Bill Frisell


Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell, born as William Frisell in Baltimore, Maryland on March 18, 1951, is well-known as one of the world most famous Jazz guitarists. He is in the same line as Pat Metheny, Larry Coryell, John Scofield, John McLaughlin or Al DiMeola. Two of his albums, “The Continentals” (2003) and “History, Mystery” (2009) were Grammy Award Nominees. His 2005 album, “Unspeakable”, won Grammy Award of Best Contemporary Jazz Album category.

Frisell learned playing clarinet from Jack Steven at the age of 9. He got his first guitar, a Christmas gift, at the age of 12. He bought Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe/Surfer Girl recordings a year later. He played with his first school band as a saxophone player. In 1965, he watched live concert, Herman Hermits, for the first time. He watched so many live shows since then namely Paul Butterfield, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar, James Brown and Buffalo Springfield.

Young Frisell also listened to Chicago Blues such as Otis Rush, B.B King and Buddy Guy. He ever studied music at University of Northern Colorado before administering himself to Berklee  College of Music in Boston. He ever learned music from Jim Hall and Jon Damian there.

Frisell  lived in New York in 1979. He played in quartet there together with Kermit Driscoll (Bass), Joey Baron (Drum) and Hank Roberts (Cello) and became trio at the end due to the quitting of Hank Roberts.

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The biggest leap of his career came  in 1981. Pat Metheny could not join to make a recording at that time and Frisell was recommended to take Metheny’s place to Paul Motian in making “Psalm” (1982) for the famous ECM Records. Frisell became “in-house guitar player” since then and played in several albums produced by ECM. He made his own album entitled “In Line” produced by ECM a year later.

Frisell moved to Seattle, Washington in 1988. At the beginning of 90s, he made his 2 best albums, “Have a Little Faith” and “This Land”. He quitted from his trio band in the middle of 90s and started playing ‘Bluegrass and Country’ in his music.

frisell-credit-ralph gibsonHe became Music Director of  “Century of Song”, one of Art Festival Show series of Rurh Trienale in Germany from 2003 to 2005. He invited Suzanne Vega, Arto Lindsay, Van Dyke Parks, Buddy Miller, Ron Sexsmith, and Elvis Costello to sing their favorite songs with new arrangement.

Frisell has produced 200 recordings including 25 albums of his own in his 25-year career. He has collaborated with many artists such as Ginger Baker, Marc Johnson, Jim Hall, Lyle Mays, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Vernon Reid, Vinnie Colaiuta, Kermit Driscoll, Joey Baron, Ron Carter, Paul Motion, John Zorn, David Sanborn, Petra Haden, Dale Bruning and others both in recordings and on stages.

Bill Frisell (photo credit to Michael Wilson)He has been as a music director in several movies like Gary Larson’s “Tales from the Farside”, The 1998’s “Psycho” and “Finding Forrester” both directed by Gus van Sant, HBO documentary movie, “American Hollow”, directed by Rory Kennedy and also “Millions Dollar Hotel” by Wim Wender (together with Brian Blade, Greg Cohen, Adam Horn and Bono). In addition, he was on several TV programs like Night Music, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Sessions at West 54th Street. Frisell often performed live in jazz club like “The Tractor Tavern”, Seattle or “Village Vanguard” in New York City.

The following names, Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, Bob Dylan, Gary Burton, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Aaron Copland, Frank Zappa even The Beatles and Miles Davis surely become Bill Frisell’s inspiration.

Frisell sounds different when playing due to his bluegrass, country, classic, folk and rock touch played in jazz he is performing. And he is also recognized as a player who loves to make unique sound character, sounding as unusual and wider character in his guitar. As a jazz guitarist, it’s obvious that he does master Bebop but Frisell shows himself more as “The Great Storyteller” when playing. In other words, theme is the priority in his solo.

Bill Frisell (photo credit to Jimmy Katz)Besides as a “Post-Modern Jazz Guitarist”, in 80s era, Frisell showed different skills and techniques from other jazz guitarists but his character, style, and imagination in his playing were incredible. Only few had them and he didn’t want to imitate what other guitarists did. This makes Frisell sound so unique and different, having something and becoming something as a jazz guitarist. This was proved when the writer was watching his show in Village Vanguard, NYC in 2007.

Another interesting thing of Bill Frisell is that he is able to play “Crossover”. Collaborated with John Zorn, he played Grunge. In his Quartet album, he showed his strong surealistic approach or Industrial in “In Line” and “Where in The World” and also some World Music color in “The Intercontinental”. He sounds melancholic in “Ghost Town” album and becomes much more imaginative in “Good Dog, Happy Man”.

Bill Frisell is a musician that does not stick to only one genre. He is very eclectic.

Written by: Stanley Tulung
Translated by: Alhenri Wijaya