Liebman, Dave (actually, David)

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Liebman, Dave (actually, David)

Liebman, Dave (actually, David),jazz soprano and tenor saxophonist, composer, educator, author, flutist, drummer, pianist; b. Brooklyn, N.Y, Sept. 4, 1946. He is one of the leading players and teachers of jazz. He first came to prominence during his period with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis (1971–74). Since then he has recorded in every context, from free jazz to fusion to standards, and has taught all over the world.

His parents were N.Y.C, public school teachers. He began classical piano lessons at age nine and played saxophone at 12, also studying clarinet and flute. At 13 he began performing in Catskills resorts with a band called the Impromptu Quartet and playing club dates around N.Y He saw John Coltrane many times and was profoundly inspired by him. He made his first jazz recording in 1967, with a group of Swedish musicians, whom he had met during his first trip in Europe. Mike Garson, his first jazz friend, connected him with Lennie Tostano. Lonnie Ruthstein, the first true jazz drummer he knew, became a mentor for Liebman and others doing gigs at Catskills resorts. Liebman was also men-tored through Jazz Interactions, a program run by Alan Pepper, who presented Liebman in concert at Red Garter near N.YU. in 1968, with a prize-winning, all-star youth quintet including Randy Brecker, Cameron Brown, and probably Garson and Ruthstein. Later in 1968 this group played opposite Roland Kirk and Elvin Jones in Town Hall, Liebman’s first big concert. Besides Tristano, he studied with Joe Allard and Charles Lloyd and in 1968 graduated from N.Y. U. with a degree in American History and a teaching diploma, so he could occasionally substitute-teach. In 1969 he began freelancing with Pete LaRoca, Chick Corea, and Steve Swallow. Immersed in the N.Y. loft jazz scene with a place on 19th St., he played a key role in founding Free Life Communication, a musicians’ cooperative. In 1970 he founded the Open Sky Trio with Bob Moses and began in the rock/jazz band Ten Wheel Drive. He worked with Elvin Jones from 1971–73. In 1973 he got a call from Teo Macero asking that he come immediately to a studio on 52nd St., where Miles Davis had him play without any instruction (or even headphones) for what became On the Corner, but when Davis asked him to leave Jones, Liebman declined. Six months later, however, Davis came to the Village Vanguard and asked Jones directly to let him go. Liebman’s first gig with Davis was the following weekend, on the last night of the Fillmore East. After playing with Davis, he formed Lookout Farm with Richard Bierach and toured India, Japan, Europe, and the U.S. The group co- authored a book in which they analyzed their own performances, a prototype for a much needed style of criticism. No one has yet followed their example. The 1976 Down Beat International Critics’ Poll selected Lookout Farm as the “Group Most Deserving of Wider Recognition.”

After this, Liebman took a totally different course, forming a commercial band with ex-James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis; they were situated on the West Coast with a big record deal, but the group was unsuccessful. In 1978, after returning from a world tour with Chick Corea which featured a string quartet and a brass section, Liebman formed a quintet, featuring at times John Scofield, Kenny Kirkland, and others. After several world tours and recordings with the group, Liebman reunited with Beirach. They began performing and recording as a duo before forming Quest with George Mraz and Al Foster in 1981. (Around this time, Liebman began playing soprano sax exclusively). In 1984 Quest took on a new form, when Ron McClure and Billy Hart joined the group. Over the course of the next seven years, the band toured extensively, and conducted many workshops around the world. In addition to playing with his bands, he has made numerous appearances in Europe, where he performs with Joachim Kuhn, Daniel Humair, Jon Christensen, Bobo Stenson, Albert Mangelsdorf, and Michel Portal. Playing with the WDR Sym. Orch. (Germany) as well as several chamber ensembles and big bands, he has recorded a number of works specially written to feature his soprano saxophone style. He has received two NEA grants, for composition (1980) and performance (1991). Since 1991, he has led the The Dave Liebman Group, with Vic Juris, Jamey Haddad, and Tony Marino on bass. The band has toured Europe, Japan, and Israel. Working prolifically, he has recorded dozens of albums under his own leadership and nearly 200 as a sideperson. A dedicated teacher, Liebman has run a master saxophone class at East Stroudsburg Univ. every summer since the late 1980s. In 1989, he founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ). With members in 40 different countries, this organization is a jazz-school network connecting educators and students from around the globe through periodic meetings, exchange programs, and newsletters. He has written and published books on a variety of subjects, produced instructional videos, and contributed regularly to various periodicals such as the Saxophone Journal and the Jazz Educators’ Journal.In recognition of his talents and accomplishments, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland, bestowed him with an honorary doctorate in May, 1997. In 1996 he began performing on the tenor again.


Open Sky (1972); Drum Ode (1975); Forgotten Fantasies (1975); Lookout Farm (1975); Sweet Hands (1975); Father Time (1976); First Visit (1977); Light’n up Please! (1977); Omertà (1978); Pendulum (1978); Dedications (1979); Doin’ It Again (1979); In Australia (1979); Lieb: Close Up (1979); Opal Heart (1979); If Only They Knew (1980); What It Is (1980); One of a Kind (1981); Quest (1981); Sweet Fury (1984); Double Edge (1985); Loneliness of a Long-Distance Runner (1985); Quest II (1986); Homage to John Coltrane (1987); Energy of the Chance (1988); Plays Cole Porter (1988); Quest/Natural Selection (1988); Trio + One (1988); Blessing of the Old Long Sound (1989); Chant (1989); Nine Again (1989); Classic Ballads (1990); Tree (1990); West Side Story Today (1990); Joy (1992); Setting the Standard (1992); Songs for My Daughter (1995); Meditations (1995; new interpretation of Coltrane’s suite); Return of the Tenor (1996); New Vista (1996); The Elements: Water—Giver of Life (1998, with Pat Metheny, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee).


Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist: Musical Thoughts and Realities (Rottenberg, Germany, 1988); A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody (Rottenberg, Germany, 1991); The Improviseras Guide to Transcription (Stroudsburg, Pa., 1991); The Complete Guide to Saxophone Sound Production (Stroudsburg, Pa., 1989).

—Lewis Porter