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Frisell, Bill

Bill Frisell

Guitarist, composer

Why would a serious jazz guitarist be interested in composing accompaniments for slapstick genius Buster Keaton's silent movies? The answer, as Gene Santoro reported in the New York Daily News, is that Bill Frisell specializes in the unexpected. Santoro pointed out the appeal of Frisell's unique style of playing, noting that a typical set with the guitarist's band—which features bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Joey Baron—"finds song fragments hurtling in and out of a continuous, unfolding narrative. Rhythms churn and change up, spaces yawn and collapse, and the leader's guitar ricochets from acoustic lyricism to airplane-level raunch." Although a talented composer himself—as evidenced by his work for Keaton—Frisell also has an ability to react to others' musical texts that has made him one of the most sought-after session players in contemporary music.

Frisell's collaborative instinct carried over to his own recordings. He has utilized his formidable improvisational skills "to hone a composition style in which weepy country melodies coexist with rumbling funk bass lines and kitschy Fifties rock … juxtaposed with graceful, surprisingly arresting dissonances," according to Tom Moon of Rolling Stone. His 1993 recording Have a Little Faith at first seems to promise the listener familiar songs, like Madonna's "Live to Tell," Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman," and John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me," but then treats those songs as places to begin his explorations.

Discussing Have a Little Faith's offerings, Frisell told Guitar Player, "I've played some of these pieces … for a really long time…. It's almost as if there's this pool of melodies that's part of your person." That pool also extends to such classical pieces as Charles Ives's "Three Places in New England" and Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid," which helped define the American music consciousness. These disparate tunes are held together by the same subtleties of texture that make Frisell instantly identifiable to listeners.

Frisell's interpretations continued with 1994's This Land, an extension of Frisell's journey through the American musical heritage. According to George Varga in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Frisell's interpretations draw from "funk, rock, modern jazz, Dixieland, country and pioneering American composers." Critics such as Moon have asserted that this eclectic style is governed by rock and roll's disregard for convention, and Frisell, though not a rock musician, has pointed out that he chose in part to play the guitar because of the music he heard on the radio while growing up.

His choice of instrument has helped define the type of musician Frisell has become. In Guitar Player he confided, "It's harder to deny all the things that have happened on the guitar in the last 30 or 40 years than it would be if you played the saxophone. If I played the saxophone or trumpet, it would be a lot easier to fall into this classicism. Whereas with guitar, you could just do a Wes Montgomery thing, but if you're my age and grew up with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix, you'd have to be more blatant."

Yet despite his many influences, Frisell continues to be identified as a jazz musician, an association he seems able to take or leave. He commented in Down Beat, "I don't really care. It doesn't matter what it's called. It bothers me that people use names to box things away. What [jazz musicians] do comes out of jazz, it has a lot of stuff that attracted me to jazz in the first place. But we don't confine ourselves to a certain era: we use everything we know. That's what all the great jazz players do."

In another Guitar Player piece, Frisell asserted that his best music, "writing or playing, comes from instinct…. The things I've studied intellectually have taken years to seep down, and now they come out naturally."

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Frisell began playing clarinet in his school marching band in Denver. According to an Elektra/Nonesuch biography, his exposure to the music of Otis Rush, B.B. King, Paul Butterfield, and Buddy Guy instilled in Frisell a passion for Chicago blues. In high school he played in bands covering James Brown tunes and other pop and soul classics, and later, after studying music at the University of Northern Colorado, he attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1978 Frisell moved to Belgium where he concentrated on writing music for a year before moving to New York City and staying for ten years.

In an interview with Joe Gore in Guitar Player, Frisell did not downplay his formal education, and he disagreed with "those who argue that conservatory educations hatch musical eggheads." The guitarist commented, "It's only the players' fault if they let themselves be programmed by the routines that [schools] establish. There are all kinds of things you can do with the 'rules' that a school might give you. For example, in the harmony class at Berklee, they'd have 'avoid notes,' notes you weren't supposed to use over a particular chord. Naturally, those were the first ones I'd check out."

For the Record …

Born on March 18, 1951, in Baltimore, MD. Education: Studied music at the University of Northern Colorado and Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA.

Jazz guitarist and composer. Began playing clarinet as a teen and played guitar in high school bands; moved to Belgium for a year to write music, 1978; moved to New York until 1989; moved to Seattle, WA; recorded Have a Little Faith, 1992, Nashville, 1997, Gone, Just Like a Train, 1997, and Bad Dog, Happy Man, 1999; issued Ghost Town, 2000, Blues Dream, 2001, The Willies, 2002, The Intercontinentals, 2003, Unspeakable, 2004, and East/West, 2005.

