AAJ: In Seattle we have a strong jazz community.
DL: I know that.
AAJ: But free jazz, which largely has been ignored by the press, is getting a lot more exposure now and a lot more of us are playing free jazz. Do you ever work with any of the less - to use that term again - "mainstream" creative musicians, any gigs, projects, or anything like that?
DL: I like tapping into that. But, you know, free jazz for me begins in 1964 or '65. It's not something different, it's just another way to play. It's like, I could play fusion or play a standard; it's just another aspect of playing. It's not a movement, it's not a cause. I enjoy doing that and especially, of course, in Europe there is a lot more of that, but I like also playing the blues too. I mean, it's all music. Once you are equipped musically, which takes 20 or 30 years, you get to a point where you don't see categories. You see, like, "Oh, here's this musical situation. Here's these musicians. Here is this particular setting." And you will do what you know and what you like to do. But you just shift gears because you can, musically. But that takes 20 or 30 years to become adept at switching among several different styles. In my case, because I grew up in an eclectic era, I have three or four things I like to do, and those are the things I can do. I don't do six or seven, but I do three or four and I enjoy it.
I think putting a name on it is something you do when you are younger and you need to do that to identify yourself. But, in the end, we are going to play free the way we will tonight on a G7 chord. I'll go back one story, I'll tell you. When I had this discussion with Pete La Roca, Chick Corea, and Dave Holland on 69th Street and Broadway on a summer night, and Chick and Dave were doing Circle then with Barry Altschul and Anthony Braxton and Pete. It was Pete's band and this was my first experience. And they were kind of, in a friendly way, challenging him to - "Why can't we play free?" This is 1969, you understand, so "free" was new. And Pete says, "I play free in 4/4. I don't know what you're talking about. I'm always free." And in his case, it's very true (laughs). In his case, he could play free in 4/4. And I'll tell you something, I always think about that story and I think about it in a way like, that was kind of a casual answer. But you know what? He was exactly right. Because the truth is, what we're listening to right now with Larry (He is referring to Unity by Larry Young playing in the background. This album features Woody Shaw playing trumpet, Joe Henderson playing tenor saxophone, Larry Young playing organ, and Elvin Jones playing drums.), you don't get freer that the way Joe is playing on that. When was that "Unity," '68? You don't get freer than that playing the blues in 1968 with Larry and Jones. So, to me "free" means a state of mind, and I never think "free" is "free of." Free from - it's not "free" it's "free from." I don't have restrictions. I do what I have to do, or we do what we have to do. Political is one thing, musical is another.
AAJ: How do you see yourself growing musically over the next few years? Do you have any future projects in mind?
DL: Well, I would like to continue with this group as long as I can. As I said, I like the home feeling of empathy. And I don't go like that. I go, you know, it's project to project. I like to play with other musicians here and there, but the thing is you can always get better on your instrument. I wish I had the time to devote to that. You can get the soprano better, you know, I can just get things better. That's how I look at it. That is something that goes on until the day you die. You get better on your instrument. And the better you get on your instrument the more you are able to translate your feelings and the music to a higher level, but you've got to be better on your instrument to do that (laughs), and that takes time and playing which we have a limited amount of. So, in a way, if I would say the same thing I want to do, I just want to play as much as I can play. That's enough of a challenge these days that it becomes almost the thing that you have to do. How do you play as much as you have to play in this day and age when there are less opportunities to play? So that becomes almost the thing. I don't want to take it away from music but that's almost the thing, which is, I just want to be able to get that horn in my mouth as much as possible in a good situation. That's becoming enough of a challenge that it takes up most of my time.
AAJ: Do you think it is more of a challenge today than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago?
DL: It's almost beyond the ability to do it. The world has changed; things are different. It's not just us. It's pop music, it's everything. It's very, very hard to be creative. It's ridiculous. It's almost impossible. You have to be stronger than ever before. On the other hand, the young guys are more equipped today. But for guys like us, we have a little reputation and we can keep going. We always find a little pocket to play in and we'll just keep doing that until the end. But you have to keep your health most of all. You have to keep your inspiration - get up every day - and then you have to create work, situations that you can do. It's a very practical thing, in a way. Musically, I don't even think about it as much as I think about practicality. How are we going to get the gig? How long do we have to drive? What do we have to do tomorrow? Unless I don't have a stage, I don't have a problem. I don't have to think about that. You know, we are good guys, we'll get this. Things take care of themselves, you know, when we are good musicians.
Visit Dave Liebman on the web.