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Dave Liebman

By Published: April 19, 2004
DL: Yeah, that's (a) pretty strong statement. In the sense that when I saw him, cumulatively, in those teenage years in New York, it made me see there was more to music than what I thought at that time in my life. It took me years to find, or try to find what that is. It wasn't just, "people get up and play an instrument" - there's something below the surface. I didn't know, I couldn't recognize it, but I could feel it. Whatever that was, that was what propelled me to, not necessarily play, because I was playing and making a career in music...In those days you didn't sit down and go to school for it and think you were going to do it. But when I was playing and making a life at it, it always focused me to realize though Coltrane, through that experience of seeing him and hearing him, what music could be capable of on a spiritual level. And that is important, because that puts things into focus outside of the mundane and the material, which you have to think about, of course. This puts a little topper on it that keeps you really focused, especially in times when things are not so good, which, of course, happens...My parents, of course, are my parents. You spend 18 years with them, that's going to be a big influence. In my case, they were great. But this was what really set the direction of my life. If I had not seen him, I think - and having seen other jazz - I certainly would have loved jazz and still played it, but I would not have had that view of what it really is, and (I) think that's what helped me focus my life, even if it was Miles or whatever, I didn't get that from anybody else in that depth as I did from seeing that group. And it had to be, for me, at least seeing a group. I don't think I would have been the same, if I was five years younger, I wouldn't have seen it. I would have heard it like everyone else does and I don't think it would have been the same effect as witnessing it.

AAJ: The spiritual part has obviously filtered into your music.

DL: I wouldn't be as pretentious as to say "spiritual". Let's say the intensity and the energy, and the "meaning it". I try to mean it. Sincerity. Which is really the main thing I got from Coltrane. It was just so honest and sincere. Besides those has taken me years, it's still taking me years to understand the skill of it, the sophistication musically. But that thing of the honesty and sincerity, that's what I saw, and being young it really affected me. I said, "How could they do that? Just get up and do that like they're brushing their teeth or picking up a spoon and eating? It was normal, like they just get up and do that?" What they do - or did - it was so incredible, the intensity of it and the beauty of it. That's what I try to carry with me.

AAJ: A lot of the criticism of young musicians these days is that there isn't that sense of honesty or sincerity in their playing. What do you tell your students about developing their own voice?

DL: Well, I didn't have it either at 25 years old. That is something that comes with age and time and dues, and just life. (It's) not divorced from your musical life. Just living the ups and downs and ins and out. I always tell them it's inevitable. You'll have it. Now, whether you'll recognize and then use your life experiences and meditate or reflect upon them and have a view of that, of what has happened to you, and who you are in the world and the world around you, that's something that won't just happen unless you apply yourself. When I'm finished with someone who's been with me a couple of years and they've gone through the routine, the way I leave them saying to them, "Now you've got to learn to be an artist. You have the skills to be a craftsman, but now you have to put it together in the sense of what do you have to say to people. What do you have to say is going to be a reflection of what you feel and think about yourself, about yourself in relation to others, about the world. So please, wake up, be aware and get out of the box. Think out of the musical box...and come up with a world view. Read and look and serach, and that will be reflected in what you play."

AAJ: You're as well known as an educator as you are as a performer. What do you get out of teaching?

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