Awards: Grammy Award, Best Contemporary Jazz Album, for Unspeakable, 2005.

Addresses: Record company—Elektra/Nonesuch, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.nonesuch.com/.

The eclecticism and uniqueness of Frisell's playing and composing—perhaps the result of his curiosity about unconventional sounds—is the most often cited aspect of his work. His early 1990s releases, including This Land, Have a Little Faith, and the Buster Keaton film music collections Go West and The High Sign/One Week, earned accolades from magazines ranging from Rolling Stone to Down Beat for their refreshing experimental guitar stylings. In his 1994 review of This Land, Rolling Stone's Josef Woodward praised, "More than almost anyone else in the last decade, Frisell brought a new voice to the fraying realm of the electric guitar."

Frisell's virtuosic and understated playing has been, for critics and listeners alike, a welcome relief in the world of contemporary music. Varga declared, "An artist, not an acrobat, Frisell is one of those rare guitarists who consistently avoid fast licks and overwrought solos. In their place, he offers atmospheric swells, delightful country inflected twangs, bluesy punctuations, surging power chords and wonderfully creative lines that never go where you expect but are always perfectly timed and executed."

Frisell continued to record frequently in the mid-to-late 1990s, issuing sound tracks, albums with his band, and a solo album. In 1995 Elektra/Nonesuch issued Go West: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton and High Sign/One Week, musical scores to accompany Keaton's classic silent movies. Frisell followed with the Bill Frisell Quartet in 1995, and the much acclaimed Nashville (1997), an album that would make an appearance on the Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. Working with members of the bluegrass group Union Station (well known for its work with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss), Frisell began an in-depth exploration of country music roots. He continued his exploration on Gone, Just Like a Train (1997) and Good Dog, Happy Man (1999), both of which also charted on the Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.

In 2000 Frisell released a true solo album, Ghost Town, an experiment that allowed him to play the various instruments that comprised each track. The album featured his own compositions along with classic songs by the Gershwin brothers and Hank Williams. Frisell followed in 2001 with the beautifully recorded Blues Dream, an expansive, atmospheric set with trumpeter Ron Miles and guitarist Greg Leisz.

In 2002 Frisell returned to his exploration of American roots music on The Willies, an album that offered versions of traditional folk songs like "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man." Joined by banjoist Danny Barnes and bassist Keith Lowe, Frisell mixed jazz, folk, and country to create a carefully woven tapestry. In 2003 he expanded his exploration of roots music with The Intercontinentals, a set that drew connections between American and other folk music from around the world. "This is a remarkable album," wrote Thom Jurek in All Music Guide, who added that it "sets a new watermark for Frisell's sense of adventure and taste, and displays his perception of beauty in a pronounced, uncompromising, yet wholly accessible way." Frisell continued to broaden his vision on Unspeakable in 2004 and the two-disc live album East/West in 2005. "Where so many conventional jazz guitarists define themselves by how many notes they can play," wrote Chris Kelsey in All Music Guide, "Frisell has carved a niche by virtue of his sound. His ability as an original, lyrical player of melody combines with a unique (if much imitated) sound to make him one of the most singular musicians of his generation."

Selected discography

In Line, ECM, 1982.
(With Eberhard Weber) Later That Evening, ECM, 1982.
(With Paul Motian Trio) It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago, ECM, 1984.
(With Vernon Reid) Smash and Scatteration, Rykodisc, 1984.
(With Marc Johnson) Bass Desires, ECM, 1985.
(With Various Artists) Steal This Disc, Rykodisc, 1987.
Lookout for Hope, ECM, 1988.
Rambler, ECM, 1988.
ECM Works, ECM, 1989.
(With Hal Willner) Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music for Vintage Disney Films, A&M, 1989.
Before We Were Born, Elektra/Musician, 1989.
Is That You?, Elektra/Musician, 1990.
Where in the World?, Elektra/Musician, 1991.
Hal Willner Presents Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus, Columbia, 1992.
Have a Little Faith, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1993.
This Land, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1994.
The High Sign/One Week: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1995.
Go West: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1995.
Nashville, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1997.
Gone, Just Like a Train, Nonesuch, 1997.
Bad Dog, Happy Man, Nonesuch, 1999.
Ghost Town, Nonesuch, 2000.
Blues Dream, Elektra/Asylum, 2001.
The Willies, Nonesuch, 2002.
The Intercontinentals, Nonesuch, 2003.
Unspeakable, Nonesuch, 2004.
East/West, Nonesuch, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Boston Phoenix, April 1, 1994.

