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Dave Liebman

By Published: April 19, 2004
DL: These days, you can't control your releases anymore...If you get something out, it's probably old. It was probably recorded a while ago. You're lucky to get it out whenever. A small company can say January, and they really mean April. The confluence of three records was not planned, believe me. The solo record was done in '98, the big band was about a year or two ago and the group one I did do in the past year. The three different styles is a fact of my musical life, and has been for years. I really have a little bag of tricks that I do and they, in some ways can be seen as quite diverse. On the other hand, I think they're quite uniform in some respects. Of course, from the big band to the solo saxophone album, which is completely improvised based on colors to a big band, where everything's written, to a group which is like somewhere in between. Of course, they're three different ways of playing in different styles and that's just the way I've always enjoyed playing, from Lookout Farm to the very beginning. It keeps me interested. That's what I love. It keeps me active and on the case and facile, because you have to respond to different musical challenges.

AAJ: Colors is the theme and title of the solo album. How do you translate colors to aural terms?

DL: I'm a very...image-oriented thinker. If you say something to me, I get an image...and I can hear the music thaat goes with that. For me, if I say "red", I think intensity. "Black", void. "Grey", a kind of in-between state of nowheresville. I can go on forever in any of these things (laughing). And that, to me, translates to a musical shape using the parameters that we all use: melody, harmony, rhythm and color. Soft, loud, apex in the middle, apex in the beginning. Those things all come to me pretty quickly and then it's a matter of translating it. It's always been a kind of nice tool, and I'm glad I have that capacity. I don't hear the music for music's sake, I hear the music for the sake of the picture's that's in my mind, either pictorially or emotionally.

AAJ: That segues nicely into my question about what the writing process is like for you.

DL: Whatever comes out, I trust. I don't censor it. I edit it, of course, when I work on it, but I don't censor it. I say, "OK, is that what I came up with? Let me accept that that was some impulse of inspiration or creativity coming from some source that I don't need to know about and I'll accept that as a given and now I apply the 99 percent of the work." Which, of course, is what composing is: the skills you have learned as a composer.

AAJ: You don't second guess yourself.

DL: No. Most of the time I don't.

AAJ: You trust your gut.

DL: I do. I feel that the initial thing, once I have a concept and the parameters I described to you, the least I can do is trust the first reaction. And then apply technique. As a student, it's really important to say that. I remember when I wasn't like that and I would write and then rip it up. It's like the guy at the typewriter who's constantly ripping it out of the typewriter and throwing it into the garbage. That's true, you can be like that and wait for that magic gem that you'll accept, but it's not going to happen or if it's going to be unlikely, you really have to learn how to work with what you have in front of you and make that into something. So not every tune is a great tune. Not every tune is a masterpiece. But at least it's an expression of something in my life. Because I do these activities, I'll find a way to use it. I don't throw anything out. It gets used. Even if it's 30 years old, it gets used.

I always describe it to students as it's like there's this gremlin on your shoulder, looking over you while your hand hits the paper or the keyboard, and that guy is saying, "No, no. It's not good enough. No, no, it sounds like Wayne Shorter. No, no, it's not that." And that guy has to be slapped off your shoulder. He's got to go. He has to come back as the musical editor, but he can't be there to say "No, it's not original. No, it's not cool. That's not the way to go."

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