FEATURE ARTICLE: A STEADY BAND-WHY SO IMPORTANT?
This fall has seen my regular working quartet hitting pretty hard in the U.S., something which is a rarity these days. You can see from the itinerary in the last newsletter that we made some stops on the West Coast and in the New England area. Also, the DL Big Band had a few hits and my band is the rhythm section for that group also. As a capper, we have a Europe tour coming up in December. So, this is quite a nice run which with constant playing inevitably opens musical doors both as a group and individually. In essence the machine has a chance to get oiled and run full throttle. This flurry of activity has lead me to re-think why it has always been a top priority to maintain the same personnel throughout my career. In this case it has been nearly twenty years with bassist Tony Marino and guitarist Vic Juris and ten with drummer Marko Marcinko. In fact, I have had only three other steady groups in a 36 year period which in the jazz business is rather unusual.
I formed the Dave Liebman Group after Quest (Richie Beirach, Ron McClure, Billy Hart) which took up most of the 1980s. The original formulation was alongside Tony and Vic, Jamey Haddad on drums/percussion and Phil Markowitz on piano/ keyboards. My initial concept was to play more programmatic, written music than previously with Quest. I also wanted to delve more into odd meters and rhythm in general, in light of the emphasis during the Quest period where the material focused so much on the harmonic language that Richie and I developed over the decades. In 1997, the piano departed and a few years later Haddad left for Paul Simon’s gig, so Marko came aboard. With the absence of the keyboard, Vic Juris had to seriously step up to the plate, which he has more than accomplished. In fact I have never heard a musician grow more than Vic did in these decades. He is serious, hard working and full of talent. And as a human being, Vic is the nicest person to be around as well.
With the departure of Markowitz I directed the music towards a freer harmonic and more open rhythmic concept. Repertoire-wise this meant a lot of time/no changes formats, rubato and occasional odd meter. But the primary emphasis was definitely towards the conversation taking place between the guitar and myself, rather than purely soloistic. Now in 2010, we have been moving into a more color oriented stage, meaning increased use of sound and ambiance. Tony is now playing exclusively electric bass; I am only playing soprano (harkening back to the long hiatus I took from the tenor between 1980 and 1995) and Vic is all over the place sonically speaking. The three of us are using a variety of pedals and effects with Marko employing hand percussion instruments along with the drums. One could say that an emphasis on atmosphere is where we are at present.
Considering the material itself over the years, I think it is quite clear to anyone who has followed my development (and I would venture to say the following is more or less true of most artists), that what you play near the beginning of your career forms the foundation for everything after that. Of course it is juggled around and transformed, but the basic sound that one hears at the commencement of creative work seems to more or less form the basis of an artist’s entire oeuvre. Although from my generation onwards (growing up musically in the ‘60s and career-wise in the ‘70s), the jazz repertoire became much more eclectic than previously using a wider variety of idioms and styles rather than the customary blues, rhythm and standard tunes, the fact remains that you are what you are musically. One could say that even in the case of Miles Davis who on the surface traversed many styles over forty years, common stylistic aspects remained throughout his life. There is a certain “essence” that usually appears in its raw form at the beginning, probably without much cognizance or sophistication, but very real nonetheless. The challenge for a long artistic life is how to refine that essence and transform it over the years so it remains fresh and vital. In more than a few ways the music I have played with the present Dave Liebman Group over the past twenty years is quite similar to the material on my first recording as a leader on ECM titled “Lookout Farm” (1973).
DL Group at Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco
Back to the subject, the most obvious reason for maintaining the same personnel is that time spent together both on and off the bandstand builds trust and confidence. Musically this means that whatever one plays, you know it is real and not a false or selfish gesture. You accept what your mates play as the best they can do at the time and move on from there. In other less permanent situations, a moment of doubt may surface as to why someone played something. Did it happen because of musical reasons or personal ego or other extraneous factors? Granted that great musicians can come together on a one night or short term basis and create some interesting music. But when a band has a history it’s apparent, certainly to the listener without them necessarily being consciously aware of it. They feel something beyond the ordinary happening. There is one more important reason for keeping steady personnel. In retrospect it was through observing Miles Davis as a leader that I learned the following.
