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David Liebman /Jim Ridl: The Creative Process in Jazz

By Published: February 25, 2008
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Practical Matters, Goals, and Advice to Young Musicians

AAJ: A few more things before we close. First of all, does the music business inhibit your creativity? Like the club owner who says, "I only want you to play such and such." Or the record label which only wants to produce what sells. From what I hear, the music business is getting more and more difficult. Do you have some ideas about what could be done to create a better climate for the creative musician'

David LiebmanDL: This is about life in the real world. It's way past what we can do as musicians. We need support. The purpose of government is, say, to support homeland security, health, education, and culture. Our current government does very little for the latter purposes. It just does war! Although Europe does a little better, it's still a bad situation. It's almost a caste system. I was chosen to be a musician—I should be supported in my endeavor.

AAJ: You're saying that the powers that be should really value culture.

DL: We musicians exist below the radar these days, unlike the sixties and seventies when there was a mecca of culture and music here.

JR: I'm bewildered about this whole thing, about the business and trying to make it better. In that sense, I've gone much more inside, and I'm just trying to be successful about doing my own music. I wanna make music in an important and compelling way that has a meaning behind it. But in terms of how to connect all of that into the music business, I'm part of the whole mechanism, but I don't know what to make of it all.

DL: No one ever promised us a rose garden. No one ever said it's going to be easy. There's no free pass.

AAJ: To turn to an unrelated question: Do you ever feel a need to re-invent yourself or your music at a fundamental level?

DL: All the time.

JR: I feel a pressure sometimes to get a new thing together, but I always come back to feeling that I should stay with the art, stay with likeminded people who stretch you.

AAJ: So for you, its an ongoing evolution, not a self-conscious moment of changing your direction. Coltrane, on the other hand, seems to have re-invented himself a few times.

DL: He did, but he did it in a very fast fifteen years. It's another thing over the longer haul. Sometimes you've just got to keep going with what you're doing. You've got a certain responsibility to go on.

AAJ: Wouldn't you like to do that "one great thing"?

DL: I wish that would happen.

AAJ: I just read where Richard Strauss' last song cycle was the greatest music he ever wrote.

JR: But that's what's cool about jazz. It's a lifetime art form. Like the Rolling Stones are still performing, but they're not creating anything new. Their window is really small.

DL: Because their language is more limited than jazz.

JR: I just want to go on playing jazz until I die. Hopefully I'll live a long time, because I know that my jazz community will allow me and give me a duty to invent and create. One of my heroes, Leonard Bernstein, was creating until the end.

DL: We're lucky. Like I'm sixty-one. Roy Haynes is eighty-three. We're up there doing it. We have a living art form here. And we have another blessing—as we get older we get more respect and we get better. I'm better now than I was.

AAJ: You have to give your creative impulse some credit for that, because of your desire to push the envelope. There are jazz musicians who get lost in the shuffle as they get older, partly because they don't create something new. Finally, what advice would you give to a budding young jazz musician who wants to break the sound barrier creatively and doesn't just want to be a clone or imitator'

DL: He's got to look outside the box. But first he's got to know the box. He's got to get the basics, but then I'll say to him, "Now's the time to drop everything you've ever learned. Look beyond the music you love—seek other avenues. Understand culture. If you have the will and the desire and the talent, you will be transformed. You have to want to be heavy, you have to want to be an individual, you have to want it more than anything else in the world."

Jim RidlJR: I'll just add that a young musician has to be aware, make it a part of their being to discern what's happening at the moment. For example, Coltrane is one of my heroes. His solos are unbelievable. Recently I read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables (1862). It took me a year to read that. Hugo has paragraphs that are three pages long. This is also Coltrane. Like there's this stream of consciousness, this flow, and I'm not gonna let an indentation get in my way, much less a period.

Now that's cool, and that inspires me, and what that says to me as a musician is that it's OK! It's OK to say what you say. All the heavy cats, they step out and they say, "I'm here, I have something to say." You gotta step out. When I play with Dave, he steps out. When I play with Pat Martino, he steps out. You can tell it in their playing. Bill Evans was personally very shy, but he always stepped out in his music. You've gotta take the risks.

AAJ: It's what Jung called individuation. You have to slay your dragon. You have to meet that challenge. Well, guys, this has been terrific. Thank you both for stepping out and sharing your views with us today.

Selected Discography

David Liebman Group, Blues All Ways (OmniTone, 2007)
David Liebman/Roberto Taranzi/Paolo Benedettini/Tony Arco, Dream of Nite (Verve, 2007)
David Liebman/Richie Beirach/Ron McClure/Billy Hart, Redemption - Quest Live in Europe (HatOLOGY, 2007)
David Liebman, Back on the Corner (Tone Center, 2006)
David Liebman/Phil Markowitz, Manhattan Dialogues (Zoho, 2005)
David Liebman, The Distance Runner (HatOLOGY, 2005)
Jim Ridl, Pianadelphia (Soulsearch, 2006)
Jim Ridl, Your Cheatin' Heart and Other Works (Dreambox Media, 2005)
David Liebman Group, In a Mellow Tone (Zoho, 2004)
David Liebman/Richie Beirach, Mosaic Select 12 (Mosaic, 2004)
Jim Ridl, Door in a Field (Dreambox Media, 2003)
David Liebman Group,
Conversation (Sunnyside, 2003)
Jim Ridl Trio, Live (Dreambox Media, 2001)
David Liebman, The Elements: Water (Arkadia, 1999)
Jim Ridl, Blues Liberations (Dreambox Media, 2001)
Jim Ridl, Five Minutes to Madness & Joy (Synergy, 1999)

Visit David Liebman and Jim Ridl on the web.

Photo Credits
Photo of Liebman and Ridl Together: Caris Visentin
David Liebman Photo: Ben Johnson
Jim Ridl Photo: Courtesy of Jim Ridl

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