Dave Liebman

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Dave Liebman
Vein featuring Dave Liebman Dave Liebman Unterfahrt 2012-09-27-001.jpg
Background information
Birth nameDavid Liebman
Born (1946-09-04) September 4, 1946 (age 75)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, avant-garde jazz, jazz fusion, bebop, hard bop, post-bop, modal jazz
Occupation(s)Saxophonist, flutist, bandleader, educator, composer
InstrumentsTenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, alto flute
Associated actsMiles Davis, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Richie Beirach, Bob Moses

David Liebman (born September 4, 1946) is an American saxophonist, flautist and jazz educator.[1] He is known for his innovative lines and use of atonality. He was a frequent collaborator with pianist Richie Beirach.

In June 2010, he received a NEA Jazz Masters lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).


Early life and career[edit]

David Liebman was born in 1946 into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. As a child in 1949 he contracted polio.[2] He began classical piano lessons at the age of nine and saxophone by twelve. His interest in jazz was sparked by seeing John Coltrane perform live in New York City clubs such as Birdland, the Village Vanguard and the Half Note. Throughout high school and college, Liebman pursued his jazz interest by studying with Joe Allard, Lennie Tristano, and Charles Lloyd. Upon graduation from New York University (with a degree in American history), he began to seriously devote himself to the full-time pursuit of being a jazz artist.

In the early 1970s, after recording with Genya Ravan and Ten Wheel Drive, Liebman took the leading role (as President) in organizing several dozen musicians into a cooperative, Free Life Communication, which became an integral part of the fertile New York loft jazz scene in the early 1970s and was funded by The New York State Council of the Arts and the Space for Innovative Development. After one year spent with Ten Wheel Drive, a rock group with experimental leanings, Liebman secured the saxophone/flute position with the group of John Coltrane's drummer, Elvin Jones. Within two years, Liebman reached the zenith of his apprenticeship period when Miles Davis hired him. These years, 1970–74, were filled with tours and recordings. At the same time, Liebman began exploring his own music, first in the Open Sky Trio with Bob Moses and then with pianist Richie Beirach in the group Lookout Farm. This group recorded for the German-based ECM label as well as A&M Records while touring the U.S., Canada, India, Japan and Europe. Lookout Farm was awarded the number one position in the category "Group Deserving of Wider Recognition"in the 1976 Down Beat's International Critics' Poll. In these years he also played and recorded with Pee Wee Ellis.

In 1977, Liebman toured the world with pianist Chick Corea, followed up the next year by the formation of the David Liebman Quintet with John Scofield, Kenny Kirkland and Terumasa Hino as featured sidemen. After several world tours and recordings by the quintet over three years, he reunited with Richard Beirach. They began performing and recording as a duo, as well as creating the group Quest in 1981. Beginning with bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster, the group solidified when Ron McClure and Billy Hart joined in 1984. Through 1991, Quest recorded seven CDs, toured extensively and did many workshops with students worldwide.

1990s to present[edit]

After 23 years with the Dave Liebman Group (featuring guitarist Vic Juris), Liebman formed "Expansions" reaching out to the younger generation featuring bassist Tony Marino, pianist Bobby Avey, on reeds Matt Vashlishan and Alex Ritz on drums. Over the past decades, Liebman has often been featured with top European jazz artists such as Joachim Kühn, Daniel Humair, Paolo Fresu, Jon Christensen, Bobo Stenson and in the World View Trio with Austrian drummer Wolfgang Reisenger and French bassist Jean-Paul Celea. His ability to play in so many diverse styles has led to big band and radio orchestra performances with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, the WDR and NDR in Germany, the Metropole Orchestra of the Netherlands, the new music group Klangforum Wien from Vienna and, most notably, Liebman was the first improviser to perform with the world-famous Ensemble InterContemporain founded by Pierre Boulez in France. On all these occasions, the music is arranged from Liebman's own compositions and improvisations. He has consistently placed among the top finalists in the Down Beat Critic's and Reader's Polls since 1973 in the Soprano Saxophone category and on occasion, flute. Lieb has been featured on several hundred recordings of which he has been the leader or co-leader on over one hundred. Nearly three hundred original compositions have been recorded. His artistic output has ranged from straight-ahead classic jazz to chamber music, from fusion to avant garde, with numerous CDs featuring original arrangements of the music of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Kurt Weill, Alec Wilder, Cole Porter, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Puccini and the Beatles.

