David Liebman was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 4, 1946. He began classical piano lessons at the age of nine and saxophone by twelve. His interest in jazz was sparked by seeing John Coltrane perform live in New York City clubs such as Birdland, the Village Vanguard and the Half Note. Throughout high school and college, Liebman pursued his jazz interest by studying with Joe Allard, Lennie Tristano and Charles Lloyd. Upon graduation from New York University (with a degree in American History), he began to seriously devote himself to the full time pursuit of being a jazz artist.
In the early 1970s, Liebman took the leading role (as President) in organizing several dozen musicians into a cooperative, Free Life Communication which became an integral part of the fertile New York "loft" jazz scene in the early 1970s and was funded by The New York State Council of the Arts and the Space for Innovative Development. After one year spent with Ten Wheel Drive, one of the early jazz fusion groups, Liebman secured the saxophone/flute position with the group of John Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones. Within two years, Liebman reached the zenith of his apprenticeship period when Miles Davis hired him. These years, 1970-74, were filled with tours, recordings and the incredible experience gained by being on the band stand with two masters of jazz. At the same time, Liebman began exploring his own music-first in the Open Sky Trio with Bob Moses and then with pianist Richie Beirach in the group Lookout Farm. This group recorded for the German based ECM label as well as A&M Records while touring the U.S., Canada, India, Japan and Europe. Lookout Farm was awarded the number one position in the category “Group Deserving of Wider Recognition” in the 1976 Downbeat Magazine’s International Critics Poll.
In 1977, Liebman did a world tour with pianist Chick Corea followed up the next year by the formation of the David Liebman Quintet with John Scofield, Kenny Kirkland and Terumasa Hino as featured sidemen. After several world tours and recordings by the quintet over three years, he reunited with Richard Beirach. They began performing and recording as a duo, as well as creating the group Quest in 1981. Beginning with bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster, the group solidified when Ron McClure and Billy Hart joined in 1984. Through 1991, Quest recorded seven CDs, toured extensively and did many workshops with students worldwide.
Liebman’s present group formed in 1991 includes guitarist Vic Juris, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Marko Marcinko. With these musicians he has pursued an eclectic direction in recording projects that has ranged from jazz standards to Puccini arias, original adaptations from the John Coltrane and Miles Davis repertoires, original compositions in styles ranging from world music to fusion, always maintaining a repertoire that balances the past, present and future.
Over the past several decades, Liebman has often been featured with top European musicians such as Joachim Kuhn, Daniel Humair, Paolo Fresu, Jon Christensen, Bobo Stenson and in the World View Trio with Austrian drummer Wolfgang Reisenger and French bassist Jean-Paul Celea. His reputation in Europe has led to big band and radio orchestra performances, such as with the WDR in Koln, Germany, the Metropole Orchestra of the Netherlands and the new music Klang Forum in Vienna, Austria playing music specially commissioned to feature Liebman's unique soprano saxophone style. He has consistently placed among the top finalists in the Downbeat Critics' Poll since 1973 in the Soprano Saxophone category. As of the present, David Liebman has been featured on nearly 300 recordings, of which he has been the leader and/or co-leader on nearly 100. Well over 200 original compositions have been recorded. His artistic output has ranged from straight ahead classic jazz to chamber music; from fusion to avant garde.
Liebman has published material on a variety of subjects, instructional DVDs and published chamber music. As well over the years he has contributed regularly to various periodicals such as the Saxophone Journal and the International Association of Jazz Educators Journal. He is the author of several milestone books: Self Portrait Of A Jazz Artist, A Chromatic Approach To Jazz Harmony And Melody, Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound and numerous others, several of which have been translated into other languages.
His teaching activities at universities and in clinic settings have taken him literally around the world as a result of his varied musical directions and expertise on several instruments, along with an ability to articulate the intricacies of the jazz language, aesthetic and technique. Over the years, he has regularly received grantees to study with him funded by the NEA (U.S.), the Canadian Arts Council, as well as Arts Councils of numerous European countries. In 1989 he founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ), an organization dedicated to networking educators and students from international jazz schools through periodic meetings, exchange programs and newsletters. Liebman presently serves as the Artistic Director of the IASJ.
