INTERVALS: THE NEWSLETTER OF DAVID
Volume 10 - Issue #1 - 2002
Just to mention that if you don’t wish to receive this newsletter you can unsubscribe through the web site (if that is how you subscribed in the first place) or directly to me if this came as an e-mail. Some people may be on both lists, so if you receive two copies PLEASE go to my web site and unsubscribe since that will be the easiest way. I am always adding people whom I think would be interested but that assumption may be erroneous and I apologize if this is the case. To all new readers, I welcome you to my newsletter which I have been issuing since 1993 several times a year. I encourage first time visitors to go to my web site which offers in-depth articles, a list of available publications and CDs with sound clips, private photos and recordings of historic interest, information about my annual Saxophone Master Class, the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) and more. The address is www.davidliebman.com/lieb
My last newsletter was a special issue about recent historical events. Much has been written and said about the tragedies and their after effects, which seemingly will be with us for a long time. My good friend from Israel who is like a brother to me wrote something which I would like leave as my wishes for the New Year and beyond. Leon says it so well as he always does: “I truly believe that what is happening now presents us with an opportunity for change. I pray this opportunity has not been missed (as such opportunities often are). People have a strong urge to bring things back to where they were, the nostalgic yearning for ‘the good old days’. What I wish is that we are able to hold empathy in our hears and minds for people from all sides of the current crisis: relatives of NYC firefighters killed in September, the Palestinian family struggling to create a sense of normalcy in life, Afghan men and women trying to figure out who are the ‘good guys’, soldiers fighting for their lives, Israelis in fear of their lives, Americans waking up to the huge chasm between them and the Third World, the many people all over the world realizing the impermanence of life and the searching to bring greater meaning into their own relatively brief existence. So many perspectives, such a vast array of human experience, it seems almost impossible to hold them all in any individual’s mind or heart.” Amen brother!! And my wishes for a happy and healthy New Year to you all.
FEATURE ARTICLE:PLAYING STANDARDS AND THE REPERTOIRE
I have two new releases which are representative of that part of my discography dedicated to what I refer to as repertoire recordings, meaning compositions by notable historic composers. In the past I have done recordings featuring music from West Side Story, Monk, Miles, Coltrane and Cole Porter. Added now are Antonio Carlos Jobim (The Unknown Jobim) and the opera composer, Giacomo Puccini (A Walk in the Clouds-details about the recordings follow below). In fact I have recorded nearly 100 such tunes. The subject of how one records repertoire deserves some words, since there are at least two sides to this perpetual issue that also in a sense represent whole artistic ideologies which can be expressed in any of several analogies, representing the eternal clash between a classic vs. romantic vision-that is to be true to the literal or figurative aspect of a work. Or it can be considered the objective vs. subjective view towards art.
The treatment of repertoire has evolved quite a bit from the early bebop and prior periods of jazz when Charlie Parker and others basically employed an ornamental approach to the written melody, meaning use of various expressive devices such as vibrato, grace notes, inflection and other effects. Miles Davis in the 1950s pushed the envelope by changing and at times omitting pitches from the melody while Sonny Rollins used his vast rhythmic vocabulary to rephrase the melody. For me a breakthrough was a recording in the 1960s when saxophonist Joe Henderson actually changed the proscribed notes of the well known standard Without A Song to fit his own chord cycle. By the 70s and 80s Richie Beirach and myself and others did quite a bit of reharmonization using polychords and devices such as inserting vamps to play over, derived from some aspect of the original tune. In the 1990s many of us were adapting melodies to different meters and rubato interpretations. These days there is the “deconstuction” approach, which I hear from some of the younger musicians when only fragments of the original melody may survive.
There was a controversial article on this very subject which appeared in the NY Times several decades ago written by the respected composer and writer, Alec Wilder. Upon reading one certainly gets a very specific and classic perspective on the whole question of how to treat repertoire. Wilder castigates jazz musicians for being so cavalier in their approach to standard material: “I believe their presumptuous alterations of initially stated melodies are based on their belief that since their art form is basically alteration, they have the moral right to alter even that which is to be the source of their improvisation. They are in other words drunk with power….Just consider the mayhem that would ensue if this would become an accepted practice by readers of poetry, by actors, by setters of type!! Mind your manners ladies and gentlemen!”
Though some listeners familiar with my work may find this surprising, the truth is that I am very conscious and respectful of material written by others. The fact that an artist has committed him or herself to paper for posterity means a lot, since the act of composing is such a deep revelatory exercise, which is something I emphasize to students who are looking for their own voice. (One of the time worn methods to self discovery is composing). It is with the greatest of respect that I play material by others, especially by acknowledged masters.
