Saturday, January 1, 2011


It certainly does appear that I have a record coming out every day in the past few months. The reality is that in a lot of cases the artist doesn’t have control of release dates, especially with older recordings, or the luxury of being exclusive with one label so inevitably releases can pile on top of each other. As well, in light of the economic state of the jazz record business, many artists have to accept live recordings as representative of their work. It’s true that even in the studio situation if the money is tight and time restricted because of that, the recording process is not that much different from live outside of the presence of an audience. I have done many records in six hours or less which essentially is a kind of live recording allowing no time for use of the studio situation to one’s advantage. But for the sake of this discussion let’s omit economics and assume that you have approximately two hours per tune, meaning for a standard CD length around two eight hour studio days. (This doesn’t include mixing and mastering which adds on at least another day.)

There is an inherent contradiction when recording jazz in the studio. The obvious fact that people can hear the music anywhere, anytime in the world forever certainly puts something special on any recording. The paradox is that we are capturing a moment(s) of musical time and magnifying it way beyond that time scale. Ideally, jazz, in fact any improvisational art, is predicated on being in absolute present time with no past or future impeding the flow of spontaneity or the artist’s ability to respond to what is happening in the moment around them. We cognize musical “spontaneity” as an ideal, as something special. However, spontaneous doesn’t mean that completely new and fresh material is necessarily being discovered, though that exists as a goal for most jazz players. The reality is that we are playing what we have discovered before, whether it be through the practicing process, or by accident, or a combination of events. It is the interpretative aspects of the music in the moment which is the first time event identified as spontaneous. Even in the case of the pre-be-boppers who often would play a set solo with exactly the same notes from performance to performance (like the classical artist), matters of interpretation (meaning phrasing, nuance, etc.) were different every time. To use a metaphor, magnifying a snapshot into a poster can be daunting and in the case of jazz, at least theoretically, paradoxical to its very ethos. On the other hand, why shouldn’t one moment be as representative of an individual’s playing as another, assuming the artist is skilled enough to be consistent (a skill gained by experience in the studio).

The obvious benefits of studio recording is what painters, writers and sculptors artistically enjoy as a given….the opportunity to refine, correct and change one’s art towards the artist’s vision. It is in the studio where we can actually realize a piece representing the kind of diligence and care an artist should and can give to his work and to the audience. The other reality is that you cannot hide under the harsh lights of the studio where everything is heard to the smallest detail. The studio is a great leveler of talent…everything is scrutinized. However, in our era with technology so advanced, it is possible to seamlessly alter everything about the music to such a high degree that there is the inherent danger of over correction…. a problem of too many possibilities. In other words, if I have the capability of making something “perfect,” how can I resist using it? The sad truth in our era is that a listener cannot be sure that what they are hearing is what was actually played because there are so many ways to alter the past. Of course this is ultimately an individual artist’s decision but a very important one, especially for an art form that prizes spontaneity. Let me remain positive and just say that editing in our time affords the artist a chance to make a truly grand presentation, to present a concept, to mull over details… all of which hopefully contribute to a higher level of enjoyment from the listener as well as encouraging the artist to evolve further.

Though it is less likely that a performer uses extensive editing on a live recording compared to the studio, you can never be sure. Putting that reality aside, recording live is as close as you can get to hearing the essence of jazz….spontaneous-in the moment playing which for my aesthetic is the absolute highest musical goal. What I am looking for when I hear myself is a solo that is technically beyond reproach; ideas that are musically sound and coherent; interaction with the other musicians at the highest level; and an emotional depth that the listener can feel. That is a tall order which is realistically beyond most of us, but represents the highest goal of jazz improvisation for me. Recording live can be a nerve wracking experience because you cannot go back and change or fix things without affecting the very premise of what a live recording is supposed to be.

In summary the challenges of both kinds of recording are many and for the jazz artist it is mandatory to live in both worlds. As I said earlier, because of the current state of affairs in jazz recording, much of what is being released are live recrodings, a reality we as musicians have to live with. But we must persevere in attempting to find ways of recording under the white lights of the studio, using the tools afforded us in that environment to elevate our art.