The main task when leading a band is to recognize in your sidemen what they do best. One must of course first realize what you personally do best musically. I would imagine by the time one is a bandleader they would know that about themselves. You can’t expect others to latch on to something if you don’t have it well formed at least in your own head, if not on paper. This “knowing oneself” is a purely objective exercise …there is no “would’ve,” “could’ve” or “should’ve” …no conditional tense please!! Just objective observation. Then, because jazz is the most democratic of all music, you have to find partners who can and want to enhance what you hear.
With Miles, it seemed that he could hear what he wanted out of you even if the so-called “audition” was musically totally unrelated to what his music was at the time. He heard Dave Holland with a singer playing standards; he heard Al Foster playing bebop with Walter Bishop at a club called the Cellar on 96th Street in New York; he heard me playing with Steve Grossman in a double quartet free jazz gig at the Scene on 46th Street in Manhattan. What all of us ended up playing with Miles had nothing to do with any of these musical settings. If you think about a lot of Miles’ sidemen, the way they played during their tenure with Miles was never heard again in their future music.
Once you find these right partners, the leader has to create the circumstances for this combination to blossom and realize the sound in his head. This means several things: keeping the music challenging and exciting in order to pique the interest of your sidemen; finding opportunities to play in order to satisfy the necessity of making a living; and creating a workable social environment since there is hopefully a lot of time spent together touring and recording…if the group is successful which is the obvious objective. When everything is synching up, the music has a chance to go beyond the mundane. This takes a lot of work, good timing and a bit of luck…all factors that go into any successful business undertaking.
Like any long term relationship (marriage being a good metaphor), there are emotional and relational ups and downs which naturally occur. There is also the “boredom” factor, meaning knowing too well how someone reacts to a given musical situation, which can potentially take away from what true improvisers look for on a daily basis, playing something new and fresh, not by rote. True jazz musicians are very sensitive to mechanical playing. We are supposed to be in the moment without a past or future, in the now. Too much predictability can bring the level of the musical discourse down. We try to achieve a balance between the expected and the surprise gesture. Accepting the inevitability of at least some repetitious playing when you are with the same musicians for awhile is important. Ultimately with the right people, the group moves beyond, concentrating rather on the positive which is something played that is fresh music. With patience, time will take care of these matters. When that happens there is a feeling of accomplishment, of having passed through something together which strengthens the band and the music. It goes without saying that finding the right people to fit into this scenario is no mean feat!!
For me, it was the power of their steady groups that artists like Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Blakey and others from that era had going which most affected me most as a listener. I urge musicians to do their best to sustain long term relationships. The rewards are worth it. To my guys, I say thanks for the loyalty and trust you have given me. Two very accurate reviews about our Los Angeles performance appear at the end of this newsletter.
QUEST FOR FREEDOM(SUNNYSIDE RECORDS) with Richie Beirach and the HR Big Band arranged by Jim McNeely: This could be one of my best recordings for a few reasons. It was taped in Frankfurt with the HR Big Band (one of the great German radio bands that still are active in jazz) under pristine conditions and a great German engineer (Axel Gutzler). The repertoire consisted of arrangements of several of my more chromatic compositions, one by Richie, a song that we have been playing for years, “Pendulum,” an arrangement by former student Heiner Schmitz of my tune for 9/11 titled “WTC;” and one amazing twelve tone piece by McNeely (“Sky’s The Limit”). Those in the business know how deep Jim is as an arranger and musician. With Richie and myself together, this music is an orchestration of our duo’s harmonic language, something Jim is completely in tune with. Not to mention the incredible performances (combination of live and studio) by the Hesse Rundfunk Big Band. I am very proud of this recording.
LIEB ON FACEBOOK:Incredible, but I'm finally joining the brave new world. The whole social-network thing is just too big to ignore for artists. I now have a social media presence on the internet: Facebook, MySpace and Twitter pages, all linked into a Dave Liebman network. And I am amazed at the number of YouTube videos you can find with my name on them. I have to thank Michael Crowell for taking care of this. And while I’m at it I have hired a great PR person, Ann Braitwaite, for a several month period to take advantage of the NEA award as well as Todd Brown and Zak Weil to keep my web site up. One has to strike while the iron is hot!!