Playing devil’s advocate from a personal perspective concerning interpreting standards, would the artist be considered so egotistical (or some might say arrogant) to feel that (s)he can add something of value to a given piece which will measure up in quality to the original? Isn’t it enough to be an interpreter of previously composed work which after all is the entire premise when performing Western classical, pop and folk music? Even in world music, to take one example, we note how Indian classical musicians must adhere very closely to the strict rules concerning performance of ragas. The question is quite personal for the artist because it boils down to how one views their own work in the stream of things. Aligning your artistic philosophy on the side of interpretation does not represent a less ambitious vision as it still demands great skill and discipline. After all there is nothing wrong with a good song being rendered again and again or rereading a great book, etc., since new insights may surface. If it is good, the work will stand up under reexamination and do very well, thank you-with or without my or anyone else’s “new”input!
On the other hand and now I am obviously stating my personal view, the very point of what classic work can mean to an artist is to inspire fresh approaches-to use what is given as a platform to discover more about what I think and feel-to show a new way of seeing, hearing and thinking about something of worth. If the original work can instigate self discovery, I think a higher purpose has been served for the artist on a personal level than would be possible through reinterpretation. Of course, there is the dangerous and arguably thin line of how much is too much-in other words if the new work is so far from the original, why even use it as a reference? And finally, is the new work comparable in value compared to the original? To these matters I reply that once we enter the complicated realm of judgment and who is judging it is a separate and usually heated discussion. To my mind critique exists apart from the actual process that the artist journeys through. We must do what we must, regardless of how it is seen by the outside world. Of course, most artists crave acceptance and desire to communicate something of worth to the public. However, the point here is relevant to the artist on a real and practical level-how to use existing work, possibly “classic” art in a way that will be of personal value towards the artist’s development and search.
To explain a bit of my process in relation to The Unknown Jobim recording, I actually did very little alteration in the purely technical musical sense, meaning manipulation of harmony, melody, etc. But I did change the rhythmic context in which these tunes are normally presented. Instead of a bossa nova or some version of the many possible Brazilian rhythmic feels available, I chose to have my group play the tunes in more or less straight ahead jazz versions, albeit with the several different combinations of instruments which the four of us can muster. Having to work very fast in the studio due to economics and time restraints, but with a group that has been playing and recording together for years, I could be creative with the overall color and sonic nature of the tunes. This is accomplished by using both acoustic and electric guitars (Vic Juris), drums and a variety of percussion (Jamey Haddad) and several varieties of basses (Tony Marino) as well as breaking the group up into duos and trios. Overall it is the rich melodies and harmonies of Jobim’s writing that must prevail no matter what the context. His body of work represents some of the most balanced “packages” of harmony, melody and rhythm (not to mention lyrics which of course I did not deal with) ever written.
In the case of the Puccini arias, I employed many additional instruments: synthesizer, acoustic piano, oboe, bassoon, cello, voice, Phil Woods on alto sax and clarinet plus my quartet so the aspect of changing colors are prevalent throughout the recording. From the technical standpoint, it is of course the melodies which are sacrosanct and while being true to them, I did change their underlying harmonies and rhythms, inserting vamps and other devices to improvise over. After all, I am a jazz musician and the point is to have a vehicle which will be personally viable for improvisation. Hopefully the listener will enjoy my revelations and adaptations of Jobim and Puccini. From my standpoint I always find that delving into a great body of work deepens my understanding of what makes it so classic.
In the final result using known material does help the interested listener understand something about the artist’s musical philosophy and become more involved in the process of discovery since at least there is some known quantity to latch on to, even with the alterations present. And for the artist, at the least, playing repertoire does provide a framework to measure one’s progress over time.
The Unknown Jobim is released by GMN and available through them at www.jazzplus.com/jobim
A Walk In The Clouds-Liebman Plays Puccini is released by Arkadia Records and available through their web site:http://www.arkadiarecords.com/
Easier and quicker, both are also available through my wife’s distribution service along with jazz instruction books imported from Advance Music(Germany), Le Moine (France), Schott (Germany) and Universal (Austria) at www.davidliebman.com/caris
Another release in the spring on the Nightbird Label from France titled Ghosts will feature the World View Trio (Reisinger, Celea and myself) doing very freely adapted versions of tunes from the jazz repertoire.
With such a long period between newsletters, there have been a lot of musical projects in the interim which I will comment on here briefly. Suffice to say that when I refer to the modern day jazz artist as the equivalent to what I imagine the troubadour’s life may have been like (different town each night, different musicians, etc.) it is not an exaggeration!!