One thing is sure…for myself and my peers it was the live recordings of Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, etc., that were passed around, many of which recorded in the ‘60s, as tenth generation reel to reel copies, evolving into cassettes and finally CDs that had the most effect on our musical development. The Coltrane “One Up, One Down” track live from the Half Note in NYC was a treasure as were various live Miles Davis concerts. “Live at the Plugged Nickel” was like gold (first released in Japan only as a double LP) and I wore out Trane’s “Live at Birdland.” There were some artists like Sonny Rollins, known for not being terribly comfortable in the studio, for whom you went primarily to their live recordings to hear their latest work. On the other hand those of us who saw Coltrane live witnessed first hand a group that was completely different on vinyl than live. (Refer to the You Tube of “Vigil” discussed below).

So what does this come down to? As an artist we have to deal with what is given us in our time. But for the serious listener the only way to really know how someone plays is to hear them live a few nights in succession without the benefits of hindsight (editing. Then you can truly judge themusic. Studio recordings are another, parallel reality to be taken in account on its own merits.

CHROMATIC HARMONY AND MELODY MASTER CLASS-AUG 2011:Go to my web site ( under Education/Master Classes for details

That said, this new release was doe on a spur of the moment with my Dutch rhythm section, drummer Eric Ineke and bassist Marius Beets, with whom I have recorded two other “repertoire” CDS featuring the compositions of Kurt Weill and Alec Wilder. Some of my fans might remember a streak of recordings I did in the ‘90s for the Italian label, Red Records, which were all repertoire recordings. Arranging the music of composers is something I have been doing for decades and really enjoy. This present CD was spontaneously played and recorded one night on tour in lieu of the Wilder and Weill music we were promoting at that time. The actual taping was done casually but turned out to be more than acceptable and a nice addition to my recorded work. Here are some of the liner notes:

For many years till the late ‘80s, with a few exceptions I purposely refrained from recording Coltrane tunes for the obvious reason that I needed and wanted to escape his titanic ( and positive) influence on my life and music. It is well known among those who have heard me speak in classes or interviews that seeing Trane live in the ‘60s was my epiphany. By the late ‘80s I felt ready to tackle it somewhat of my own terms, which I did on “Homage To Coltrane” (Owl Records) in 1987 and have recorded several Trane compositions since then, especially from the late period. In the case of this CD, the vibe was to just play the music for an evening and have fun. With such a strong bass-drum team as Marius and Eric are, I knew that whatever transpired it would certainly swing…so no arrangements, just the heads and blow. There is nothing new contained herein but it does reflect the absorption of years of study of Trane’s music and a kind of homage to one particular aspect of his massive style.

Coltrane had a different approach to playing the blues than others from his generation as well as from his usual approach to chord change playing. In a way Trane was like an old blues cat who couldn’t give up the strong pull of the basic I-IV-V progression. This is notable in light of so many intricate altered blues statements that existed like Bird’s “Blues for Alice” or even “All Blues” which were compositional variations of the format. And there is of course the incessant cry of the blues scale itself to deal with. Just imagining how many variations exist on that basic sound is impressive.

For the beboppers, the blues was an old friend who had to be visited, almost as an obligation. There is so much in the blues that transfers to the standard song repertoire: the tonic, sub dominant, dominant relationships of the harmony; the call and response aspect of the form; the lyrical (vocal) intimations of the melodies; the universal appeal of the blues. When Trane played the blues you really GOT IT. He wrote a lot of blues in different keys, sometimes with different substitute harmonies but always true to the integrity of the blues sound. One of his most influential solos, the classic live track from the Village Vanguard of “Chasin’ the Trane” is a great example of his commitment to the basic I-IV-V blues model as is “Pursuance” in a completely different way a few years later. Of course there is the landmark recording “Coltrane Plays The Blues,” a primer for anyone interested in his music.

To me when I hear the blues played well, it is an affirmation of the human spirit…neither sad nor happy…just a slice of life on this planet that all humanity feels and lives through beyond time, place, culture and ethnicity. In broad terms people have much more in common than not-the life/death, young/old, love/loss cycles that we all pass through…the general “yin/yangness” of it all. The blues is a universal declaration of what it is to be alive in the moment.”