BIRDLAND WITH STEVE SWALLOW,STEVE KUHN AND BILLY DRUMMOND:The club Birdland in the Apple has begun a five night policy which is as close to the old days as possible (not withstanding only two sets). What a pleasure to play with giants of this caliber over nearly a week. Kuhn of course has been a fixture for decades playing with Trane and everyone else around the world. He is a consummate musician with a beautiful touch and a true understanding of the tradition. When he was doing club dates (the kinds of gigs referred to as “GB”….general business) for awhile, he played my wedding reception with Caris in 1986 at Garvin’s Restaurant in the Village using a trio and a great singer who did all the ‘50s tunes. (If a bomb had gone off that day, the NY jazz scene would’ve been decimated!!) Billy D is one of New York’s first call drummers….meaning the job is taken care of perfectly. Swallow and I go back to my first playing experiences with Bob Moses and Pete LaRoca in the ‘60s. This is a one of a kind guy musically and personally. People often refer to him as the Prince, because of his unending generous spirit, both musically and personally, not to mention his absolutely perfect playing and compositional sense. Steve writes in a style like Bach, flowing, a unified thought throughout, easy in some ways, but tricky in others. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook about him:
"Just finished five nights at Birdland in the Apple (by far the best place to hear jazz in NY), playing with pianist Steve Kuhn, drummer Billy Drummond and one of the most "perfect" musicians in jazz, bassist Steve Swallow. Younger fans may not know that Steve of course played upright bass in the 1960s working with everyone before converting to electric bass. He plays with a pick more like a guitar (when he solos) then a bass. The sound he gets in the upper register is beautiful, light and lyrical. When I say "perfect," I mean every solo is a gem with the best voice leading, chord change playing and melodic shapes that one could imagine. Following a solo of Steve Swallow is quite a challenge!! Not to mention his incredibly beautiful compositions, several which we played for this gig. He is one of my oldest associates going back to my first mentor's group, drummer Pete LaRoca's Band that also featured Chick Corea in 1969. One of the all time greats----Steve Swallow."
YOU TUBE CLIPS
“PEACE ON EARTH” PERFORMED BY PARTICIPANTS AT 20TH ANNIVERSARY IASJ MEETING (JULY-DEN HAAG): You can see all the participants (over 100 people) playing and singing in a giant version of Trane’s beautific song and sentiment:
IASJ students, faculty, teachers and administrators performing "Peace On Earth"
BEN WEBSTER WITH TEDDY WILSON (UPON HEARING OF JOHNNY HODGES’ PASSING): If you want to feel what the jazz brotherhood is about check this out. Besides the playing which as you can imagine is sublime (“Old Folks”), the emotion that you see in Ben’s face is beyond words: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQVVLAO-9LU
THE JOY OF MUSIC: A perfect complement to the Ben Webster clip, here is the joy of music in another way—absolutely one of the cutest things you will ever see-a four year old boy conducting Beethoven: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0REJ-lCGiKU&feature=email
MISCELLANEOUS CLIP ON OUR WORLD: From Sony, an impressive look into what is happening around us with information and technology….a lot of numbers to scare us, but the final statistic about how many illegal downloads happened in the time you view the clip is pretty wild. You have to watch this to know what I mean:
KENNY WERNER: Most of you are familiar with pianist/composer Kenny Werner, if only for his book “Effortless Mastery” which has been widely read. A few years ago, Kenny and his wife suffered what has to be the most tragic event parents can go through…. the death of their 16 year old daughter in a car accident. This recording which features Joe Lovano at some of his best and wife Judi Silvano, is as deep as it gets. Even if I didn’t know the inspiration for the why the music was written and recorded, it would still be some of the best stuff I’ve heard in years for orchestra, voices, string quartet, etc. I cannot even conceive of the depth of such a tragedy and for Kenny to write this music is a testament beyond any words. This is a must to hear: “No Beginning…No End” (Hi Note).
INSTRUMENT MUSEUM IN PHOENIX, AZ: If you ever get to the American southwest, check this place out: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6881747n&tag=contentMain;contentBody
PODCAST INTEVIEW: This is a nice interview of me with a really well informed guy, Jason Crane: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/jazzpodcast.php?id=5782
FOR ALL AUTHORS-WE ARE BEING VIOLATED: Below is a letter I wrote to the Commerce Dept. after finding out that they are taking submissions from interested parties about revising the regulations governing intellectual property on the internet. Of course there are laws in place but as we all know it is impossible to police the web. Maybe a more stringent law would intimidate people from ripping us all off like happened a few years ago when they were arresting kids for downloading. Maybe that was harsh but the point was well made. (Of course we all know downloading illegally is still way out of control, but copying a few hundred page book is something else again because takes some real sustained effort.) The more pressure brought to bear the better. The address is in the heading. We have to at least try to protect ourselves. It couldn’t hurt to send this to your congressman (but please wait untill after the election).
