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A Day With Dave Liebman

Ian Patterson By

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Bebop was the same thing over and over again. These days we have more colors, more timbral choices for the listener to respond to —Dave Liebman
A Day With Dave Liebman
National Concert Hall
Dublin, Ireland
January 31, 2016

Lasting the course in jazz, that's to say, building a successful career that, just like any other job, spans more than half a lifetime, brings with it a wealth of knowledge and experience. Sharing that knowledge with young, aspiring jazz musicians has long been a part of jazz culture, even if the mentoring role of myth and legend in late-night jazz clubs or 'on the road' has, so it seems, largely been replaced by college/university jazz programs.

NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman has been giving back for decades, in a variety of influential roles. The multi-instrumentalist has travelled the world giving motivational talk inspired by his story; a pedagogue of international renown, Liebman's clinics and workshops also taken him far and wide; as a musician and band leader Liebman continues to explore the myriad avenues of music with the same passion and drive as when he first set out as a professional musician, almost five decades ago, in the bands of Elvin Jones and Miles Davis.

The National Concert Hall, Dublin, was the venue for an insight into the first two of Liebman's facets; a talk from the great musican about his life in music, followed by an ensemble coaching master class with young, up-and-coming musicians; an evening concert in Whelans brought Liebman together with some of the cream of Irish jazz.

The day-long program was the initiative of Improvised Music Company, founders of the 12 Points Festival and Down With Jazz and arguably the most important promotor of jazz and improvised music throughout Ireland this past quarter of a century.

"Well, let me welcome you properly," Liebman said to the audience, appropriately made up of jazz fans, students and musicians, before launching into an unaccompanied soprano saxophone solo. Without much preamble, Liebman explained his musical roots, with his mother a pianist and his father into Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Arturo Toscanini and Enrico Carusso. For Liebman, (b.1946) like so many of his generation, however, it was the advent of rock 'n' roll that set the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons.

Bill Haley's 1954 version of "Rock Around The Clock" (penned by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers) grabbed Liebman by the scruff of the neck, in particular the tenor saxophone solo, played by Joey D'Ambrosio. "I loved the sound of it," said Liebman, "and I wanted to play tenor saxophone."

Liebman would have to wait, however, as his parents obliged him to study piano for two years first. Though it may have seemed like a drag at the time, Liebman remains eternally grateful to his parents for such a musical grounding. "It was the best decision of their lives," admitted Liebman, "because the piano is the gateway to musical knowledge."

Having complied with his parents' wish, at the age of eleven Liebman was ready to roll with teacher Nat Shapiro, who insisted Liebman study clarinet first for a year. Even today Liebman doesn't quite see the advantage of starting off first on clarinet, but regardless, a year later he was studying tenor saxophone.

Liebman recalled taking Saturday afternoons lessons at Carnegie Hall studios with Joe Allard, who Liebman describes as "the guru of saxophone instruction." Allard taught, amongst others Eddie Daniels, Steve Grossman, Michael Brecker, Harry Carney, and even John Coltrane took one lesson. "The long and short of the story," said Liebman, "is that it changed my life. That was pivotal."

If Allard's guidance gave Liebman the solid grounding in the mechanics of playing the saxophone, then a defining moment for Liebman came with seeing jazz live for the first time. On his first visit to Birdland on 52 Street, as a wide-eyed teenager, Liebman encountered the Gerry Mulligan Tentet and Count Basie's Big Band. Liebman was immediately hooked on the thrill of live jazz.

Liebman recounted returning to Birdland a couple of months later with his girlfriend, to see a double bill that featured the Bill Evans Trio and the John Coltrane Quintet with Eric Dolphy. "If there was an epiphany it was that night," said Liebman. "That night my life changed. I had intended to be a doctor. Not after that night."

Interestingly, Liebman's description of the Bill Evans gig suggested a less than ideal environment—of a retrospectively idealized time—from a musician's point of view. "You cannot hear a note," Liebman recalled of the evening. "It was Saturday night, people are talking...I'm talking too..."

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