OLD WINE-NEW BOTTLES-recordings available as downloads only

This is a live recording from 2008-09 done at the Deer Head Inn (Delaware Water Gap, PA) and Roberto's Woodwind Shop (NYC). The group plays three arrangements of Ornette Coleman tunes from their recording "Turnaround" (Best Record of the Year 2010-German Jazz Journalists) plus a long version of Vic Juris' "Victim" which features some sonic stretching out by the group, which has been together for 20 years. Communication par excellente!
As is the case with many jazz players, there is often a big difference between studio and live recordings, not quality-wise but obviously as far as excitement and spontaneous creativity are concerned. These two venues were as relaxed a setting as you can get with small and attentive audiences, so no show, just the music! The three Ornette tunes were recorded on “Turnaround” (Jazz Werkstatt) which won the prize for jazz record of the year (2010) from the German music critics. Juris’ “Victim” has been played and recorded previously by the band over our twenty year history, but this particular version goes into textural directions that appear to be the direction the band is heading towards as I write these notes. Keeping a band together for decades demands constant reevaluation to inspire both the listeners and musicians. Tony, Vic and Marko give their all every time. My appreciation to these great artists for their commitment and musicianship.

Welcome to the Liebman-Beirach live recording archive. For most jazz musicians there is a significant difference between live and studio recordings, hopefully not qualitatively, but in terms of energy and inspiration. This is definitely true of the music that Richie Beirach and I have played together over the decades. We began together in the late '60s jamming in my loft in Manhattan, putting together Free Life Communication (musician’s cooperative), apprenticing with masters, listening, talking and exploring music towards constructing a sound that would reflect our influences, the times we lived in and whatever contribution we might ultimately make to the jazz legacy---in summary, the past, present and future.
Over the years we have played in three different configurations: the Duo and quartets Lookout Farm and Quest. Throughout you will hear certain recurring themes, albeit with a particular emphasis depending upon which setting. We have always looked back at the jazz repertoire interpreting it in our own manner. There have been traces of free jazz, fusion and world music along with an ongoing interest in the harmonic implications garnered from contemporary classical music of the 20th century, all integrated into an improvised jazz context. These commonalities can be observed over the four decades of our collaboration.
As in any recorded jazz, multiple takes of a tune are of interest because they can and often do differ so much from each other. It goes without saying that the sound quality on some of the tracks is less than desirable but we felt the music itself took precedence. A few of these tracks have been previously released on the Select Series from Mosaic Records but available here for the first time as downloads.

Dave Liebman, RIchie Beirach, Al Foster, Frank Tusa, Randy Brecker
Originally recorded in 1978 and released as an album on the famed Artist's House label, this collection features several nights at the famous Village Vanguard in New York with a stellar cast of musicians who comprised some of the most notable of the young generation in the Apple at the time, and had been playing together in many different combinations during the preceding decade. Playing standards with a modern twist, the energy in the club is palpable and electric.

This duo has its place in jazz history secured since their beginnings in the early 1970s playing in Liebman's loft on West 19th Street in NYC and served as the foundation of the groups Lookout Farm from the '70s and Quest in the '80s. In particular, the duo (reunited with new recordings) developed an harmonic concept blending the jazz language with 20th century modern classical innovations. These recordings of standards and originals span a sixteen year period and bear witness to their development.

Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach, Jeff Williams, Frank Tusa
After Dave Liebman had done his apprenticeship with Elvin Jones and Miles Davis, he formed his first group as a leader which musically represented a mixture of the newest trends at the time being explored by jazz musicians-Indian music, fusion and free jazz--all played with a spirit reminiscent of their strongest influences, John Coltrane and Miles. This is eclecticism at its boldest which resulted in the band being voted number one for "Group Deserving Of Wider Recognition" by Downbeat Magazine in 1976.

QUEST LIVE:1988,1991
Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach, Billy Hart & Ron McClure

The famous quartet is featured here in live performances which capture the incredible communication that the quartet (now re-united with new recordings) demonstrated during their tenure in the 1980s.

