After growing up in a musical household, and playing gigs with his father, Lovano studied at Berklee School of Music in Boston. He came to international attention as a tenorist in Woody Herman's big band from 1976-9.
In the 1980s, as well as playing regularly with the Mel Lewis Orchestra in New York, Lovano became a byword for versatility, playing soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, not to mention flute, in a bewildering variety of styles and contexts, from bebop to free jazz, and from small groups with drummer Paul Motian and guitarist Bill Frisell to the big bands of Carla Bley and Charlie Haden.
As the 1980s went on, Lovano increasingly led his own groups, and has done so consistently since the beginning of his contract with Blue Note records, marked by the release of his album Landmarks in 1990. He has recorded in groups of varying sizes. At the smallest, these range from duos with pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and a series of trios documented on his two-volume Trio Fascination CDs, whereas one of the largest is a big band project with composer and conductor Gunther Schuller, playing neo-classical 'third stream' music.
The main characteristics of Lovano's playing are a boundless confidence, which gives great authority to everything from his bebop style tenor solos as a guest with bassist Ray Brown's trio to his experimental soprano sax playing in duo with pianist Kenny Werner (a fellow Berklee alumnus). In 2001, Lovano returned to Berklee as Gary Burton professor, to lead several student ensembles, and to communicate his huge breadth of knowledge and experience to younger players.