Considered one of the jazz field’s foremost bassists, David Friesen is credited with helping to, as he put it to Andrew Gilbert of the San Diego Union-Tribune, “liberate” the bass from being purely a rhythmic instrument. He did this by bringing the bass to the forefront of the jazz ensemble, putting it on an equal footing with the piano and wind instruments. His preferred instrument is the double bass, both in acoustic and upright electric variations. Called by Gilbert “one of jazz’s most expressive musicians,” Friesen has recorded more than 50 albums as lead performer or as coleader.
Having worked with some of the widely acknowledged masters of jazz, including Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, Friesen has established himself as a jazz virtuoso in his own right, incorporating techniques from some of the pioneers of the field as well as some of the more modern experimenters with whom he has worked, including saxophone players Sam Rivers and George Adams, and trumpet player Ted Curson. Some of Friesen’s best-known recordings have been a series of duets with piano player Denny Zeitlin. His influences include, in addition to jazz, folk, and classical music.
With a stylistic range that encompasses bop, mood music, and New Age as well as jazz, Friesen has been recording music since the mid-1970s and playing professionally since the age of 16. He grew up in Seattle, and his artistic pursuits were encouraged early on by his parents—who also supported the artistic goals of his sister, actress Dyan Cannon. His first instruments were the ukulele and the accordion, both of which he learned by the time he was ten years old. His first professional gigs came by the time he was 16 years old, when he was playing guitar in a Los Angeles nightclub.
Friesen’s relationship with the instrument he would become famous for began in 1961, when he was stationed in Germany in the U.S. Army. It was there that he taught himself to play the bass, and from then on it became his favorite instrument. He described his introduction to the instrument to Gilbert in the San Diego Union-Tribune: “I was in the soldiers service club and there was a bass lying in the corner next to a piano player playing. I just saw the bass and picked it up and tried to play along. That was it, it felt like it was love at first embrace.” While still in the Army, at the age of 19, he played with musicians George Arvanitas, Johnny Griffin, and Art Taylor in Paris.
After his discharge from the Army, Friesen returned to his native Seattle, where he began a serious study of the bass, often practicing ten hours a day. He also sat in on jam sessions with future jazz notables Larry Coryell and Randy Brecker. Soon he landed a gig as part of the house band at a nightclub called the Penthouse in Seattle. This club featured as headliners such jazz greats as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans. Friesen’s job was to play in warm-up sessions before the headliners played, and sometimes he got the chance to stay onstage to sit in with them. Other gigs followed into the 1970s, including short-term engagements with John Handy, an alto saxophonist, and Marian McPartland, a pianist. Next, Friesen landed a two-year gig playing in concerts with tenor saxophone player Joe Henderson.
Now based in Portland, Oregon, Friesen opened a coffeehouse in 1973. “It was open from 2 in the morning until 7,” he later told Global Bass Online’s Andy Long. “On Saturday afternoons I had puppet shows for the kids and Sunday evenings I had jazz from about 7 ’til 11.”
In 1975 Friesen toured Europe as a member of the Billy Harper quintet. This tour proved to be a breakthrough for Friesen, directly leading to future gigs with Stan Getz, Sam Rivers, Kenny Drew, George Adams, Danny Richmond, and Dexter Gordon, among others. He later recorded albums with Drew, Adams, and Richmond. Also in 1975, Friesen recorded his first album as lead performer: Color Pool, on the Muse label. The following year, he established what was to become a long-running collaboration with guitarist John Stowell.
Friesen truly came into his own while playing with Ted Curson in 1976. It was this association that allowed Friesen to play longer and longer solos in concert, developing a then-almost-unknown ability to hold an audience’s attention with bass playing for extended periods. In 1977 Friesen appeared at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival with Curson. Then, after
Born on May 6, 1942, in Tacoma, WA.