CMJ (College Music Journal), April 4, 1994.

Down Beat, March 1992; April 1993; August 1994; June 1995.

Guitar Player, July 1992; June 1993; May 1994.

Musician, March 1993; June 1994; November 1994.

New York Daily News, February 24, 1994; April 1, 1994.

Pulse!, June 1994.

Rolling Stone, May 13, 1993; September 22, 1994.

San Diego Union-Tribune, April 7, 1994.

Online

"Bill Frisell," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com/ (July 5, 2006).

Additional information for this profile was provided by Elektra/Nonesuch publicity materials.

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Frisell, Bill

Bill Frisell

Guitarist, composer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Why would a serious jazz guitarist be interested in composing accompaniments for slapstick genius Buster Keatons silent movies? The answer, as Gene Santoro reported in the New York Daily News, is that Bill Frisell specializes in the unexpected. Santoro pointed out the appeal of FriselPs unique style of playing, noting that a typical set with the guitarists bandwhich features bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Joey Baronfinds song fragments hurtling in and out of a continuous, unfolding narrative. Rhythms churn and change up, spaces yawn and collapse, and the leaders guitar ricochets from acoustic lyricism to airplane-level raunch. Although a talented composer himselfas evidenced by his work for KeatonFrisell has an ability to react to others musical texts that has made him one of the most sought-after session players in contemporary music.

Frisells collaborative instinct carried over to his own recordings. He has utilized his formidable improvisational skills to hone a composition style in which weepy country melodies coexist with rumbling funk bass lines and kitschy Fifties rock juxtaposed with graceful, surprisingly arresting dissonances, according to Tom Moon of Rolling Stone. His 1993 recording Have a Little Faith at first seems to promise the listener familiar songs, like Madonnas Live to Tell, Bob Dylans Just Like a Woman, and John Hiatts Have a Little Faith in Me, but then treats those songs as places to begin exploration.

Discussing Have a Little Faiths offerings, Frisell related in Guitar Player, Ive played some of these pieces, like When I Fall in Love and the Sonny Rollins tune, for a really long time. In fact, the Stephen Foster song gets back to my earliest memories of music. Its almost as if theres this pool of melodies thats part of your person. That pool extends to such classical pieces as Charles Ivess Three Places in New England and Aaron Coplands Billy the Kid, which helped define the American music conscious. These disparate tunes are held together by the same subtleties of texture that make Frisell instantly identifiable to listeners.

Frisells interpretations serve to reposition listeners with respect to their musical heritage and continued with 1994s This Land, an extension of Frisells journey through the American mosaic, drawing, according George Varga in the San Diego Union-Tribune, from funk, rock, modern jazz, Dixieland, country and pioneering American composers. Critics such as Tom Moon have asserted that this eclectic style is governed by rock and rolls disregard for convention, and Frisell, though not a rock musician, points out that he chose in part to play the guitar because of the music he heard on the radio while growing up.

For the Record

Born March 18, 1951, in Baltimore, MD. Eduction: Studied music at the University of Northern Colorado and Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA.

Jazz guitarist and composer. Began playing clarinet as a teen and guitar in high school bands; moved to Belgium for a year to write music, 1978; moved to New York until 1989; moved to Seattle, WA.

Awards: Cited numerous times in Down Beat critics polls.

Addresses: Record company Elektra/Nonesuch, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

His choice of instrument has helped define the type of musician Frisell has become. In GuitarPlayerhe confided, Its harder to deny all the things that have happened on the guitar in the last 30 or 40 years than it would be if you played the saxophone. If I played the saxophone or trumpet, it would be a lot easier to fall into this classicism. Whereas with guitar, you cotv/djust do a Wes Montgomery thing, but if youre my age and grew up with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix, youd have to be more blatant.

Yet despite his many influences, Frisell continues to be identified as a jazz musician, an association he could take or leave; he commented in Down Beat I dont really care. It doesnt matter what its called. It bothers me that people use names to box things away. What [jazz musicians] do comes out of jazz, it has a lot of stuff that attracted me to jazz in the first place. But we dont confine ourselves to a certain era: we use everything we know. Thats what all the great jazz players do.

