“New Faces Of Jazz”-Interviews by Cicily Janus-Billboard Books (2009)

David Liebman

Saxophonist, Composer, Educator

“In spite of what may happen in the real world, there’s another
world where beauty and truth reign supreme.”


            I don’t think I’d be the same person if it weren’t for music.  I certainly didn’t think I was going this way in the beginning.  Music was just the thing in the family you did.  You played piano and in those days the piano was the center of the living room.  Of course there was a television but it wasn’t like it is now.  Taking piano lessons was required of us, especially in a middle-class Jewish family in Brooklyn.  But right away, when I heard music, I liked the sax.  The tenor sax was very prominent in early rock and roll and Elvis was one of my first heroes after Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays (baseball legends).  But my mother was hip enough to know the best advice of all time, which was I had to have at least two years of classical piano before I could  choose my instrument. So it wasn’t long until I got to the sax. I was first exposed to jazz hearing someone play in front of me at the neighborhood school where I took lessons.  It was very fascinating to see someone moving their fingers so fast with no music in front of them and their eyes closed.  When you’re a kid that’s all you see.  But the real epiphany for me was the night I saw Coltrane live at Birdland in the city.  I was fifteen years old.  Whatever that was, I couldn’t believe it was the same instrument I had back in Brooklyn and that THIS is what could be done with it.  Of course I followed him till the end.  I saw him as much as I could and from then on pursued his music.  If it wasn’t for Trane I would have played and enjoyed music but I would have probably become a music teacher or something else.  I wouldn’t have seen that there’s something behind the veil.

With the arts in general, you have to get turned on to it like I did.  You don’t just come out of the shell appreciating Picasso.  You have to be taught and in those days there was no instruction like there is now.  What I do in one hour with my students is more instruction than I got in my early years (exaggerating of course).  We just did things our way, the street way and I was exposed to it at the right age.  It formed my life, my vocation and my world view.  In spite of what may happen in the real world, there is another reality where beauty and truth reign supreme serving the better side of humanity.

Jazz is about being a part of a group and at the same time, being assertive and an individual on your own.  I like this combination.  This is exactly what we all deal with in life everyday.  We do it every minute.  I consider jazz, as a light, a kind of shining beacon and those that do it are great folks.  I don’t know anybody hipper and nicer than jazz musicians.  We’re not in it for the money, you just can’t be.  We just try to keep our integrity in spite of the forces around us that are usually way stacked against honesty, forces that are for profit and all that stuff,  not for love and beauty.  You have to have an inner strength, as there’s a certain amount of wear and tear in playing this music. I’m not comparing it with labor in the fields or anything but you got to be strong, sensitive and focused with your eyes on the ball, not what’s necessarily around it. You can’t be alive now and not see the degradation of culture staring us in theface. These days the world’s so much more complicated with little time for art.  You have to pick and choose where and why and who and be very specific about what you want to do. There will always be a segment of any population that not only wants the magic that comes from great art but also needs it.  These are the people we play for.  And I think that as long as you keep your sights reasonable, you’re okay. I don’t want to be a saint; I just want to play the music I believe in.