Saxophonist and educator David Liebman is a forward-thinking artist whose advanced improvisational style has made him one of the most influential and successful jazz musicians of his generation. Heavily influenced by John Coltrane, Liebman emerged in the early 1970s playing with drummer Elvin Jones and recording on Miles Davis' landmark 1972 jazz-funk album On the Corner. His own early albums like 1974's Lookout Farm on ECM, and 1979's Doin' It Again cemented his reputation as a leader in harmonically complex post-bop, modal jazz, and fusion. It was a sound he continued to explore throughout his career on solo albums and with his Quest ensemble. In 1998, he earned a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Solo for his recording of "My Favorite Things" off Arkadia Jazz All-Stars' Thank You, John. A dedicated educator, Liebman holds an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland, founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) in 1989, and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2011.
Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Liebman studied classical piano and saxophone before focusing on jazz — a move he attributes to seeing Coltrane perform live in New York on multiple occasions. He continued his private jazz studies with such artists as Joe Allard, Lennie Tristano, and Charles Lloyd while earning a degree in American History from New York University. After graduating, he focused solely on a career in music and quickly became an active leader in the vibrant late-'60s "loft" scene in New York City. After a year with the early fusion ensemble Ten Wheel Drive, Liebman was asked to join former Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones' band, and ultimately appeared on several of Jones' albums in the '70s. This brought him to the attention of trumpeter Miles Davis, who hired him from 1970 to 1974. During this period, Liebman toured and recorded with Davis, appearing on such albums as 1972's classic On the Corner as well as 1974's Dark Magus and Get Up with It.
It was also during the late '80s that Liebman began splitting his time between playing and teaching jazz. An early clinician at the Jamey Aebersold camps during the '70s, Liebman met such jazz educators as David Baker, Jerry Hearle, Jerry Coker, and other early proponents of formal jazz studies. These experiences, as well as seeing firsthand the interest and need for jazz instruction worldwide while on tours in Europe, spurred Liebman to found the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) in 1989. Along with releasing such highly regarded albums as 1990's The Tree, 1994's Songs for My Daughter, and 1998's John Coltrane's Meditations, Liebman continued to work with the IASJ to promote jazz and mentor students. For his work, Liebman received several awards in the field of jazz education including being named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master for 2011.
While retaining a strong focus on jazz education, Liebman remains a vital, creative force on the jazz scene and performs and records regularly. In 2010, he released the big-band album Live: As Always and appeared as a featured guest on The Bickel-Marks Group with David Liebman. He then paired with pianist Lewis Porter and guitarist Marc Ribot for 2012's Surreality on Enja. Several more well-received dates followed, including his 2014 big-band effort A Tribute to Wayne Shorter, 2015's Sketches of Aranjuez, and the 2016 duo album Balladscapes, with pianist Richie Beirach. In 2017, Liebman collaborated with fellow saxophonist Joe Lovano on the tribute album Compassion: The Music of John Coltrane. He then paired with longtime associates pianist Kenny Werner, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette for 2018's Fire. ~ Matt Collar