Liebman in Aarhus, Denmark in 2014

Liebman has published material on a variety of subjects including instructional DVDs. He has also published chamber music and over the years has contributed regularly to various periodicals, such as the Saxophone Journal and the International Association of Jazz Educators Journal. He is the author of several milestone books: Self Portrait of a Jazz Artist, Jazz Connections: Miles Davis and David Liebman, A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody, and Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound. Several of these books have been translated to other languages.

His teaching activities at universities and in clinic settings have taken him literally around the world as a result of his varied musical directions and expertise on several instruments, along with an ability to articulate the intricacies of the jazz language, aesthetic and technique. Over the years, he has regularly received grantees to study with him funded by the NEA (U.S.), the Canadian Arts Council, as well as Arts Councils of numerous European countries. In 1989, he founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ), an organization dedicated to networking educators and students from international jazz schools through periodic meetings, exchange programs and newsletters. Liebman presently serves as the Artistic Director of the IASJ. He scored music for the JazzEx Ballet Company in the Netherlands in the early 1990s and Ocean of Light for Katrina and the tsunami tragedies in 2006. Currently, Liebman is the Artist in Residence at the Manhattan School of Music and will be visiting Artist at the University of Toronto for year 2014–15.[3][4]

Liebman and musicologist Lewis Porter teamed up to develop What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist, Liebman's biography. Released in March 2012, the book was well received by jazz critics.[5] In 2018, Liebman donated his 1955–2017 archives to Berklee College of Music.[6]

In 1989 he was the Artistic Director of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. He was an Artist in Residence at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and held an annual Saxophone/Chromatic Harmony Master class held at East Stroudsurg University since 1987. He recorded extensively for Double-Time Records during the 1990s.

Personal life[edit]

Liebman is married to oboist and composer Caris Visentin Liebman since 1987. His only daughter, Lydia Liebman,[7] is a noted jazz publicist. Currently, Liebman resides in New York City.

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 2013: Jazz Educators Network (JEN) Legends of Jazz
  • 2011: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Masters of Jazz
  • 2011: First place Soprano Sax category Jazz Times and Downbeat Critics's Poll
  • 2011: DL Group – Best Live Performance All About Jazz and NY Jazz
  • 2010: Jazz Man of the Year – All About Jazz, New York City
  • 2010: Best Record of The Year-German Jazz Critics for Turnaround - Liebman Group Plays the Music of Ornette Coleman
  • 2009: Order of Arts and Letters from the French government
  • 2007: Jazz Journalist's Award for Best Soprano Sax
  • 2005: Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Grant to individual artists
  • 2004: Grammy nomination for performance of Jim McNeely's arrangement of "Sing, Sing, Sing", from Beyond The Line - Dave Liebman Big Band (Omnitone)
  • 2001: Fred Waring Award from Celebration of the Arts, which organizes a yearly festival in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania where Liebman resides for outstanding contributions to the arts and community
  • 2000: Inducted into the Hall of Fame of the International Association of Jazz Educators for contributions to jazz pedagogy
  • 1998: Grammy nomination in the category of Best Jazz Solo for the recording of "My Favorite Things" from Thank You, John (Arkadia Records)
  • 1997: Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland; the first ever given to a jazz artist
  • 1991: National Endowment of the Arts grant for performance
  • 1988: Record of the Year from the French Jazz Academy for Homage to Coltrane (Owl Records)
  • 1981: National Endowment of the Arts grant


As leader[edit]

