Book Review – Dave Liebman’s The Art of Skill


I love Dave Liebman, his work, his philosophy, his artistry and his dedication to craft. As a devoted musical improviser, when I learned of his book, The Art of Skill – Establishing the Mindset For Unleashing the Music Inside You, I was super eager to get into Lieb’s brain and see what insights this master could offer. Instead, after thousands of purchases across more than two decades of using Amazon, I was moved to write my first product review.  Here tis:

I don’t think that I’ve ever written a review for anything in thousands of Amazon purchases, but I definitely feel obliged to issue a ‘buyer beware’ warning for this unfortunate collection of pages attributed to Dave Liebman, as author. I say attributed because there are references in the text stating that this was a project of a Michael Lake, who I can’t seem to find anything biographics or CV on – He is credited thusly, on the cover: “Edited and Designed by Michael Lake”. No other credentials are included. 

When I first heard about this book from Lieb, I went to Amazon and reluctantly swallowed the thirty bucks thinking that this might be a real chance to get an insight in Lieb’s perspectives; that was partially true. However, when I first received this in the mail I was taken aback by the paltry, print-on-demand collection of perfect bound pages that arrived. To call it a book, m’mmm… not quite, only if, say a pharmaceutical insert stuffed in The Times is considered a book or more aptly, a Scholastic Reader, which is what this 50ish pages of wide margins, poorly written and even more poorly proofread text alongside a mish-mash of motivational stock imagery with a few pics of Lieb and friends through the years thrown in for good measure seems to be. A book? That’s a tough proposition by any measure. 

I didn’t pick this up for about six months, but when I finally picked up this collection of pages, it was, well, not great. A series of shoddily edited interviews (maybe?). I know now that LIeb almost became an orthopedic surgeon and a lawyer, but that didn’t bear repeating four times in, sort of, tangential asides to other things Lieb was talking about. And that’s the thing here, there’s no editorial throughline and no narrative to speak of. I surely didn’t get any insight into ‘the art of skill’ or really an insight into anything except Lieb’s other potential career directions! Without a doubt, you’d get more, better articulated (and edited) insight if you were to just read the first ten articles in a Google search for “Dave Liebman”. Certainly, this collection was not, is not, worth thirty bucks. And that’s the thing that’s outrageous here: Dave Liebman is known for quality and lifelong dedication to craft; this poorly written, poorly edited, poorly assembled, poorly laid out, cheaply printed and extremely overpriced collection is far beneath Dave Liebman. If anybody ever reads this, I’d say a fair price point for this is about $10 and with the printing costs you should still be making $9.

If it were some rando jazz guy, I’d give ’em a pass, but with lieb, man, I just can’t do that. He’s a teacher, master, musician and founder of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. Was there really nobody in his orbit that he could have shared this with to get an opinion on the writing, the editing, the layout, the presentation, etc. As someone who worked in publishing, I’d wager that a second set of eyes were never laid on this collection. Perhaps, the price tag can be attributed to the astronomical price of college textbooks and somebody was hoping to get this on some syllabi? I really don’t know, but this is an unfortunate and overpriced collection of pages that’s not worthy of having Dave Liebman’s name on it or associated with his amazing legacy of excellence. 

As disappointed as I am with this work, I’m being generous with the three star rating. I think there are some, just Ok, insights within these pages, but it never scratches the surface of the promise of the title:  The Art of Skill – Establishing the Mindset for Unleashing the Music Inside You, this collection of pages and random images, definitely ain’t that! 

Anyway, my work is done. I’m disappointed, but hopefully, other folks can avoid the same disappointment and maybe even the editors/authors will take another look at things in the second printing. Lieb’s an amazing and awe-inspiring artist, a true craftsman, don’t let this dissuade you from his work.