In another Guitar Player piece, Frisell asserted that his best music, writing or playing, comes from instinct. Im just not thinking about notes. Sure, if you stop me, I can identify what note Im playing and explain its relationship to an underlying chord, but the music I felt best about comes from somewhere else. The things Ive studied intellectually have taken years to seep down, and now they come out naturally.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Frisell began playing clarinet ain his school marching band in Denver. According to an Elektra/Nonesuch biography, his exposure to the music of Otis Rush, B.B. King, Paul Butterfield, and Buddy Guy instilled in Frisell a passion for Chicago blues. In high school he played in bands covering James Brown tunes and other pop and soul classics, and later, after studying music at the University of Northern Colorado, he attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Frisell moved in 1978 to Belgium where he concentrated on writing music for a year before moving to New York City and staying for ten years.

In an interview with Joe Gore in Guitar Player, Frisell did not downplay his formal education, though he disagrees with those who argue that conservatory educations hatch musical eggheads. The guitarist commented, Its only the players fault if they let themselves be programmed by the routines that [schools] establish. There are all kinds of things you can do with the rules that a school might give you. For example, in the harmony class at Berklee, theyd have avoid notes, notes you werent supposed to use over a particular chord. Naturally, those were the first ones Id check out.

The eclecticism and uniqueness of Frisells playing and composingperhaps the result of his curiosity about unconventional soundsis the most often cited aspect of his work. His early 1990s releases, including This Land, Have a Little Faith, and the Buster Keaton film music collections Go West and The High Sign/One Week, earned accolades from magazines ranging from Rolling Stone to Down Beat for their refreshing experimental guitar stylings. In his 1994 review of This Land, Rolling Stones Josef Woodward praised, More than almost anyone else in the last decade, Frisell brought a new voice to the fraying realm of the electric guitar.

Frisells virtuosic and understated playing is, for critics and listeners alike, a welcome relief in the world of contemporary music. The San Diego Union-Tribunes Varga declared, An artist, not an acrobat, Frisell is one of those rare guitarists who consistently avoid fast licks and overwrought solos. In their place, he offers atmospheric swells, delightful country inflected twangs, bluesy punctuations, surging power chords and wonderfully creative lines that never go where you expect but are always perfectly timed and executed. Whether playing, writing, or leading a band, Frisell exhibits a dexterous maturity, growing out of a unique personal vision that at the same time is also open to other interpreters of the world around him.

Selected discography

Lookout for Hope, ECM, 1988.

Rambler, ECM, 1988.

ECM Works, ECM, 1989.

Before We Were Born, Elektra/Musician, 1989.

Is That You?, Elektra/Musician, 1990.

Where in the World?, Elektra/Musician, 1991.

Hal Willner Presents Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus, Columbia, 1992.

Have a Little Faith, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1993.

This Land, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1994.

The High Sign/One Week: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton, Elektra/Nonesuch, 1995.

Go West: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton, Elektra/ Nonesuch, 1995.

Bass Desires, ECM.

In Line, ECM.

It Shouldve Happened a Long Time Ago, ECM.

Later That Evening, ECM.

(With Vernon Reid) Smash and Scatteration, Rykodisc.

(With Hal Willner) Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music for Vintage Disney Films, A&M.

Steal This Disc, Rykodisc.

Sources

Boston Phoenix, April 1, 1994.

CMJ (College Music Journal), April 4, 1994.

Down Beat, March 1992; April 1993; August 1994; June 1995.

Guitar Player, July 1992; June 1993; May 1994.

Musician, March 1993; June 1994; November 1994.

New York Daily News, February 24, 1994; April 1, 1994.

Pulse!, June 1994.

Rolling Stone, May 13, 1993; September 22, 1994.

San Diego Union-Tribune, April 7, 1994.

Additional information for this profile was provided by Elektra/Nonesuch publicity materials, 1994.

