Tuesday, December 29, 2009


"ON THE CORNER" ONLINE: The entire concert (featuring John Abercrombie and Badal Roy) that I presented at La Cite De La Musique performing the music from the period when I was with Miles Davis in the '70s is online through the end of February as well as my award ceremony for the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government.

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In a past newsletter I spoke a little about this subject, but here is a more complete discussion on the topic:

In the past year I have done extensive traveling outside of my usual European (and on occasion American) circuit, most notably to South Africa and Korea and have some definite impressions about the audiences attending jazz concerts these days.

From what I and others of my generation are observing it appears that the audience we see is definitely “graying” as the average age is rising. As hard proof, a recent survey conducted in the U.S. by the National Endowment of the Arts concluded that the median age of jazz listeners has raised to 46 years old from 42 in 2002, 37 in 1992 and 29 in 1982. There are notable exceptions of course like the student type venues or ”downtown” bars/listening rooms such as the 55 Bar or Smalls in New York City where young musicians play for the door or minimal fee. Most major cities do have these types of places. On the other hand at the Cape town Festival in South Africa and the Joralemen Festival near Seoul, Korea, the audience was quite the opposite: young, apparently upper middle class folks out for the day to hear some jazz, I phones and Blackberrys in hand (of course texting while we play). I have noticed this also in places like Istanbul, Australia, Uruguay, Brazil and in the Eastern European bloc, all visited in the past two years.

The apparent analysis appears to be that where jazz is relatively new, it personifies hipness and sophistication meaning young people are drawn to it not necessarily because they know who “Trane” or “Monk” is or have jazz recordings, but because it is the thing to do. There is nothing new about this. A similar phenomenon was evident in the ‘40s and ‘50s in America and certainly in Europe a bit later. It is true that depending upon the location economics may have something to do with it. Certainly in New York the price of hearing a set in a major club is beyond the means of a student age person, the same being for bigger concerts in the States. On the other hand because of the more extensive subsidy system in Europe, ticket prices are relatively cheap and yet we still see a “grayer” audience on that circuit as well.

From an artistic/aesthetic standpoint what effect do these different audiences have on the presentation of the music? Is it a good thing that at least somewhere young people are coming and should this segment of the population be specifically addressed marketing-wise as is happening for so many other kinds of commerce more and more through the internet? As we all can see, the world if anything has become one large market place, economic downturn not withstanding. There are still a lot of folks with leisure time and discretionary money in the West and more people in that situation at least in some of the developing world as we observe in India and China for example.

Here is where the discussion gets complicated. We are back to the perennial discussion of who are we playing for and the raison d’etre of why we play this music. The stock answer is to communicate. But the truth is that for decades although so-called “contemporary” or “modern” jazz has changed styles several times, one theme in common is the sense that the music has gone beyond the audience’s ability to comprehend it. From an historical standpoint this began in earnest in the 60’s with the first wave of so-called “free jazz” though its antecedents go back ten or more years earlier. I recall lengthy discussions with Chick Corea while on tour with him in the late ‘70s concerning his contention that the value of art should be measured by its ability to communicate. My problem was and is communicate what to whom? After all, a strip tease communicates something of enjoyment and value, at least for a select audience in the right environment!

I have no conclusive answers for this dilemma which as an educator/performing artist I am obligated to share with students and colleagues. And although there are at present and have been countless attempts at educating young people in the K-12 grade levels these years, it doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect as far as the popularity of jazz is concerned. For young artists this subject of who comprises the audience is crucial to their future both artistically and economically. This is a conflict that has been going on for centuries and those of us who have dedicated our lives to becoming proficient communicators of a specific language vis a vis an established art form are on the front line. The crux of the matter is how far does an artist go towards striking a balance between personal honesty and a principled aesthetic code, while at the same time satisfying and building an audience which after all pays for one’s services?

I always put forth the following quandary to my graduating students: Will playing for 20 people in a basement be personally satisfying in the sense of personal satisfaction or does it have to be a small hall seating a few hundred people? Or 5000in the audience and so on? Speculative as this may be, the question remains that each individual artist has to find a personal comfort level that will keep them inspired to go on. Once you make this decision (which we all do either purposely or inadvertently over time), you have in fact to a large degree determined quite a bit about the music you will present. You can’t expect 5000 people to be equally receptive and open towards the same musical intricacy and detail that a small, select, esoteric-minded audience would. To my mind casting aside idealistic goals for a moment, this is just a matter of numbers and common sense. That’s why the programs for these festivals mentioned above usually includes an eclectic mix with some music that MAY be construed as jazz, but for sure you will hear a preponderance of singer-type and commercial jazz acts. (This doesn’t discount that off the main stage you might hear some adventurous local groups.)

