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 Miles' last two recordings before the trumpeter's temporary retirement in the late 1970s, Get Up with It and On the Corner.