FESTIVAL IN VIENNE,FRANCE: Truly one of the great festivals because of the ambiance of the town and the old Roman ampitheater where the performances are held-but more important the emphasis on listening with no competing events occurring at the same time, which is one of the problems of other festivals. I played in a trio setting with pianist Kenny Werner and the legendary Toots Thielmanns who for this set played harmonica exclusively. Toots plays with such passion and emotion, it brings tears to your eyes as well as the people to their feet-he even gets into La Marseillaise!! Also there were the great stories of his early days when he was one of the first European musicians to tour America in the early 50s with George Shearing, playing guitar, meeting Bird on 52nd Street and more. This was a memorable experience for me to be with one of the legends.
THE NORTH SEA FESTIVAL WITH FAR NORTH:(Danielson, Stenson and Christensen)-always great to be with this unique combination of Scandinavian musicians whom I have been playing with since 1985. Their way of playing puts me in a completely different context which is very stimulating.
IN ITALY: I spent a few days all around that great country, first with a wonderful young saxophone/piano lead band (Gaetano Partipilo and Mirko Signorile); a concert and recording with a group lead by drummer Alessandro Fabbi and finally several days at a festival in Termoli directed by my long time friend, saxophonist Maurizzio Giamarco in which I played duo with pianist France D’Andrea as well as music written for a large ensemble dedicated to the theme of the Freedom Fighters-about places and situations where the quest for attaining freedom goes on. By the way, having a great musician serve as the Artistic Director of a festival, which is happening more and more is noteworthy and something I feel is essential for musicians to strive for.
SCOTLAND: One of the best saxophonists and composers I have listened to over the years is Tommy Smith, who lives in Scotland. He spent some years in Boston at the Berklee College and toured with Gary Burton, but more importantly has become a major composer in my opinion. He wrote a piece featuring me with a big band made up of Scottish musicians which he named ”Beauty and the Beast” played at the Glasgow Festival. Then we did a few dates in England playing the music of Coltrane with a wonderful rhythm section. Tommy can really play and write-top of the line!!
HOLLAND: Here, the musicians are plentiful as well as highly skilled and I had a very diverse week in October. The main event was playing an arrangement adapted from my recent solo recording Time Immemorial by Bill Dobbins with the Metropole Orchestra as well other compositions by Bill and some of my string quartet music. The Metropole is unique in that it is a combination of big band and full orchestra which has been around since 1945. My relationship with Bill has been ongoing for over 25 years and we have done many major works together including a Concerto for Soprano and Orchestra as well as an adaptation of my solo recording from the 1980s, the Lonelinesss of a Long Distance Runner. Also I did a duo concert with pianist Marc Van Roon to celebrate the release of our record Among Birds and Beasts released on his own label (Apple On The Moon), which is a complete CD of freely improvised music. I also did several gigs with the wonderful and diverse drummer, Eric Ineke. We played a standards evening with a bassist and Bill on piano, another very traditional evening with a mainstay of Dutch bebop, pianist Rein de Graaf and finally a gig and recording with Nimbus, a group co-lead by Eric and pianist Wolfert Brederode which features an unusual instrumentation and music very much in the ECM ethereal mode. This was quite a busy and eclectic week for me.
TOUR WITH THE DUBLIN PROJECT: I have been playing with Irish bassist Ronan Guilfoyle, his brother Conor on drums and guitarist Mike Nielsen on occasion since 1989. This trio has delved deeply into metric modulation, cross rhythm and odd meter as much as anyone I know. Playing with them is always unique and for this short tour (which included some new places for me in remote areas of the Czech Republic and Hungary as well as Belfast in Northern Ireland) I added a great young saxophonist from Dublin, Mike Buckley. I always enjoy sharing the front line with another horn player-it brings me back to my days with Elvin Jones’ group and Steve Grossman as well of course Miles. It’s nice to have something similar but yet different to bounce off of. With these musicians, the music we play is quite free, often just pure improvisation without even specific forms. We recorded as a quartet in 1998 called After Dark which is available through: email@example.com
BERKLEE SCHOOL: I did a two day workshop and performance at the Berklee School in Boston which is always met with great enthusiasm by the students there. I had a wonderful performance with guitarist Rick Peckham who is one of the directors of the large guitar program and an interesting meeting with some department heads about different pedagogical approaches. Being the largest of its kind, Berklee does come in for its share of criticism to be sure, but I can tell you that over the years the program has improved and an attending student has choices he or she will not find elsewhere.
SKETCHES OF SPAIN: Under the direction of the head of the Jazz Department, Justin DiCiocchio, I performed the classic Gil Evans-Miles Davis collaboration that is my all time favorite piece of music at the Manhattan School of Music. We plan to release it as a school project. At Manhattan I am sharing teaching the graduate course in chromaticism with pianist Phil Markowitz with whom I did a duo concert at a loft near the World Trade Center, run by a musician (Dave Lopato) who sponsors small concerts in the old tradition of loft jazz.