This graying/ younger audience discussion does have an effect on how the leader might choose the repertoire in these two different situations. The younger audiences will probably not know who the artists are except for a few experts who are most likely musicians themselves. With the “grayer” public you can be pretty confident they know who is performing and are in a sense paying a return visit to see an old acquaintance(s). Therefore, in the former situation there is an element of having to “win” the audience over that becomes part of the challenge for the performer. Without conceding the artistic imperative one has to consider how to accommodate this kind of public, whereas the “grayer” folks will probably accept more or less anything one plays since they are already fans. For myself, I find this is very true in Europe. My audiences see me in a variety of contexts over a few year period and seemingly are cool about it. It goes without saying that in the case of so-called “superstars” (in jazz or any idiom), their audience often spans several generations and they can do what they want within the expectations based on their history, an enviable position to be in. In theory this means they should have a lot more leeway but of course they may be obliged to play their so-called “hits.”

As I said, there are no final answers to these questions but the discussion should be on the table and noted. As educators, our main responsibility is to be honest and clear about what the options are. The problem of communicating art is a perennial question no matter what period of history under discussion. Every individual artist has to find a way to deal with this in relation to their context in present time, not based on past assumptions.

SAXOPHONE MASTER CLASS: My 23rd Saxophone Master Class will take place as usual at East Stroudsburg University, East Stroudsburg, PA (one and half hours from New York City). A description of the activities, past meetings, etc. is available on my site. If you are interested I need a CD of your playing, even with a play along track is fine. I am looking for at least a middle level of understanding jazz basics, chord changes and time feel. The class will take place the first week of August.
Send to: Dave Liebman
2206 Brislin Road
Stroudsburg, PA 18360

After decades of working solo I have decided that I should have management and in then fall asked my friend of 30 years Dave Love to take over this role in my career. Dave was the founder and President of the Heads Up label for 20 years, one of the few success stories of the past decade and worked with Michael Brecker, Joe Zawinul, Yellowjackets, Stanley Clarke, Esperanza Spalding and a host of top jazz artists. We are already taking care of dates overseas and have a new web site which is now on line. Please check the new site soon (still www.davidliebman.com); most important especially for musicians are the interviews (under “Publicity”) and the Educational Articles (under “Education”).

CHARLIE BINACOS: One of the most famous teachers of jazz who had been doing it for fifty years was Charlie Binacos from the Boston area who passed on very quickly from cancer. He may be one of the first to use the correspondence method (using cassettes in the old days). I have a mimeographed (yes!!) copy of a book he wrote on pentatonics in the ‘60s, way before there was a jazz publishing business. He was very influential, teaching students from all over the world with a long waiting list of prospective clients. He always tailored his pedagogy specifically to the student. My wife studied with him and it seemed like he had an inexhaustible resource of material to share. He was nice man who had a profound affect on the jazz education world-a true pioneer.

LUDMILA UHLELHA: Talking about teachers, Ludmila taught for over fifty years at the Manhattan School of Music where I am presently Artist in Residence. She was the first woman graduate in the composition department and most relevant was her open attitude towards jazz composers. She welcomed them to her composition classes, encouraged to write anything they wished and then commented, always with a positive attitude. You have to remember that the classical and jazz worlds did not always get along . This is still true in some places, though much less than previously. Whether it is fear of the unknown (improvisation) or just smugness is not clear. But Ludmila was completely cool. Her most important contribution was the book “Contemporary Harmony” which was written in the ‘60s and remained an underground treasure for years being passed around in hard cover or copies whenever possible. In the early ‘90s I had the occasion to meet her at the Manhattan School before I was teaching there. I told her how famous the book was in a part of the jazz community. She casually mentioned that she owned the rights, something which is quite unusual. I immediately hooked her up with my publisher, Advance Music, and the book has now been available since then and at least in my case, is required reading for my master students at the school. This is the best book on 20th century harmony that I am aware of. She was really an amazing woman who left a gigantic legacy.