Became a professional musician at age 16; learned to play double bass at age 19; played in professional gigs in Seattle, WA, played in house band at Penthouse club, 1960s; toured Europe with Billy Harper quintet, 1975; recorded first solo album, Color Pool, on Muse label, 1975; recorded a new album nearly every year after that, including Star Dance, 1976; Waterfall Rainbow, 1977; Through the Listening Glass, 1978; Other Mansions, 1979; Paths beyond Tracing, 1980; Storyteller, 1981; Amber Skies, 1983; Encounters, 1984; Inner Voices, 1987; Other Times, Other Places, 1989; Departure, 1990; Long Trip Home, 1992; Two for the Show, 1994; Returning, Burnside, 1995; Four to Go, 1996; Still Waters, 1997; Ancient Kings, 1998; Castles and Flags, 1999; With You in Mind, 2001; and Grace, 2002.
Awards: Monterey Jazz Festival, Most Valuable Musician, 1977.
Addresses: Office — Color pool Music, 1005 N.E. 78th Ave., Portland, OR 97213. Website — David Friesen Official Website: http://www.davidfriesen.net.
working with Ricky Ford, Duke Jordan, and Mal Waldron at the close of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, Friesen toured the Soviet Union with Paul Horn in 1983.
By this time, Friesen had established a very unusual reputation for being a top-notch solo bass performer, often playing entire concerts by himself. Besides performing solo, Friesen also enjoys playing in small groups—duets, trios, and quartets—establishing a strong rapport with his collaborators. He described this collaborative process to Gilbert of the San Diego Union-Tribune: “The last few years, Larry [Koonse] and I have been getting together and playing with drummer Jo LaBarbera. The rapport has been wonderful. Larry and I think alike, harmonically, rhythmically, timewise.” Working with small groups also allows Friesen full range of expression, filling a hall or studio with sound without dominating the groups in which he plays.
In addition to performing both in the studio and in concert, Friesen conducts music clinics to help other musicians and ensemble groups to play better. As he told Long, “I do work a lot with theory and things like that. I will work with combos and try to teach them how to listen, what to listen for and how to work together as a unit so that they make music together… Mainly I stress listening…, and the transition between practicing in the practice room and then the development of how to bring that into a playing situation.”
Friesen continues to be an active performer and recording artist, making recordings for Muse, Inner City, Steeplechase, Palo Alto, ITM, Global Pacific labels, and many other labels, and touring regularly.
Color Pool, Muse, 1975.
Star Dance, Nippon, 1976.
Waterfall Rainbow, Inner City, 1977.
Through the Listening Glass, Inner City, 1978.
Other mansions, Inner City, 1979.
Paths beyond Tracing, Steeplechase, 1980.
Heart to Heart, Golden Flute, 1980.
Storyteller, Muse, 1981.
Amber Skies, Palo Alto, 1983.
Encounters, Muse, 1984.
Inner Voices, Global Pacific, 1987.
Other Times, Other Places, Rhino, 1989.
Departure, Global Pacific, 1990.
Long Trip Home, ITM, 1992.
Two for the Show, Summit, 1994.
1 2 3, Summit, 1994.
The Spirit of Christmas, Burnside, 1994.
Remembering the Moment, Soul Note, 1994.
Returning, Burnside, 1995.
Dancing with the Bass, ITM, 1995.
Three to Get ready Bass, ITM, 1995.
Four to Go, ITM, 1996.
Still Waters, Shamrock, 1997.
Ancient Kings, Shamrock, 1998.
Castles and flag Shamrock, 1999
Live at Jazz Bakery, Intuition, 1999.
In Concert, Summit, 2000.
Made in Berlin, ITM, 2000.
With You in Mind, Summit, 2001.
Voices, WestWind, 2001.
The Name of a Woman, Intuition, 2002.
Grace, Khaeon, 2002.
Down Beat, April 1995, p. 12; June 2002, p. 56.
San Diego Union-Tribune, July 20, 2000.
“David Friesen,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 7, 2002).
David Friesen Official Website, http://www.davidfriesen.net (November 1, 2002).
“Heritage & Innovation—The Work of David Friesen,” Global Bass Online, http://www.globalbass.com/archives/may2001/david_friesen.htm (November 7, 2002).
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