Preminger to play at West Virginia Jazz Society's Jazz at Charles Pointe

The Exponent Telegram
Friday, January 17, 2014 3:54 pm

BRIDGEPORT — Jazz saxophonist Noah Preminger likes to live life to the fullest, throwing himself into just anything he takes on.

When he went skydiving for the first time, in New Zealand, he continued the sport upon returning home to Connecticut and almost got his skydiving license. When he wanted to quit smoking cigarettes, he not only decided to start boxing, he got himself a coach and sparred in some tough — albeit not professional — fights.

And when he took up the saxophone around the age of 8 or 9, he decided he really liked the instrument and began taking classes with a serious teacher — Dave Liebman, who recently earned National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters lifetime achievement award.

“I was at Liebman’s house yesterday,” Preminger said in a recent telephone interview from his home in New York City, where he had just spent 40 minutes looking for a parking space.

“It’s good. I’ve had sort of a dry spell, writer’s block. It’s good to get a kick in the butt every now and then. Liebman is a musical hero of mine and not just musically. He is intimidating for just his overall knowledge, so you can ask him about anything. I needed to have a lesson with him to get my head on straight.”

At the age of 27, Preminger — who will play the West Virginia Jazz Society’s Jazz at Charles Pointe event at 8 p.m. Jan. 24 — has packed a lot of life into relatively few years.

“I’m a firm believer that it is more important to live life every day and experience new things, to get your (butt) kicked in the ring, to get your heart broken, to not be able to find parking for 40 minutes, to go out with friends — to live life and adapt that to music, rather than sitting at home practicing all day long. You only get to live once.”

Critics and colleagues alike reference Preminger’s talent and wisdom beyond his years when discussing his work and his success, which includes three CDs — the most recent, “Haymaker,” named in honor of the sport he no longer does since the death of his coach.

“He’s got such a mature sound and a mature approach,” said James Moore, associate professor of jazz ensembles at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, a friend who will be playing trumpet in Preminger’s band at the Winter Jazz Festival event, which takes place at the Bridgeport Conference Center Jan. 24 with Preminger and Jan. 25 with saxophonist Marshall Keys.

“He plays like someone who is a lot older than he is. He knows a lot of music on a very deep level and what I love so much about his playing is his tone. There is a lot of history is in playing, but it’s also looking forward. He’s a great artist and he takes a lot of chances and it’s amazing.”

Moore met Preminger about six years ago when the then-recent New England Conservatory of Music graduate accompanied well-known jazz trumpeter and NECM faculty member John McNeil to West Virginia Wesleyan for a mini-residency.

“He was fresh out of college and he blew me over,” Moore said. “I thought he was way older. I thought he was my age. I thought he was in his 30s.”

Moore has assembled a band that also will perform with Preminger, including bassist Paul Thompson and drummer James Johnson III, both of Pittsburgh; and pianist Timothy Brey of Philadelphia.

“We’re putting a group of my favorite musicians to play with him,” Moore said.

A native of Canton, Conn., Preminger figured out early on that he really loved playing the saxophone. His parents even moved to West Hartford, Conn., so he could attend a public high school with a good music program. After he graduated, they moved back home.

“My parents are the most dedicated, wonderful people on earth,” he said. “They opened up a lot of things for me.”

At the same time, Preminger began studying with Liebman at the young age of 12.

“I would send him assignments and we would talk on the phone,” Preminger said. “He would say, ‘Do this and this and this.’ I’d finish something up and send it to him by snail mail and a few weeks later, he would call me. He’s probably one of my biggest inspirations.”

During a couple of summers, he took a master class with Liebman in person, which Preminger accounts for his dedication to his craft.

“It’s one of those things where you shouldn’t be a musician if you’re not going to put your heart into this,” he said. “It really motivated me to work really hard.”

Preminger is prepared to impart that same wisdom as well as some lessons he learned the hard way when he serves as the guest instructor during the Jazz at Charles Pointe’s Winter Jazz Academy, which will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 25 for about 40 area high school and college students.

“It’s hard to make a living and if you want to teach, you need to get a Ph.D. and even if you get a Ph.D., there is no guarantee,” Preminger said.

And if they want to perform and tour, they need to learn the business end of the industry. Preminger lost $4,000 on his first tour because he did not account for transportation and meals for both him and his entourage.

“You have to keep your head up and be creative about finding ways to make a living,” he added. “If you love it, you will find a way to do it.”

Jazz at Charles Pointe will be held at 8 p.m. Jan. 24 with Noah Preminger and 8 p.m. Jan. 25 with Marshall Keys, as well as the Winter Jazz Academy from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 25, all at the Bridgeport Conference Center. Tickets each night cost $45 and include dinner. Call the Bridgeport Conference Center at (304) 808-3000.

Lifestyles Editor Mary Wade Burnside can be reached at (304) 626-1438 or by email at