Date: Sun, Oct 18, 2010
Subject: NTIA: Inquiry on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation on the Internet
c/o Commerce Dept requesting feedback on DMCA
To Whom It May Concern:
I have been informed by interested parties that the Commerce Department is considering revising the regulations governing intellectual property on the internet. I am a musician, author of books and composer with a lot of product on the market in the jazz field published by several leading companies in our area of expertise. I am a recipient of the NEA Master's of Jazz Award for 2011, a great honor which is the highest recognition in the field granted by the U.S. government. I have been in this business for over 40 years.
Recently I was notified by a friend that several of my books were COMPLETELY scanned (several hundred pages each) and available for free on a web site. I immediately took action through the FBI which has a site for such complaints and a local lawyer. Through the intimidation of both parties the material was removed at least on this site. As the publisher told me (from Germany in this case), there was no way they could stop this from happening, meaning it was an impossible battle to win. There is not enough time in the day or is it economically feasible for small companies and individuals to monitor this situation.
It is common knowledge that the recording business has been decimated by the downloading of music, most of it still illegally procured. The print business is obviously next in line, not to mention films and more. It appears to be just a matter of the when the home computer has enough capacity to pirate full length movies, etc. It just seems inconceivable that performing artists, authors and publishers have no way to fight back with at least the semblance of some official protection from our government, if not foreign countries.
I paraphrase now from the owner of Sher Music (U.S.based) who is one of my publishers. He sums it up succinctly as to some sort of remedy:
"What is the solution? Several of the sites contacted have a "Search blacklist" where they can block access to any future postings of a title, upon request. But evidently this is not required of them by law, and it needs to be. This is the only answer to a serious problem that is making it increasingly difficult for all legitimate creators of books, music, films, etc. to remain in business. Thanks for making the concerns of honest, hard-working creators of works of value your top priority."
I appreciate the opportunity to record my views.
Yours truly, etc…
GRAMMYS: I am nominated under a few categories, but three recordings are in the Large Ensemble Jazz category I believe. From what I understand members can vote for selections, so that slightly absolves me from competing with myself. Members of NARAS, your vote would be appreciated.
NOVEMBER: Workshop at Global Jazz Institue, Berklee College of Music, Boston; Saxophone Summit Europe Tour-Istanbul, Zagreb, Cartagena and Lugo(Spain); Lisbon and Guimares (Portugal); Duo concert with pianist Ron Stabinsky at St. Stephans Church, Wilkes Barre, PA; Dave Liebman Group at the Deer Head Inn, Delaware Water Gap, PA
DECEMBER: Dave Liebman Group European Tour to Amsterdam, Geneva, Zurich, Hannover, Vienna, Paris, Dortmund, Goppingen(Germany), Antwerp, Berlin
DL GROUP REVIEWS FROM LOS ANGELES-SEPT 2010-VITELLOS RESTAURANT
From the Los Angeles Times by Ken Silsbee:
Though he’s worked in Los Angeles since 1972, when he played on drummer Elvin Jones’ “Live at the Lighthouse” album, saxophonist Dave Liebman doesn’t visit often. Friday, his first of two nights at Vitello’s in Studio City, was an object lesson in instrumental virtuosity and adventurous band leading. The evening was a reminder that attendance at every Liebman appearance is mandatory.
He may revert to the tenor sax on occasion, but Liebman has concentrated so intently on the soprano saxophone that he’s one of the few truly individual stylists on that difficult instrument. The National Endowment for the Arts recently named him a Jazz Master award recipient for 2011. The recognition is exceptional; most recipients are past their best performing days. Liebman not only performs regularly, he shows no sign of peaking.
The Liebman Quartet has been together for 20 years; its junior member, the exuberant drummer Marko Marcinko, has been onboard for 10. It’s a band with a probing, pan-stylistic approach to material. Liebman’s originals cover a wide range of forms, and when the band occasionally essays a standard, it does so in a novel way. The group always seems to have another musical card to play.
