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Five questions for Dave Liebman

The hearts of jazz fans in Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City should be beating a little bit faster this week in anticipation of concerts by the Dave Liebman Group.

Expectations for the iconic saxophonist’s shows should be high, given the calibre of the music that he and his quartet presented at Cafe Paradiso in 2008. Since then, the group has recorded Turnaround, an tribute to Ornette Coleman, which was named best CD of the year by German jazz critics, and which I reviewed here.In further kudos news, Liebman earlier this year was named a U.S. National Endowment for the Arts Jazz master.

Not one to rest on such laurels, Liebman, who turns 65 this year, has been prodigiously gigging and recording. The Pennsylvania-based saxophonist recently paid tribute to his great inspiration, John Coltrane, at a New York show that saw him sharing the stage with Coltrane’s son and fellow saxophonist, Ravi. And not long ago, Liebman performed in Poland at an concert that marked the beatification of Pope John Paul II, as you’ll read below in the kick-off question of this little Q & A:

1. I just watched the YT video from Poland featuring your performance at a concert connected to the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

How did that concert come about, how many people saw it (live and on TV) and what did it mean for you to be involved?
I was a substitute for Lee Konitz and only got the call a few weeks before. I think it was only broadcast in Poland but it was quite a great event. The arranger really did a wonderful job. It was also the coldest gig I ever did — freezing!!

2. Speaking of ceremonies, please tell me what it meant for you to be named an NEA Jazz Master earlier this year.
Of course another great honour, most of all to be in the company of so many masters and teachers; also quite proud to be the first of my generation to be given such an award.

3. I recently received your trio CD with Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum, and last year I received your two big band CDs and the Ornette Coleman CD. Am I right to think that you’re one of the most prolific jazz recording artists these days? What motivates you to document so much music?
I have a lot of ideas, a lot of energy and am pretty organized in my pursuit of finding the right places for my projects. It is purely documentation at this point since the financial aspect has for the most part disappeared, meaning advances, etc.

4. Speaking of the group with Vic Juris, Tony Marino and Marko Marcinko, how long has it been together, how often do you get to play, and what would you say are the special fulfillments of making music with these peers compared to the myriad other projects and concerts that you are engaged in?
Tony and Vic have been with me for 20 years, Marko for nearly 10. We work a few times a year for a series of gigs, enough to keep things going. It is precisely because I have so many projects that it is important to have one which is completely my responsibility and not shared with others. We have a very large book of music which I am constantly juggling with to keep interest. There’ s nothing as deep as playing with the same musicians over time, and it is something that I know the audience feels, though they may not even be aware of it on a conscious level.

[Here’s the quartet playing a Brazilian festival in 2002, choosing a tune that was guaranteed to knock them out in the land of Jobim: ]

5. At this point in your career, do you ever find yourself nostalgic for the jazz scene/community as it existed when you were coming up, before the rise of jazz schools, digital music, changes in jazz’s audience share, passion for jazz abroad vs. in the United States, and other game-changers? Are things better, worse, or just different for leading jazz artists these days?
Of course I miss the camaraderie that existed when there were places to jam and hang out late, which is the time when people really open up. The informality of jazz is still there, though much less than it used to be. On the other hand, more people know about the music than ever before, so like everything in life, it is a trade-off.

The Dave Liebman Group’s swing through Canada this week includes gigs at:
* L’Astral in Montreal, Wednesday, May 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available here.
* Largo Resto-Club in Quebec City, Thursday, May 19 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit Largo’s website or call 418-529-3111.
* Cafe Paradiso in Ottawa, Friday and Saturday May 20 and 21, with shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. each night. For more information, visit Cafe Paradiso’s website or call 613-565-0657.

In Ottawa, Liebman will also give a masterclass in Carleton University’s Kailash Mital Theatre on Saturday afternoon from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission is $20 at the door ($10 for students). For information: 613-520-5700.


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