"It is an honor to be recognized by the country where jazz was born and raised. Most of all, it is gratifying to join such a select and prestigious group of past Jazz Masters recipients. Among this group are many artists who have in one way or the other provided the knowledge and wisdom that inspired me and those of my generation to become the best we could. I thank my family, the musicians with whom I have played and others who have supported me through the years. Like the music, getting this award is truly a group effort."
David Liebman has shown an ability to play in any style of jazz, especially on what has become his instrument of choice, the soprano sax. In addition, he has been a strong advocate of the music, having founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ), an organization dedicated to bringing together educators and students from jazz schools worldwide.
He began classical piano lessons at age nine, soon switching to saxophone. His interest in jazz was sparked especially by hearing John Coltrane perform in various New York City clubs. Throughout high school and college, Liebman continued playing jazz, learning "from the street" as was the way before jazz education was more common, though he did spend periods studying with Joe Allard, Lennie Tristano, and Charles Lloyd.
In the 1970s, Liebman came into his own, founding Free Life Communication, a cooperative of several dozen young musicians that became an integral part of the fertile New York "loft" jazz scene. He soon found a spot as saxophonist/flutist in drummer Elvin Jones' group, and then was hired by Miles Davis. Liebman played on Davis' last two recordings before the trumpeter's temporary retirement in the late 1970s, Get Up with It and On the Corner.
At the same time, Liebman was also exploring his own music, beginning a long relationship with pianist Richie Beirach in the group Lookout Farm. In 1977, he toured internationally with pianist Chick Corea followed by forming the David Liebman Quintet, featuring guitarist John Scofield. In 1981, he founded Quest, a group that remained active with varying lineups until 1991 and has reunited in recent years. His work has continued to move in many unusual directions, with projects ranging from Puccini arias to overdubbed solo recordings, from adaptations of jazz standards to world music and fusion.
Throughout his career, Liebman has been keen to work on the international jazz scene, playing with influential European musicians such as Joachim Kühn, Daniel Humair, Paolo Fresu, Jon Christensen, and Bobo Stenson.
In addition to serving as IASJ's artistic director, he is presently artist-in-residence at the Manhattan School of Music and lectures at universities and clinic settings all over the world. He also has received performance and teaching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Canadian Arts Council. Additional educational activities include publishing instructional books and DVDs such as Self Portrait of A Jazz Artist, A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody, and Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound.
Since 1973, he has consistently placed among the "Top Three" in the DownBeat critics' poll in the category of soprano saxophone; other awards include an honorary doctorate from the Sibelius Academy in Finland and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France.
Lookout Farm, ECM Records, 1973
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