Jack-of-all-trades and master of many, David Liebman was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1946. The quintessential contemporary jazz artist, Lieb began classical piano lessons at age nine. By the time he was twelve, he'd taken up the saxophone. A year later, he got his first taste of the life of a professional musician, performing at Catskills resorts and club dates around New York with a band called the Impromptu Quartet. It was not, however, until he was fifteen, that his lifelong passion for jazz was kindled, when he first caught John Coltrane playing at the famous Birdland Club in New York City. Studying with Lennie Tristano, Joe Allard, and Charles Lloyd, he honed his knowledge of the idiom. He made his first jazz recording in 1967, with a group of Swedish musicians whom he met during his first trip in Europe.
In 1969, a year after graduating from NYU with a degree in American history, Liebman had his first professional jazz gigs, playing with the likes of Pete LaRoca Sims, Chick Corea, and Steve Swallow. Immersed in the New York "loft jazz" scene -- he played a key role in founding Free Life Communication, a jazz musicians' cooperative -- in 1970 he joined Ten Wheel Drive , one of the early jazz fusion/rock groups. After two years with them, Liebman graduated to the saxophone/flute position with the group led by the legendary Coltrane drummer, Elvin Jones. In 1973, he reached the zenith of his apprenticeship when Miles Davis asked Lieb to join his group. Watching, listening to, and playing with two of the great masters of jazz, the young musician was getting ready to break out on his own. Already in 1970, he had taken his first steps towards becoming a leader in his own right, forming his first group, Open Sky Trio, with Bob Moses. Lookout Farm, with pianist Richard Beirach,was formed in 1973, and shortly thereafter began recording for ECM Records. In 1975, the band signed a major deal with A&M/Horizon for three records. It also toured India, Japan, Europe and the U.S. The 1976 Down Beat International Critics' Poll selected Lookout Farm as Number One in the category, Group Most Deserving of Wider Recognition.
In 1978, upon his return from a world tour with Chick Corea, featuring a string quartet and a brass section, Liebman formed a quintet, which featured John Scofield, Kenny Kirkland and others. After several world tours and recordings with the group, Liebman reunited with Beirach. They began performing and recording as a duo, before forming Quest in 1981 with George Mraz and Al Foster. By then, Lieb had put down the tenor sax, having decided to concentrate exclusively on the soprano sax, where he has found his uniquely recognizable sound-for many years he has consistently placed in the top five of the Down Beat Critics' Poll of soprano saxophonists. In 1984 Quest took on a new form, when bassist Ron McClure and drummer Billy Hart joined the group. Over the course of the next seven years, the band recorded seven highly acclaimed CDs, toured extensively, and conducted many workshops with students around the world.
In addition to playing with his bands, Liebman has made numerous appearances in Europe, where he is a great favorite, performing with the likes of Joachim Kuhn, Daniel Humair, Jon Christensen, Bobo Stenson, Albert Manglesdorff, and Michel Portal. Playing with the WDR (a major German TV network) Symphony Orchestra, as well as with several chamber ensembles and big bands, he has recorded a number of works specially written to feature his soprano saxophone style.
Since 1991, Lieb has been leading the The Dave Liebman Group, which currently features Vic Juris on guitar, Jamey Haddad on drums and Tony Marino on bass. Pursuing a very eclectic contemporary style, the band has toured Europe, Japan and Israel, and recorded seven CDs. In 1996, in a move to consolidate and focus his recording career, Liebman signed an exclusive recording contract with New York's Arkadia Jazz. New Vista, a studio recording with the The Dave Liebman Group and the great Brazilian percussionist Café, is the first fruit of this collaboration. Beyond that, Lieb has already recorded a live version of John Coltrane's "Meditation Suite," and has completed a new CD with Pat Metheny, Billy Hart, and Cecil McBee entitled "The Elements: Water".
To this day, David Liebman has recorded dozens of CDs and albums under his own leadership and has been a featured sideman on nearly 200 others. Over 175 of his original compositions have been recorded as well. From straight ahead to chamber jazz, from fusion to avant garde, his artistic output ranges across the spectrum. Yet he is remarkably consistent -- everything he does is marked by a singular conviction and a unique sense of adventure -- the distinctive traits of the unmistakable Liebman aesthetic.
Educator and Clinician The "day-job" that Liebman left in order to become a full-time jazzman was one he inherited from his parents -- they were both New York City public school teachers. Although the past twenty-five years have afforded Liebman few opportunities to flash his substitute teacher credential, his instructional impulses are still alive and kicking. Possessed of varied musical interests, expert on several instruments, and adept at articulating the intricacies of jazz technique and expression, he is a master pedagogue whose skills are coveted at universities and clinics around the world. He has just celebrated the tenth anniversary of his Master saxophone class at East Stroudsburg University. On a regular basis, the National Endowment of the Arts (U.S.) and the Canadian Arts Council disburse grants to musicians so that they might study with him. (Liebman himself has received two NEA grants for composition (1980) and performance (1991).
In 1989, he founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ). Counting members in 40 different countries, this organization is essentially a jazz-school network connecting educators and students from around the globe through periodic meetings, exchange programs, and newsletters. And if that were not enough, he has also written and published books on a variety of subjects, produced instructional videos, and contributed regularly to periodicals such as the Saxophone Journal and the Jazz Educators' Journal. In recognition of his talents and accomplishments, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland bestowed on him an honorary doctorate in May, 1997 -- their first ever to a jazz musician.
Erudite and impassioned, Liebman has never thought of jazz as simply music. Establishing cooperatives, organizing conventions, educating aspiring musicians, Liebman has served the jazz community in many different capacities, bringing life to jazz as well as jazz to life.