John Morrow

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Frisell, Bill

BILL FRISELL

Born: Baltimore, Maryland, 18 March 1951

Genre: Jazz

Best-selling album since 1990: Nashville (1996)


Electric guitarist Bill Frisell has created a broad and personal oeuvre melding aspects of jazz, folk, rock, country, free improvisation, and classical composition, employing sophisticated guitar technique and his reflective personality. Influenced during his teens by 1960s Motown, psychedelia, jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, and Chicago blues, Frisell has gradually incorporated his experiences of the eclectic New York avant-garde ("downtown") scene with more mainstream modern jazz styles into a music that evokes cultural clashes and mythic U.S. landscapes like the lonesome prairie and the great plains. Although he is naturally shy, Frisell has worked boldly as both leader and sideman with some of the most intense and experimental instrumentalists to arise since the 1980s. In the 1990s he focused his energy on extended ensembles addressing his ambitious but accessible compositions. Whether performing solo, in the trio headed by drummer Paul Motian (featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano), or in front of one of his own bands, Frisell retains a distinctive lyricism.

Frisell studied clarinet while growing up in Denver, Colorado; his father played string bass and tuba, and the family had a piano and Hammond organ. In his early teens he picked up the guitar "for fun" and joined his high school classmates to play dance hits at parties. He entered a purist phase while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston and took private lessons with guitarist Jim Hall, who made him practice Bach violin sonatas. Frisell returned to Denver; subbed in a Los Angeles nightclub show band; returned to Berklee; lived in Belgium for a year, during which he met his wife (who is from a musical family); and recorded with German bassist Eberhard Weber, a stint that led to his debut recording on the ECM label.

Settling in New York City in 1979, Frisell joined a circle of genre-defying musicians anchored by composer/reeds player John Zorn and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz. He remained personally and professionally close with Horvitz after both moved their families to the Seattle area in 1989. While in New York, Frisell was celebrated for the aching, poetic quality of his improvisations, his long, deliberate phrases, and his reverberant sustained notes. Frisell typically juxtaposed such sounds with the explosive use of wildly dissonant electronic effects, and he continues to employ surprising, sometimes extreme shifts of texture and mood in his improvisations. However, his written repertoire, as introduced in the early 1980s by the Bill Frisell Band (with cellist Hank Roberts, electric bassist Kermit Driscoll, and drummer Joey Baron), emphasizes thoughtful melodicism with idiosyncratic twists comparable to but not imitative of those of singular jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.

Frisell established his career trajectory in the 1980s. By mid-decade he was signed to the prestigious Elektra/Nonesuch label, and his coterie of collaborators expanded to include provocative clarinetist Don Byron, producer Hal Willner, and pop-rockers such as guitarist Ry Cooder, bassist/songwriter Nick Lowe, singers Marianne Faithfull and Elvis Costello, and drummers Ginger Baker and Jim Keltner. He continues to work with jazz-associated musicians; since the 1990s, he has performed and/or recorded with bassists Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Melvin Gibbs, and Marc Johnson (in the quartet Bass Desires, with guitarist John Scofield); and with drummers Ronald Shannon Jackson and Elvin Jones. In the contemporary classical realm Frisell has performed Steve Mackey's "Deal" at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. He has also performed in Los Angeles with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Frisell wrote an original score for the silent films of the comic Buster Keaton, and his music is heard in films by directors Gus van Sant and Wim Wenders, among others. He has appeared on the TV programs Night Music, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Sessions at West 54th Street. He has formed creative relationships with a new coterie of Pacific Northwest-based musicians and artists, including violin prodigy Eyvind Kang, painter Claude Utley, and cartoonists Jim Woodring and Gary Larson. His albums are sometimes thematic; in 2003, on The Intercontinentals, Frisell reached beyond borders to form a band including Brazilian composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist Vinicius Cantuária, Greek-Macedonian oud and bouzouki player Christos Govetas, Malian guitarist Boubacar Traore, and percussionist Sidiki Camara.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Where in the World (Elektra, 1991); Live (Gramavision, 1991); Have a Little Faith (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1992); This Land (Elektra, 1994); Go West: Music for the Films of Buston Keaton (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1995); Nashville (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1996); Bill Frisell Quartet (Nonesuch, 1996); Gone, Just Like a Train (None-such, 1997); Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch, 1999); Ghost Town (Nonesuch, 2000); Blues Dream (Elektra/Asylum, 2001). With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones (Elektra/Asylum, 2001); The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch, 2003). With Paul Motian Trio: Motian in Tokyo (JMT, 1991); Trioism (JMT, 1993); Fred Hersch, Songs We Know (Nonesuch, 1998); Don Byron, Tuskegee Experiments (Elektra/Musician, 1990); John Scofield, Grace under Pressure (Blue Note, 1991); Jerry Granelli, A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing (ITM Pacific, 1992).

WEBSITE:

www.songtone.com/artists/frisell_link.htm.

howard mandel

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