  • First Visit (Phillips, 1973)
  • Lookout Farm (ECM, 1974) - recorded in 1973
  • Drum Ode (ECM, 1975) - recorded in 1974
  • Father Time (Enja, 1975)
  • Sweet Hands (Horizon, 1975)
  • Night Scapes (CBS/Sony, 1975)
  • Light'n Up, Please! (Horizon, 1977) - recorded in 1976
  • Pendulum (Artists House, 1979) - recorded in 1978
  • Eight Originals from the Seventies (JA, 1979)
  • What It Is (Columbia, 1980)
  • Close-Up (Contempo Vibrato, 1983)
  • Memories, Dreams and Reflections (PM, 1983)
  • Picture Show (PM, 1985)
  • The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner (CMP, 1986)
  • Homage to John Coltrane (Owl, 1987)
  • Classic Ballads (Candid, 1991)
  • Looking for the Light (CCB, 1992)
  • Joy: The Music of John Coltrane (Candid, 1993)
  • Return of the Tenor: Standards (Double-Time, 1996)
  • Voyage (Evidence, 1996)
  • John Coltrane's Meditations (Arkadia Jazz, 1997)
  • New Vista (Arkadia Jazz, 1997)
  • The Unknown Jobim (Global Music Network, 2001)
  • Liebman Plays Puccini: A Walk in the Clouds (Arkadia Jazz, 2001)
  • Conversation (Sunnyside, 2003)
  • Beyond the Line (OmniTone, 2003)
  • In a Mellow Tone (Zoho, 2004)
  • Blues All Ways (OmniTone, 2007)
  • Back on the Corner (Tone Center, 2006)
  • Further Conversations (True Azul 2008)
  • Negative Space (EmArcy, 2008)
  • Live at MCG (MCG, 2009)
  • Live, As Always (Mama, 2010)
  • Ceremony (Chesky, 2014)
  • Samsara (Whaling City Sound, 2014)
  • The Puzzle (Whaling City Sound, 2015)
  • Expansions Live (Whaling City Sound, 2016)
  • Fire (Jazzline, 2018)

As Open Sky[edit]

  • Open Sky (PM, 1973)
  • Spirit in the Sky (PM, 1975)

As Quest[edit]

  • Quest (Trio, 1982)
  • Quest II (Storyville, 1986) - Live
  • Midpoint: Quest III (Storyille, 1988)
  • N.Y. Nites: Standards (PAN Music/NEC Avenue, 1988)
  • Natural Selection (Pathfinder/NEC Avenue, 1988)
  • Of One Mind (CMP, 1990)
  • Redemption; Quest Live in Europe (Hatology, 2007) - Live
  • Re-Dial - Live In Hamburg (Outnote, 2007) - Live
  • Circular Dreaming (enja, 2012) - recorded in 2011

As co-leader[edit]

  • Forgotten Fantasies with Richie Beirach (Horizon/A&M, 1976)
  • Earth Jones with Elvin Jones (Palo Alto, 1982)
  • The Energy of the Chance with Dave Love (Heads Up, 1988)
  • Abracadabra with Jeff Palmer, John Abercrombie, Adam Nussbaum (Soul Note, 1990)
  • Inner Voices with Abbey Rader (Abray, 1997)
  • Suite for Soprano Sax and String Orchestra with Florian Ross (Naxos, 1999)
  • Cosmos with Abbey Rader (Cadence, 2003)
  • Gathering of Spirits (Telarc, 2004)
  • Flashpoint with Anthony Jackson, Steve Smith, Aydin Esen (Mascot, 2005)
  • Manhattan Dialogues with Phil Marakowitz (Zoho, 2005)
  • New Light - Live in Oslo (PM, 2007)
  • Waters Ashore with LaDonna Smith, Misha Feigin (Trans Museq 2007)
  • Seraphic Light with Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Ravi Coltrane (Telarc, 2008)
  • Quest for Freedom with Richie Beirach (Sunnyside, 2010)
  • Lineage with Michael Stephans (Whaling City Sound, 2013)
  • The Miami Jazz Project with Arthur Barron, Abel Pabon (Zoho, 2014)
  • Visitation (ArtistShare, 2014)
  • Distant Song with Fred Farell (Whaling City Sound, 2018)
  • Petite Fleur with John Stowell (Origin, 2018)
  • Journey Around The Truth with Andy Emler (Unknown, 2019)


  1. ^ Collar, Matt (1946-09-04), David Liebman – Music Biography, Credits and Discography. AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-05-12.
  2. ^ McKay, George (2013). Shakin' All Over: Popular Music and Disability. University of Michigan Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780472052097.
  3. ^ Taylor, Kate. (2010-06-24) NEA Will Honor 18 Artists – NYTimes.com. Artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com. Retrieved on 2013-05-12.
  4. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters". Washington: National Endowment for the Arts. June 24, 2010. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2010.
  5. ^ Matt R. Lohr (September 14, 2012). "Dave Liebman in Conversation with Lewis Porter What It Is: The Life of a Jazz Artist". Jazz Times. New York. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  6. ^ "What's News". The New York City Jazz Record. No. 200. December 2018. p. 5.
  7. ^ Magazine, JAZZIZ (May 1, 2019). "Sax Addict: Dave Liebman Shows No Signs of Slowing Down". JAZZIZ Magazine. Retrieved July 13, 2020.

External links[edit]