MARCEL MULE: One of the two original voices of classical saxophone recently died at the age of 100 years old.(The other being German saxophonist Sigurd Rauscher who died only a few years ago). The Marcel Mule Sax Quartet was as far as I am aware the originator of that instrumentation. Also the notion of having saxophone as a viable field of study in the classical conservatory is credited to him in through the Paris Conservatory. I have recordings of his sax quartet and it truly sounds like strings-amazingly beautiful. Mule was friendly with Henri Selmer, the founder of that most famous saxophone company. This is evidence of how young the saxophone really is.
PHILLIP ROTH: Highly recommended are two books I read by this author to whom I am a little late in the game I surmise. I am sure many of you have delved into his vast output. This was the first time I ever read him and I couldn’t put down American Pastorale and The Human Stain. I am not an avid reader of fiction, but these books are so on the money about life and the way we, the human species is. I remember feeling that way in college when I read The Idiot by Dostoevsky-just the descriptions of the characters and what they are about makes you so aware of how complicated the human condition is and how, in the end we are all the same. (By the way, this train of thought served as the inspiration for my last solo recording, Time Immemorial).
VOCALIST JD WALTER NEW RELEASE: On the Double Time label, I recorded with vocalist JD Walter who lives in the Philadelphia area. To be honest I am not a big fan of jazz singing, but this guy is a phenomenon and we collaborated on this recording titled, Clear Day. He also took a few of my tunes and wrote lyrics to them. The guy is like an instrument-a phenomenon!! Available under JD Walter at: http://www.themusicresource.com--%20%20underr/
NEW CHAMBER MUSIC: Just published, a challenging piece I wrote in the 1980s for viola and soprano (can also be performed on violin and clarinet), in the 20th century vein titled South Africa. It is all written out with a bit of improvising for the horn if desired. The title may suggest some African influence but in fact it I just that the piece is dedicated to Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison. It is available through: www.davidliebman.com/caris
SAXOPHONE MASTER CLASSS: I am accepting audition tapes of students wishing to attend my 15th Annual Saxophone Master Class held on the campus of East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. My guest last August was my Pocono Mountains neighbor Phil Woods. The attendance was 15 students from all over the world and as usual featured a performance at the famous Deerhead Inn with my band’s rhythm section. You can check details and the address to send a tape on my web site. It will be held the first week of August and is meant for middle to advanced students.
http://www.jazzhouse.org/: A very well put together site with a lot of information done by jazz journalists.
FOR MUSICIANS ONLY:THE IRS and PRACTICE ROOM DEDUCTION: From a newsletter I get, this information should be known to all musicians for their tax returns-a decision by the Tax Court of Appeals concerning the deduction of a room in a musician’s apartment used for practicing. ”Daily practice was an essential part of the musician’s business. Because she practiced in the room more hours than she worked at all other locations combined, it was her principal place of business and the deduction was allowed.”
FUTURE ACTIVITIES-(check local calendar for specifics)
JANUARY: With JD Walter at Chris’ (club) in Philadelphia; SPECIAL GIG: Saxophone Summit at Birdland (NYC) with Mike Brecker, Joe Lovano and rhythm section of Phil Markowitz, Rufus Reid and Billy Hart.
FEBRUARY: Latin Genesis-with Don Braden and Dan Moretti doing music originally recorded on Genesis with Elvin Jones(early 80s) at Sculler’s in Boston and Chan’s in Woonsocket,RI; workshop and concerts in Italy.
MARCH: Residency at the New England Conservatory in Boston; workshop and performance at Loyola University in New Orleans and at club, Snug Harbor; European tour in duo with pianist Marc Copland.
APRIL:East Coast dates with the Dave Liebman Group: Trumpet’s in Monclair, NJ; Murray’s Inn- Wilkes Barre, PA-double bill with Steve Smith’s group-Vital Information; One Stop in Peekskill, NY; the Deerhead Inn in Deleware Water Gap, PA; the Cape May Festival, New Jersey; Ryles in Boston, Mass; concerts in Portland, Maine and Burlington, Vermont .
SPECIAL NEW YORK CITY CONCERT ON MAY 3rd-2002:
COMMEMORATING THE MUSIC OF JOHN COLTRANE INCLUDING AMONG OTHER PIECES A PERFORMANCE OF THE MEDITATIONS SUITE FEATURING:
JOE LOVANO,MIKE BRECKER, DAVE LIEBMAN WITH PHIL MARKOWITZ ON PIANO,BILLY HART ON DRUMS AND CECIL MCBEE ON BASS AT SYMPHONY SPACE (92nd Street and Broadway)-NEW YORK CITY
PRODUCED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE WORLD MUSIC ORGANIZTION
Again, wishing you all the best for 2002!!