52nd Street Themes (Blue Note)

Joe Lovano

Released April 25, 2000

Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2001

DownBeat Five-Star Review

Record of the Year 2001 Jazz Journalists AssociationAwards






The music on 52nd Street Themes holds a deep, personal meaning for saxophonist Joe Lovano. It’s as though Lovano had worked his entire life to prepare for the work he did in 2000’“culminating in the rich, expansive Nonet charts of 52nd Street Themes, written by long-time Cleveland veteran Willie Smith.

Fronting a four-man sax section, Joe blasts through such strong Dameronia as The Scene Is Clean and Tadd’s Delight, refreshes the indelible lyricism of Dameron’s lovely If You Could See Me Now, and, in an intimate duet with pianist John Hicks, one of Joe’s favorite pianists, velvetizes Billy Strayhorn’s lush Passion Flower.

It also features Miles Davis’ early “Sippin’ at Bells”; Lovano’s homage to Charlie Parker, the complex “Charlie Chan,” a three-way saxophone conversation between Lovano and fellow tenormen George Garzone and Ralph Lalama that’s punctuated by Lewis Nash’s pinpoint drums; “Abstractions on 52nd Street,” Lovano’s extrapolation and embellishment of a Thelonious Monk line; and George Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” plushly orchestrated by Willie “Face” Smith and lovingly performed by Lovano.
Others contributing sax are Gary Smulyan (baritone) and Steve Slagle (alto); Tim Hagans and Conrad Herwig play trumpet and trombone, respectively, while Dennis Irwin handles bass. Like many other Lovano records, this hews close to tradition but updates it effectively. Besides the fervor of the playing ‘” Smith says he would’ve played saxophone, but these New York players were much better prepared ‘” the song selection is astute, Lovano’s originals are solid, and Smith’s sole compositional contribution, “Deal,” is tasty indeed. Evoking the spirits of Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ernie Henry and George Gershwin, this album conveys the spirit of bebop as a living tradition, reveling in the collective camaraderie of a smallish ensemble that projects all the harmonic opulence of a big band.

Track Listing:

1. If You Could See Me Now (Tadd Dameron / Carl Sigman) 3:53

2. On a Misty Night (Tadd Dameron) 5:03

3. Sippin’ at Bells (Miles Davis) 5:11

4. Passion Flower (Billy Strayhorn) 5:04

5. Deal 7:13

6. The Scene Is Clean (Tadd Dameron) 3:48

7. Whatever Possess’d Me (Tadd Dameron) 3:58

8. Charlie Chan (Joe Lovano) 8:07

9. Theme for Ernie (Fred Lacey) 5:52

10. Tadd’s Delight (Tadd Dameron) 7:49

11. Abstractions on 52nd Street (Joe Lovano) 2:04

12. 52nd Street Theme (Thelonious Monk) 4:32

13. Embraceable You (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) 4:58


Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone
Ralph Lalama: tenor saxophone
George Garzone: tenor saxophone
Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone
Steve Slagle: alto saxophone
Conrad Herwig: trombone
Tim Hagans: trumpet
John Hicks: piano
Dennis Irwin: bass
Lewis Nash: drums
Willie “Face” Smith: arrangements

Recorded November 3 – 4, 1999, at Avatar Studio, NY

Produced by Joe Lovano

Assistant Producer: Judi Silvano

Recorded by James Farber

Assistant Engineer: Aya Takemura

Mastered by Greg Calbi

Photography: Jimmy Katz

Cover Illustration: Cyclone

Art Direction: Jessie Novod


Although there are only ten artists and three of them share the tenor saxophone chair, Joe Lovano’s latest Blue Note album is a big band affair made possible by gifted arranger Willie “Face” Smith. Compositions by Tadd Dameron and other well-known bebop legends from the 52nd Street era represent lovely mood-setting devices for each soloist. And each member of the band has a chance to solo. It’s Lovano’s distinctive tenor that carries most of the solo responsibility, and he’s inspired. After all, bebop was there to nurture all of these guys, either in-person or on recordings.

Lovano does some solo free-thinking for “Abstractions on 52nd Street” as a solo piece, while both Dameron’s “The Scene is Clean” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” appear in small ensemble settings. Elsewhere the big band sound kicks up a storm, fronted by hot solo work, witnessing conversations of traded sixteens, and washing dance music all over the place. Lovano’s tribute to 52nd Street legends captures a genuine mood and expresses it through an all-star lineup.

Jim Santella (All About Jazz)