To say that Tom Lieberman has had an interesting career would be akin to saying that Prince has been pretty good at making music. Over a career that’s spanned forty-plus years Lieberman was a founding member of the popular jazz trio Rio Nido, spent a decade as a writer/performer for A Prairie Home Companion, was the creative director for Sesame Street Live, and even executive-produced a major motion picture, Ali Selim’s 2005 film Sweet Land. Most recently, he released an album with his jazz trio, Tommy & the Liebermen in 2013, the Common Denominator. It was hailed by the Star Tribune as one of the 10 best Minnesota-Made Recordings of 2013.
Tom Lieberman may be the definition of polymath talent, but when asked about what he’s pursuing now he answer with typical Minnesotan modesty, “I’m working on a few things, my wife says I can’t have any more hobbies, though.”
Marital guidance aside, Lieberman says he is trying to focus on the one passion that has always been there for him, composing music. “I’m really trying to focus on being a songwriter,” Lieberman says, though it’s clear that may not be easy as he adds,“You know, other than making a living, which I do mostly as a writer, songwriter, scriptwriter and producer.”
Coming from a Jewish Family in Minneapolis, Lieberman has been around music and show business his entire life. His grandmother was a radio singer in the 1920s and he says his father always made sure he understood the value of what they did. When asked about the role Judaism played in his musical upbringing, Lieberman responds, “I don’t know, but I think in a way their Judaism fostered that love of music, entertainment and humor. So I wouldn’t say it was the faith, but I would definitely say it was the culture. . . . It’s the culture that really has allowed me to work on projects that are reflective of an outsider’s experience, a Jewish experience in a broader culture where we are the minority.”
Given his Minnesota roots, it’s not difficult to understand why Lieberman chose to make the Twin Cities his home. But when asked about why he loves the culture and creating art here, he once again returns to the theme of bringing unexpected ideas together to create something new, “The Twin Cities are a really wonderful place because you have people of all faiths blending their intellects, tastes, and traditions, and it’s really wonderful.” He sees the Twin Cities as a melting pot of culture, which could just as easily be a metaphor for his career.
“Yes! It is difficult to focus. I’m probably not the least focused person you’ve ever met, but I’m definitely not the most focused,” he admits about following his various creative pursuits. However, his wide-ranging talents have won him many fans, including at the Dakota Jazz Club where he recently reunited with Rio Nido. “We just did two shows at the Dakota and it was a blast,” he smiles.
Unsurprisingly, Lieberman is not going to perform with just one band and one style of music at the Dakota. Monday, February 1st he will take the stage with Tommy & the Liebermen which he describes as “roots, chestnuts and originals. The roots are more the blues, the chestnuts are more the Great American Songbook, and the originals are just my original songs, which tend to fall into the swing or jump blues categories.”
Lieberman has an aura about him that let’s you know he is grateful for every opportunity life has brought. “I just feel so blessed to be able to do the things I want to do and do things that are not necessarily routine. Everyday is kind of a new adventure.” Judging by his past, what Tom Lieberman’s next adventure will be is anyone’s guess.
This interview was made possible in part with support from the Howard B. & Ruth F. Brin Jewish Arts Endowment, a fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Foundation, and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.