Liebman has received several distinguished awards including two National Endowment of the Arts grants for composition and performance(1981/91; an Honorary Doctorate from the Sibelius Acadamy of Helsinki; Finland(1997); a Grammy nomination for Best Solo Performance (1998) and Best Big band Arrangement (2004); induction into the International Association of Jazz Educator's Hall of Fame (2000); Artist Grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts (2005). He is on the Board of Advisers for Jazz Improv Magazine, the Pennsylvania Regional Jazz Coalition, American Jazz Venue, the International Society for Improvised Music. He currently teaches in the Jazz graduate division at the Manhattan School of Music.
"While others of his 60s generation have fallen off their ambition, Liebman has remained dogged about composition and trying different styles…he’s a fighter.” Ben Ratliff - New York Times
“With the passing of Dizzy Gillespie, Liebman may be the leading living exponent pf jazz as an international music. In 1989, he founded the IASJ, an umbrella organization of jazz schools from every continent including forty countries, modeled after the U.N., that aims to expand and further the jazz tradition through global means.” Jazz Times
1980: National Endowment of the Arts Grant for Composition
1988:Record of the Year from the French Jazz Academy for “Homage to Coltrane”(Owl Records)
1991: National Endowment of the Arts Grant for Performance
1997:Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland; the first ever given to a jazz artist.
1998: Grammy nomination in the category of Best Jazz Solo for the recording of "My Favorite Things" from Thank You, John (Arkadia Records).
2000: Inducted into the Hall of Fame of the International Association of Jazz Educators for contributions to jazz pedagogy.
2001: Fred Waring Award from Celebration of the Arts, which organizes a yearly festival in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania where Liebman resides for outstanding contributions to the arts and community.
2004: Grammy nomination for Jim McNeely arrangement of “Sing, Sing, Sing” from Beyond the Line recording by the David Liebman Big Band.
2005: Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Grant to individual artists.
Advisory Boards and Faculty Positions:
Graduate Faculty - Manhattan School of Music
Jazz Improv Board of Advisors
The Jazz Alliance
International Society for Improvised Music
Pennsylvania Regional Jazz Coalition
American Jazz Venue
SELECTED RECORDINGS AND PUBLISHED MATERIALS
AS A SIDE MAN:
Live at the Lighthouse; Merry Go Round; Genesis - Elvin Jones (Blue Note)
Earth Jones - Elvin Jones (Palo Alto)
On the Corner; Get Up with It; Dark Magus - Miles Davis (CBS/Sony)
My Goals Beyond - Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (Electra)
WITH HIS OWN PERFORMING GROUPS:
Lookout Farm; Drum Ode (ECM)
Sweet Hands;Forgotten Fantasy (A&M;/Horizon)
If They Only Knew;Doin’ It Again (Timeless)
Pendulum (Artist House)
Quest (Palo Alto)
Quest II; Quest III-Midpoint (Storyville)
Natural Selection (Evidence)
Of One Mind (CMP)
Turn It Around;Miles Away (Owl/EMI)
Songs for My Daughter (Soul Note)
Return of the Tenor (Double Time)
New Vista; Meditations Suite; A Walk in the Clouds-Liebman Plays Puccini(Arkadia)
The Unknown Jobim (GMN)
In A Mellow Tone (Zoho)
Beyond the Line-David Liebman Big Band (Omnitone)
MISCELLANEOUS RECORDINGS AS A LEADER/CO-LEADER:
Tribute to John Coltrane - with Wayne Shorter (Columbia)
Energy of the Chance (Heads Up)
What It Is (Columbia)
Dedications; The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner (CMP)
Homage to Coltrane; Timeline; West Side Story Today; Trio + 1;
Classic Ballads; Joy (Candid)
The Trio Plays Cole Porter; Setting the Standard; Besame Mucho (Red Records)
The Tree; The Seasons (Soul Note)
Water: Giver of Life with Pat Metheny (Arkadia)
Monk's Mood (Double Time)
Time Immemorial (ENJA-Koch)
Colors (Hatology)-solo tenor
Gathering of Sprits:Saxophone Summit with Mike Brecker and Joe Lovano(Telarc)
Bookends with Marc Copland(Hatology)
Different But The Same with Ellery Eskelin(Hatology)
Lieb Plays Alec Wilder (Daybreak)
Manhattan Dialogues with Phil Markowitz (Zoho)
Flashpoint (Tone Center)-with Steve Smith
The Distant Runner (Hatology)-solo concert