This is a new CD released on the Manchester Crafts Guild label recorded in 1995 at their concert hall in Pittsburg. The group then included Jamey Haddad on drums and percussion, Phil Markowitz on keyboards and piano; Tony Marino on electric and acoustic bass; Vic Juris on electric and acoustic guitars and myself oexclusively on soprano sax and wooden flute before returning to the tenor for the first time in 15 years (which is documented on "Return of the Tenor"-Double Time Records). This live date happened five years into that band's development and was along with another recording "Voyage" (Evidence Records) was definitely the high point for that version of the group, the sound of which I had in mind when I began with these guys in 1991. We are using electronics, synths and colors intertwined with some pretty high level compositiona and two re-arrangements of "Maiden Voyage" and "All Blues." I really like this record because the band is as tight as we ever were. Markowitz is amazing and Jamey's contribution is quite dramatic. Vic is like the second horn and of course as always, Tony holds it all together. Somehow the music doesn't sound dated and I am glad it is seeing the light of day documenting my group of the early '90s.

GIGS: Some nice things in the NY area in November:
-Duo with Phil Markowitz at the Rubin Museum, a beautiful place dedicated to art from India, Bhutan, Nepal ,etc. and now exhibiting the “Red Book: of Carl Jung (last newsletter).

-Two Monday nights at Roberto’s Woodwind Store using the restaurant facility below the store celebrating his 20 years in the business. Featuring two bands a night, (something which is rather unusual these days) the first gig we played opposite Donny McCaslin’s group with Ben Monder and Adam Cruz. I really like Donny; he is absolutely killing on the tenor with a great technique, smoothness and a lot of fire. He joined my group (Vic Juris, Tony Marino and Marko Marcinko) for much of the second set. The second gig in December was opposite Sam Newsome’s group with the great John Hebert on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Sam is a soprano sax specialist who is definitely extending techniques in the Steve Lacy tradition. I totally enjoyed it. We had a good time with Matt Vashlishan and an old friend from Rome, Maurizio Giammarco sitting in with my group.

-Sketches of Spain at Manhattan School of Music and Dizzy’s Club; no matter how often I play this piece, it still brings up a lot of emotion and feeling for me. I never get tired of it.

-Lewis Porter is best known for his seminal book on Coltrane, but is also an excellent pianist. We had a really nice afternoon gig at Rutgers University with Joris Teep on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, two really nice players.

Also I was able to finally visit the Rutgers Jazz Library, the most famous jazz collection in the world, often visited by scholars for research purposes. Directed by the great Dan Morgenstern, it is an amazing place, most famously housing every article ever written on jazz and miles of CDS, books, etc. Well worth a visit.

AN ECLECTIC WEEK: I often comment on how lucky I am musically to perform in such wide varieties of circumstances, even within the course of a few days. I had just such a week in December:

-Arriving from New York directly to Vienna, invited by drummer Uli Soykal to be part of a night of free jazz featuring the amazing Dutch cellist, Ernst Reisinger, the music was fantastic: two sets of free jazz, meaning no music, not one word about what we would play, just utter spontaneity. These guys (sorry not to have the other personnel names) represented one of the best musical contributions Europe has to offer the jazz world-their high level of expertise at playing free jazz. The most important aspect of this kind of interaction is knowing when to stop a texture and move on, when to solo and when to converse with others, and most of all when to stop because this music is about “events” and happenings, the timing of which is crucial. The five elements of music include most commonly melody, rhythm and harmony (if it exists at all), but also color (sound) and form. Free jazz is absolutely tied to color and form-the how and the when more that the what. This was a great night with an audience (the Porgy and Bess club, one of the greatest around) that is trained to go on the voyage with the musicians.

-Three concerts and a recording with my oldest compatriot, pianist Richie Beirach who has been living in Germany, teaching for the past several years. Although we have re-united “Quest” (with Ron McClure and Billy Hart) a few times in the past several years (and soon again for a European tour in March), Richie and I haven’t played duo in twenty years. And of course, for fans that know us from the “Lookout Farm” days in the ‘70s when I left Miles to begin my career as a leader (will be doing “Lookout Farm Revisited” at Birdland in February), the duo is the lynch pin of our relationship and the various groups we have had. Picking up like we just played the day before, we made a great recording that will be released on a new French label, along with a live “Quest” recording done on the last tour . (More about this in the near future). It was great to be back in the saddle with “the Code” as Richie is known among his peers (for his harmonic language).

