Northampton Press

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The education of jazzman Dave Liebman

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 by JERRY DUCKETT Special to The Press in Focus

Saxophonist-flautist David Liebman is in transition, with a new quintet and new music, which traverses elements of free jazz and re-arrangements of standards, all infused with the complex time signatures and harmonies being explored by contemporary jazz artists.

Liebman, multiple Grammy nominee and recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Lifetime Achievement Award, returns for the "Jazz Cabaret Series," with his new quintet, Expansions, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown.

Liebman, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., began classical studies on the piano at the age of nine and the saxophone at 12. His love of jazz began at a young age after listening to the legendary John Coltrane perform during visits to New York jazz clubs Birdland, Village Vanguard, and the Half Note.

After graduating from New York University with a degree in American History, Liebman took a lead role in organizing New York loft musicians into a cooperative, Free Life Communications.

Liebman, an internationally-renowned and respected musician and teacher, has a career spanning more than 40 years, and has played and toured with the United States' greatest jazz musicians, including Chick Corea, John Scofield, Richard Beirach, Al Foster and Ron McClure.

His list of associations with top European musicians includes Joachim Kuhn, Paolo Frescu and John Christensen. These associations led to others, including performing with the Metropole Orchestra in Vienna, and playing compositions commissioned to feature his soprano saxophone style.

His first formal gig was in 1970 as a soloist with the fusion rock band, Ten Wheel Drive. This led to performing with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis and in concerts at Town Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York City, and to the formation of additional groups, including Open Sky, Lookout Farm, The Dave Liebman Quintet, and Quest

Liebman's newest quintet, Expansions, includes, in addition to Liebman, saxophone-flute; Matt Vashlishan, reeds; Bobby Avey, piano; Alex Ritz, drums, and Tony Marino, bass. He has performed with Marino for more than 20 years.

According to Liebman, the new group looks toward the present generation of jazz musicians who have been schooled in conservatory and university settings.

From his Stroudsburg area residence, Liebman says, "I can sum up the reason for the new band in two ways.

"First, I want to play music that is current. I do not want to be stuck in a stylistic vacuum, even as good as it may be. I want to be able to play with the young guys, and see what they are doing, because there is a new regime now, with a new language.

"Let me explain it this way. When Charlie Parker came on the scene, we had guys like Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum and Lester Young. He [Parker] changed the language. He might have well come from another planet.

"When John Coltrane came on the scene he changed Charlie Parker's language.

"And in the last 10 or 20 years, there has been another change of the language, due not to only the influx of musicians from all around the world because jazz has become more universal but also because of education.

"We now have jazz schools all over the world, and I have been a part of teaching for over 30 years. This new generation, therefore, has not learned from apprenticeship like it used to be, but from books.

"They are very well-studied and world-oriented. They understand rhythms and harmonies from all over the world. They are changing the way jazz is spoken.

"The other reason is: I used to be part of the old way, but now I want to play with new and younger musicians and their music."

Expansions played its first gig in the Cornielia Street Café, Greenwich Village, and later, Birdland, Small's, all in New York City, and the Hudson Valley Jazz Festival, Warwick, N.Y.

In November, Expansions performed in Bangkok for one week, including for the King of Thailand, as part of a U.S. Embassy program. According to Liebman, the king is a clarinet player, loves old-style jazz and is a composer.

After that, it was on to Denmark. Following the Miller Symphony Hall concert, Expansions performs in France and Germany.

Liebman is a presenter for the National Endowment for the Arts Awards at Lincoln Center, New York City, when Lehigh Valley native Keith Jarrett will be honored. Liebman is presenting an award to Jamey Aebersold, a jazz educator.

Leibman will resurrect his band, Quest, and return to Birdland next month and will perform in a saxophone summit with Ravi Coltrane for the Baltimore Jazz Society.

His latest CD, "Lineage," on Whaling City Records, is a remake of classic rock and pop tunes from the 1960's, recorded with Vic Juris, guitar; Bobby Avey, piano; Matt Vashlishan, reeds; Evan Gregor, bass, and Michael Stephans, drums.