Swinging with Paul Lieberman: A Jazz Virtuoso’s Journey to Nobles

Clare Struzziery, Staff Writer

November 13, 2023

He’s a professional recording saxophonist and flutist who has played on over 50 albums. He has spent years touring the United States with Brazilian jazz stars Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, as well as Jaimoe of the Allman Brothers Band. He has comprised part of “Connecticut’s #2 Party Band,” played a regular late-night gig in Brazilian clubs, worked as a cruise ship musician, and was a member of a prestigious Rio de Janeiro horn section. Paul Lieberman is an Artist-in-Residence and the Director of the Wind and Jazz Ensembles at Nobles. He brings decades of experience as a musician in all kinds of performance settings to his work in the Music Department. 

Lieberman got his start in music in the fourth grade, when he learned to play the flute. In middle school, his band director informed him that a saxophone player was needed for the next fall’s Jazz Band, and sent him home for the summer with the instrument. Young Lieberman attempted to figure out how to play the instrument on his own. “Teaching yourself musical instruments…I don’t recommend it,” Lieberman said. Shortly after, a local church hired him to play for a service, and Lieberman’s decades-long professional music career began. 

Lieberman played flute and saxophone throughout high school, and he followed his musical aspirations to Yale University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music. Lieberman studied music history and music theory in the classroom, while also playing in the Yale Jazz Band and “gigging” around New Haven’s lively music scene. In college he joined “Connecticut’s #2 Party Band,” and he and his bandmates traversed the state, playing rock music for people to dance to at weddings and parties. 

After college, Lieberman moved to New York City, where he stumbled upon a vibrant Brazilian music scene while working as a musician in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. He began working with a Brazilian “big band” called Amazon, which led to him being invited to tour the United States for two years with Brazilian jazz stars Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. “I was the only gringo, so I got tired of hearing people talk in a language that I couldn’t understand…I thought I’d better try to learn some Portuguese,” Lieberman said. After beginning to learn a new language, Lieberman was invited to move to Brazil and perform with one of his bandmates, starting at a National Jazz Festival. However, when he got the call, Lieberman was aboard a cruise ship on the Mediterranean, where he had planned to stay for the rest of the summer. His bandmate informed him that he would have to fly straight to Brazil from Athens, Greece, in order to make his performances. “So I called my parents and said: ‘I’m moving to Brazil. And I’m not coming home first,’” said Lieberman. 

While in Brazil, Lieberman performed for a wide variety of audiences. He was a member of the first call Rio de Janeiro horn section, meaning that top Brazilian artists called Lieberman when they were interested in adding a horn section to their latest track. In addition, he played Brazilian jazz in nightclubs four nights a week from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Of his many performances in the country, Lieberman said, “I found, at the time, that Brazilian audiences were more musical than American audiences…it just sounded like a choir, and it was just tremendous fun.” Lieberman then spent 10 years touring with Jaimoe, one of the co-founders of the Allman Brothers Band, one of the most influential rock bands from the American South.

However, upon his return to the United States, Lieberman quit music to pursue a career in business, believing that the musical chapter of his life was closed forever. “When I came back from Brazil…I quit and I sold all my instruments. And I went silent for six years.” After years without picking up an instrument, Lieberman’s wife surprised him with a Casio keyboard from Costco as a Christmas gift. He was unable to stay away from music for any longer. “[It had] called him back,” he said. 

Lieberman returned to music as an educator, first joining the music faculty before receiving his Master of Music degree in Jazz Composition and Arranging at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He arrived at Nobles 10 years ago after connecting with his high school jazz bandmate Music Faculty Michael Turner via social media and has since done important work with the Wind and Jazz Ensembles, Middle School Wind Ensemble, and Jam Band. On the differences between teaching music at the middle school, high school, and college level, Lieberman says, “I think I would say they’re the same, in that music is about life. And what I’m really trying to teach people is number one, to not let your fear stop you. Number two, to learn how to take a complicated problem and break it down into pieces.”  Lieberman’s illustrious music background has allowed him to bring invaluable experience and perspective to teaching. Turner says, “From his first day here, he has sought ways to elevate the school’s instrumental music program and to bring diverse forms of music to the entire Nobles community. At the same time, he is still constantly searching for ways to improve and grow, as a musician and teacher himself. This is perhaps the most essential modeling that a music teacher can give their students.”

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