-Finally, performing “On The Corner” at Le Cite De La Musique in Paris with John Abercrombie, Badal Roy, Andy Emler, Lynley Martha and Eric Echampard. As part of a several month long Miles tribute, I took some of the pieces I recorded and played during my time with Miles, with a bit of re-arrangement. It was an historic night and really well received by the packed audience. There was an exhibit at the theater of Miles’ entire career with a fantastic book including photos, interviews, all kinds of things arranged in decades and presented beautifully as the French know how to do so well. It took three hours to get through the exhibit which will move next year to Montreal and then hopefully a permanent home can be found for it. This was really amazing and I hope it can be seen by as many people as possible in the future.

-Order of Arts and Letters: At the end of our concert, I was officially presented with the Order of Arts and Letters medal by Claude Carriere, who recorded me many times for Radio France. It was a real honor to receive this medal and I thank the French government and public for their kindness towards me. As I said at the ceremony, one thing about the French public is very true. Once they accept you artistically they remain loyal forever, withstanding fads and the like. Merci beaucoup.

Claude Carrière medal presentation
Cité de la Musique, décember 19th, 2009

"We'll ask you a few minutes patience for a short ceremony that Dave Liebman prepared with great care. For this occasion you can notice the return of the bandana "at the top" – we had not seen him with the bandana for a long time ! Please note that his wife Caris and his daughter Lydia are here tonight, they came especially from Pennsylvania.

A few words about this great man that once again we have been passionately listening to during this concert.

Of course today there was a strong reference to Miles Davis, but since then as we all know, he is much more than only the saxophonist who performed with Miles. He became an artist whose voice is totally original, a master reference especially on soprano saxophone. On soprano and tenor, he seems better than anyone to have penetrate all the secrets of Coltrane.

It's important to mention that, with the same generosity his music reflects on stage, he invests a large part of his life in teaching. He created 20 years ago the IASJ, and he constantly develops new interactions between jazz schools all over the world. He also has, more than any other american musician, the supreme elegance to perform regularly with french musicians !

For all these reasons, and many others that would be too long to develop here, and because you are, Dave, in all domains a Man and a Musician with a capital M – I have the great honour, in the name of the Ministery of Culture and Communication, by virtue of the power which has been vested in me, to remit you the medal of Officier dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres."

In January the entire concert and award ceremony will be streamed for a while. I will post the address on my new web site when it is available.

COLTRANE-SIDE STEPS: A box set that is great because it puts all of Trane’s sideman Prestige recordings together from 1957-58. As we know of course, Trane’s rate of progress was incredible as this one and half year document shows. His assurance, tone, speed and dexterity increases on each recording. There is also a track he plays on alto (Gene Ammons record date) which sounds just like his tenor playing. Also a forgotten hero is trumpeter Donald Byrd who plays absolutely perfect lines. As well I received some out takes off of the “Sun Ship” recording from 1965 when Trane was on the cusp of change once again, about to leave the quartet format with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones to be replaced by Alice Coltrane and Rashied Ali moving on to the free period.. “Sun Ship” is really a transition recording as you hear Trane moving on to the next and last stage of his career.

MICHAEL JACKSON WITH OLODUM: The guy was something else as far as talent goes. Find this on U Tube. It’s Michael with the drum school guys called Olodum from Bahia in Brazil, the root of the drum stuff, a group I remember bringing back on LP from my first time in Brazil in 1973 with Miles. Guys then told me they were the real deal. This video is fantastic-the message, the music and the vibe

January: Organ Trio gig with drummer Phil Haynes and organist Steve Adams at the Elk Creek Café and Aleworks in Milheim, PA; Bravo Caffe in Bologna, Italy and Alexanderplatz (club name) in Rome with Roberto Tarenzi (piano), Tony Arco (drums) and Paolo Benedittini (bass); concert and workshop at Rimon School, Tel Aviv, Israel

February: California dates: Clinics at Cal State, Fullerton; University of California, Irvine; USC, Los Angeles; Saddleback College, Mission Viejo; gig with Bob Shepard at Vitellos club in Studio City, LA; “Lookout Farm Revisited” with Richie Beirach, Ron McClure and Jeff Williams at Birdland, New York; Different But The Same with Ellery Eskelin, Jim Black and Tony Marino at Cornelia Street Café, NYC and Blues Alley, Washington, DC.

My first recording in 1967 in Stockholm, Sweden with the Lars Werner Band