NEA MASTERS OF JAZZ AWARD: I will be presented with the award at the Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on Jan 11. My presenter is Lee Konitz and it will be on the radio live at 7:30PM Eastern Standard Time (U.S.) at: (satellite radio)
and (internet)

INTERVIEWS IN DOWNBEAT AND JAZZ TIMES: With the Jazz Masters Award I have been given a couple of nice profiles in the December issue of Jazz Times and the January issue of Downbeat. You can find these interviews and others at my site under PRESS MATERALS-INTERVIEWS

ALL ABOUT JAZZ-NEW YORK BEST OF THE YEAR: I did pretty well this year in the Apple in five categories:
-Chosen as one of the five Musicians of the Year
-“Turnaround-the Music of Ornette Coleman” by the Dave Liebman Group was named one of the Tribute Recordings of the Year
- Lookout Farm's gig at Birdland in February was named one of the Performances of the Year
- “Relevance” (with Evan Parker and Tony Bianco) was named one of the Albums of the Year
-“Quest for Freedom” (HR Big Band with Richie Beirach arranged by Jim McNeely) was named among the Best of 2010 Honorable Mentions

Also from the Penguin Guide of Music the Quest recording “Redemption” (HAtology) was selected as one of the Best Albums

EUROPE TOUR WITH DL GROUP: My group had an intense 12 day tour of Europe, trudging around in the snow and cold which was everywhere around us. We played some of the music from the award winning “Turnaround-Music of Ornette Coleman” as well as other material emphasizing a more electric approach than we have done in years-electric bass, myself exclusively on soprano sax with a small effects box and Vic increasingly using pedals and reverbs, etc. working steadily always confirms the mantra that having a steady group is irreplaceable for musical self improvement and that there is no substitute for playing every night for paying customers to make one feel close to their instrument. This all adds up to a higher level of audience concentration, acceptance an approval. They can feel the difference of a group that has been together for awhile….in our case this next year will be the 20th.
Three excerpts from the tour:

Presentation of award for Best Jazz Recording 2010-German Jazz Critics:Uli Blobel, owner of Jazz Werkstatt and Bert Noglik from German Critics Panel

MEDITATIONS SUITE WITH SAXOPHONE SUMMIT AND ORCHESTRA: On the anniversaries of Coltranes’s recording of this seminal piece (Nov,1965) I like to find a way to perform it somewhere in the world. This last November for the European tour of Saxophone Summit we played the suite every night for our six concerts. You can imagine how deep it got with Lovano, Coltrane, Hart, McBee and Markowitz exploring this special music on a night to night basis. As well celebrating this special anniversary, the Dave Liebman Big Band leader, saxophonist Gunnar Mossblad who has collaborated with me on many works over the decades (including a big band version of “Meditations”) wrote an arrangement of the suite for the studio orchestra at Manhattan School of Music. Studio orchestra means a full symphonic orchestra with the addition of a jazz rhythm and saxophone section, so you get the best of both, This was a spectacular arrangement conduced by Justin Dicioccio with 85 musicians and Randy Brecker alongside me in the solo positions. The power of Gunnar’s arrangement was incredible and Justin really got these mostly straight laced young classical players to loosen up a bit for some great moments of group free improvisation. And it is the free improv alongside the beautiful melodies from the suite that gives the music its special yin-yang character. I hope we can find a way to release the recording to the general public in the near future.

PRACTICE DVD (Aebersold Publications): Taped from a lecture I did in Dublin, Ireland (thanks to Ronan Guilfoyle) this is a succinct one hour presentation on the basics of good productive practicing. I have found out more than a few times over the years that most people do not know how to practice. This is truer in jazz than classical music where at least the goal is clear, to learn, memorize and master a written piece of music. In jazz, it is a bit more ambiguous because it is impossible to practice spontaneity, the core of improvising. Assuming that an individual is trying to be diligent there are some essential guidelines that lead to effective use of one’s time towards the goal of self improvement. In fact, learning how to practice or shall I say reinforcing positive behavior is a tool for life, no matter what the material.

From the DVD notes:
"The goal of practicing, no matter the activity, is to transform behavior from the realm of mechanics and technique to learned instinct, employing little if any conscious thought. This means the mind is free to dwell on matters of content, aesthetics and expression. Specifically, practicing an art form demands rigor and creativity acting in tandem. In the final result, an artist’s work reflects the depth of their practicing process."