Liebman’s high-pitched soprano dug into “Matchless,” which had a staccato theme with a whiplash turnaround. Even on a rhythm tune with a bright tempo, he took care to shape the notes. They curled and billowed, thick with tone. On Ornette Coleman’s haunting “Lonely Woman,” he picked up a small wooden recorder and likewise bent the notes that conclude the liquid phrases. Liebman’s soprano played a lazy unison voicing with the guitar for extended blues exploration and then lacerated angular lines against Marcinko’s crashing drums on “Dream of Night.” A piping recorder introduction to an unnamed original instantly conjured a Peruvian mood.
The metric verve Liebman displayed during his unaccompanied introduction to “Night in Tunisia” suggested a rhythm section in his head. While some tunes, by virtue of their structure, are near impossible to camouflage, this standard was cleverly redesigned with harmonic alterations and unusual phrasing. The band steers clear of the obvious, especially on a warhorse.
Vic Juris is an unclassifiable guitar virtuoso. He supplies sweeping chords on the electric model that resonate and hang in the air, brushing in backdrops. He works hand-in-glove with Tony Marino’s melodic electric bass lines. As a soloist, Juris will strum and pick out-of-tempo notes that play tag with the beat or he’ll uncoil lines that cut across the beat. On a nylon-string acoustic guitar that also fed into the amplifier, he flat-picked filigree on “Lonely Woman.” Enthusiastic applause from guitar great John Pisano (who hosts Vitello’s guitar night Mondays) at a nearby table reinforced Juris’ status.
Though the dynamics could rise to crescendo pitch, the volume never reached a level of pain. Guitar and bass accounted for a low degree of electric hum, but when Liebman used a pitch-altering device clipped onto his soprano, the overtones and brief feedback marred an otherwise marvelous two sets. Juris and Liebman may employ electronic toys but never as gimmicks. They only expand sonic vocabulary.
Throughout, Marcinko was a resourceful fount of time, rhythmic invention and variety of sound. He drove the band and pushed against the soloists; his drum breaks served as transitions between tunes. He wrung sounds and tones out of the entire kit and added strings of bells and shells for added texture. Like Liebman and the others, Marcinko never cruised, not even for a measure.
The International Review of Music by Don Heckman:
Earlier this year, Dave Liebman received a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts. And it was about time. At 64, Liebman can look back on a remarkable sequence of achievements, on his own and in association with the likes of Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, Chick Corea and more. But his performance Friday night at Vitello’s was a convincing display of the fact that Liebman – despite his already significant “lifetime achievements” – still has much to say and do as a cutting edge jazz saxophonist, composer and leader.
All three of those attributes were manifest in his work with guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko. And the lengthy history of the group – Juris and Marino have been with Liebman for twenty years, Marcinko for ten – was also a factor in a performance enlivened by the near-symbiotic interaction among the players.
Liebman limited himself to soprano saxophone and, on one piece, a small wooden flute. The music, mostly originals, tended to position Liebman’s soprano amid a simmering cauldron of rhythm, sometimes driven by hypnotic vamps, sometimes arcing into off-center meters. Each of the players balanced their rhythmic togetherness with passionate soloing – Juris blending sound and phrase in long, soaring lines, Marino surging across low register landscapes with ease, and Marcinko using his jazz drum kit as a virtual treasure chest of percussion sounds and timbres.
In the highlight of the set, Liebman played his tiny flute in an intimate, vocalized rendering of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” – a selection from his soon to be released album, Turnaround: the Music of Ornette Coleman, which has already received Germany’s Preis Der Deutschen Schallplatten Kritik (German Record Critics Prize) award. The performance was stunning, its atmospheric dynamics perfectly capturing the dark intentions of Coleman’s memorable line.
What was most remarkable about the Liebman set, in its entirety, was the fact that it was utterly contemporary, cutting edge, envelope-stretching jazz in which the music nonetheless reached out to engage the listeners. At a time when ego-focused technique and virtuosity make too many jazz sets into fast-fingered personal showcases, Liebman and his players reminded us that the best jazz – classic or contemporary – always has the power to touch the emotions.
New member of the DL Group?