that era have been less frequent.

So how will a concert featuring Lovano, Noonan and Jones work exactly? "Well, that's a conversation we still need to have," says Noonan on the phone from an airport lounge as the singer prepares to fly to Melbourne for a weekend of engagements.

No doubt when Lovano flies in to Perth on the eve of the festival - his only Australian concert - it will be sorted out and we can expect at least one or two songs from the Lovano-Noonan collaboration on the songs of Lennon and McCartney.

Whatever the final mix - jazz being the ultimate word in improvisation - there will be no shortage of material from any of the performers.

Lovano grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of accomplished Sicilian-American musician, Tony "Big T" Lovano, who was a barber by day and a musician at night.

Big Tony ensured his four sons got more than a haircut from him by exposing them to jazz from an early age. By the age of 16 Joe Lovano was a professional musician carrying his union card.

After high school, Lovano studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston before moving to the New York jazz scene, where he played at the Vanguard Village on Monday nights with the Mel Lewis Orchestra for 11 years.

He also joined the Paul Motian band in 1981 and has since worked and collaborated with John Scofield, Herbie Hancock, Elvin Jones, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, Bob Brookmeyer and just about every other big name in jazz.

Lovano began a long relationship with Blue Note Records in 1991, and has recorded more than 20 albums on the label, winning a Grammy in 2000 for the Best Large Ensemble.

Always keen on musical collaborations, Lovano has worked in the studio and the concert hall with two other leading tenor saxophonists of his generation - Dave Liebman and the late Michael Brecker - forming the Saxophone Summit, which continues with line-up changes due to the death of Brecker. Ravi Coltrane, son of John Coltrane, is now a member.

Lovano is also a lauded composer, working with symphony orchestras and European big bands. New York Times critic Ben Ratliff has concluded: "It's fair to say that Joe Lovano is one of the greatest musicians in jazz history."

It will be an interesting exercise in creativity when the veteran saxophonist fires up with the young singer Noonan and fellow veteran Vince Jones for a one-off concert.

Joe Lovano, Katie Noonan and Vince Jones are at the Perth Concert Hall on May 25 at 7.30pm.

The West Australian

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