LESSONS FROM THE GREATS by DAVID LIEBMAN
What did you (DL) digest from playing with famous musicians?
I was fortunate to play with both Elvin Jones and Miles Davis for several years in the 1970s. In a performing art like jazz, one must serve apprenticeship time with a master. This is an ancient tradition in all cultures. The idea is to pass on the knowledge from the old to the young. This is what I represent [now] in the contemporary scene. I am one of the transmitters of the secrets of jazz, which can never be learned from books. The most important thing I learned was to have confidence in myself as an artist and man. These masters I played with [were] very strong men which [was] passed on to the[ir] students. Of course, I digested countless musical lessons, such as pacing, building a solo, dynamics, time and feel, etc., etc. The list could go on and on, but whatever you hear me play has come from what I learned from the great masters.
What are your guiding principles in music?
To me, music is only a part of the larger issue, which is life. My only guiding principle in life is the “Golden Rule,” which is to treat others as you would have them treat you. In other words, respect the rights of all people. In music, this becomes a quest for individuality and creativity which I demand in myself and those I play with. Although I have respect for any music that communicates to many people, I must be satisfied that the music speaks of matters other than only entertainment before I can be enthusiastic about it. I am not very interested in music unless it has enough depth to be instructive, to teach me something. Depth is measured differently by every person but it has to do with passion and emotion as well as logic and intellect. My music must feel good, emotionally and physically, as well as be interesting and challenging from the point of view of actual musical content. One without the other is not satisfying. Musically, I have guidelines which are very general, concerning balance between all elements such as loud to soft, written to improvised, fast to slow, etc. The basic principle is tension and release. All music for me should be flexible and loose enough to be able to move back and forth between extremes – never so rigid that the music becomes stiff. One last guideline is a goal I try for every time I play, which is to play as hard as I can – as if there were no tomorrow.