• Where and when to practice
• Value of maintaining a practice diary
• Use of books
• Instrumental technique first
• Ritual
• Organization
• Prioritization
• Length of practice period
• Highlighting weaknesses

A true giant, Taylor was way ahead of the educational curve decades ago. What he did towards raising the level of acceptance of jazz for the general public is unmatched in our time. Billy realized early on that you could explain jazz somehow, someway, therefore opening the door for people to feel comfortable in a milieu that could be construed as a secret and esoteric society. He truly understood that knowledge is central to comprehension and what inevitably follows is acceptance. All jazz musicians and jazz fans owe Mr. Taylor a gigantic dept for furthering our cause.

JAMES MOODY: What can you say? First of all, he was a jazz musician of the first order beyond "Moody's Mood" which of course was his trademark song. For me, it was his flute playing that was so authentically be-bop, played on a very difficult instrument to exert control. But Moody had more going than many of his contemporaries because of his naturally ebullient personality, which was key to his communicative success with an audience. Further was James' unquenchable thirst to learn more and be on top of contemporary trends. I remember one of my early tours with the Elvin Jones Group (1972) as part of a George Wein Newport style armada trudging throughout Europe. Moody was part of the "Young Giants of Jazz" with Sonny Stitt, Roy Haynes and others of his generation. James couldn't get enough of asking my partner Steve Grossman and myself about pentatonic and diminished scale licks, Giant Steps and other Coltraneisms that we were playing, then writing them down and discussing the material. At one point, Illinois Jacquet yelled something in the bus to the three of together in the back to the effect of why bother with that "bull...." James just laughed and told us to ignore him. He was a true artist, a lover of life and a gentle loving human being.

LIVE COLTRANE:From the European tour in 1965 this clip of the Coltrane Quartet with Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner is as close as it gets to what it felt like to hear the group live as I did so many times. This track in particular shows the band in that particular year when John recorded like crazy and as the year came to a close after recording “Meditations” changing the personnel of the group to his wife Alice, saxophonist Pharoah Saunders and drummer Rashied Ali. “Vigil,” beginning with a duo between Elvin and Trane gives a feeling of a man in transition; just a little motif that Trane and the group work out to an astounding level of intensity and freedom:

ON THE SOPRANO SAX: Sam Newsome is making some waves on the little horn and dedicates a blog to it….very interesting comments:

MUSIC FROM WATER GLASSES: How much practice would it take to do this:

TRISTANO ROBOTS: Funny and quite accurate in many ways:


UNBELIEVABLE STORY FROM THE HOLOCAUST: To everyone about the power of music, this is something really special. One statement stands out:
"Fill your head as much as you can because it can't be taken away, especially music."
Watch this and you will understand the depth of that statement. (Thanks to my oldest musical compatriot Mike Garson for sharing this.)

ABOUT FRANK FOSTER:One of the nicest guys and great saxophonists has become ill and needs some help:

ITINERARY (consult local listings for details and dates)

JANUARY:Jazz Educators Convention in New Orleans-performances with the Airmen of Note and Chuck Owens’ Surge; Snug Harbor Club with Jason Marsalis, Steve Masakowski, James Singleton; NEA Masters of Jazz Presentation at Lincoln Center, NYC featuring performance of excerpts from “Porgy and Bess;” Masters of Jazz Presentation at Lincoln Center, NYC; Concert with guitarist Gabor Gado at the Palace of Arts, Budapest, Hungary; Dave Liebman Group at Symphony Hall Jazz Caberet Upstairs, Allentown,PA; gig at Elk Creek and Aleworks with drummer Phil Haynes and organist Steve Adams; Milheim, PA

FEBRUARY: Birdland, NYC with Saxophone Summit (Joe Lovano, Ravi Coltrane, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart, Phil Markowitz); Saxophone Summit at Lafayette College,Easton ,PA; with Uri Caine, Mike Stephens and Scott Colley at the Deer Head Inn, Delaware Water Gap PA; Birdland with QUEST (Richie Beirach, Ron McClure, Billy Hart)