Frisell playing with the B3 Trio at Jazz Alley, Seattle on April 24, 2004: The B3 Trio
|Birth name||William Richard Frisell|
March 18, 1951 |
|Genres||Jazz, jazz fusion, folk jazz, world fusion, New Acoustic, Americana, experimental rock, grindcore, soundtrack|
|Occupations||Musician, composer, arranger|
|Instruments||Guitar, clarinet, tenor saxophone|
|Labels||Savoy Label Group, Nonesuch, ECM|
Steve Klein Electric
One of the leading guitarists in jazz since the late 1980s, Frisell's eclectic music touches on progressive folk, classical music, country music, noise music and more. He is known for using an array of effects to create unique sounds from his instrument.
Frisell was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but spent most of his youth in the Denver, Colorado area. He studied clarinet with Richard Joiner of the Denver Symphony Orchestra as a youth, graduated from Denver East High School, and went to the University of Northern Colorado to study music.
His original guitar teacher in the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area was Dale Bruning, with whom Frisell released the 2000 duo album Reunion. After graduating from Northern Colorado, where he studied with Johnny Smith, Frisell went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied with Jon Damian and Jim Hall.
Frisell's major break came when guitarist Pat Metheny was unable to make a recording session, and recommended Frisell to Paul Motian, who was recording Psalm (1982) for ECM Records.1 Frisell became ECM's in-house guitar player, and worked on several albums, most notably Jan Garbarek's 1981 Paths, Prints. Frisell's first solo release was In Line, which featured solo guitar as well as duets with bassist Arild Andersen.
Frisell's first group to receive much acclaim was a quartet with Kermit Driscoll on bass, Joey Baron on drums, and Hank Roberts on cello (later slimmed down to a trio when Roberts left). Many other albums with larger ensembles were recorded with this group as the core.
In the 1980s Frisell lived in the New York City area and was an active participant in the city's music scene. He lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the rents were cheaper and the city was accessible via public transportation.2 He forged an early partnership with John Zorn—including as a member of quick-change band Naked City—and performed or recorded with many others. He also became known for his work in Motian's trio, along with saxophonist Joe Lovano.
In 1988 Frisell left New York City and moved to Seattle, Washington.3 In the early 1990s Frisell made two of his best-reviewed albums: first, Have a Little Faith, an ambitious survey of Americana of all stripes, from Charles Ives and Aaron Copland (the entirety of Billy the Kid) to John Hiatt (the title song), Bob Dylan ("Just Like a Woman") and Madonna (a lengthy, psychedelic rock-tinged version of "Live to Tell"); and second, This Land, a complementary set of originals. During this time he performed with many musicians, including the more up and coming, such as Douglas September on album 10 Bulls. He also branched out by performing soundtracks to silent films of Buster Keaton with his trio, and contributed to Ryuichi Sakamoto's album Heartbeat.
In the mid-1990s, Frisell disbanded his trio. He continued the trend marked by Have a Little Faith by more explicitly incorporating elements of bluegrass and country music into his music. His friendship with Gary Larson led him to provide music for the TV version of The Far Side4 (released on the album Quartet along with music written for Keaton's Convict 13). Since 2000, Frisell has lived on Bainbridge Island, Washington, near Seattle.3
In 1999, Frisell was commissioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota to compose Blues Dream, which he premiered on November 15, 1999. He later recorded the work for a 2001 release on Nonesuch.
Between 2003 and 2005 Frisell acted as musical director for Century of Song, a series of concerts at the German arts festival RuhrTriennale (produced by Lee Townsend). Frisell invited artists including Rickie Lee Jones, Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, Arto Lindsay, Loudon Wainwright III, Vic Chesnutt, Van Dyke Parks, Buddy Miller, Ron Sexsmith and Chip Taylor to perform their favorite songs in new arrangements.
In 2003, Frisell's The Intercontinentals was nominated for a Grammy award; he won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album for his album Unspeakable. His 2008 album History, Mystery was nominated for a 2009 Grammy award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group. Frisell was also a judge for the 6th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.6
Frisell has united with Matt Chamberlain, Tucker Martine, and Lee Townsend in the Floratone band, and they released an album on Blue Note (2007), featuring guest performance of Viktor Krauss, Ron Miles and Eyvind Kang.
In 2010, Frisell started working with the Savoy Jazz label and released Beautiful Dreamers in August 2010, then a second release of Sign of Life in April 2011. Also, on January 25, 2011, Frisell and Vinicius Cantuária released Lágrimas Mexicanas on the E1 label.
In June 2011, Frisell, Lee Townsend, and their frequent collaborator, Vinicius Cantuaria, participated in TEDx GoldenGateED's program, "Teaching Compassion" in Oakland, California. Frisell and Cantuaria performed separately, and Townsend assisted with technical aspects of the event.7
In September 2011, Frisell released All We Are Saying, a full-length offering of his interpretations of John Lennon's music. Frisell's quintet includes violinist Jenny Scheinman, pedal steel and acoustic guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer Kenny Wollesen.
|Lookout for Hope||1987||ECM|
|Before We Were Born||1989||Nonesuch|
|Is That You?||1990||Nonesuch|
|Where in the World?||1991||Nonesuch|
|Have a Little Faith||1992||Nonesuch|
|Go West: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton||1995||Nonesuch|
|The High Sign/One Week: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton||1995||Nonesuch|
|Gone, Just Like a Train||1998||Nonesuch|
|Good Dog, Happy Man||1999||Nonesuch|
|The Sweetest Punch, The New Songs of Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach||1999||Decca|
|With Dave Holland and Elvin Jones||2001||Nonesuch|
|Further East/Further West||2005||Nonesuch|
|Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian||2006||Nonesuch|
|Beautiful Dreamers||2010||Savoy Label Group|
|Lágrimas Mexicanas with Vinicius Cantuária||2011||E1 Music/Naïve|
|Sign of Life: Music for 858 Quartet||2011||Savoy Label Group|
|All We Are Saying, Frisell Plays Lennon||2011||Savoy Label Group|
|Floratone II||2012||Savoy Jazz|
- Jung, F. A Fireside Chat with Paul Motian. Jazz Weekly
- Barnes, Danny. "Music Is Good: A Conversation with Bill Frisell", Fretboard Journal, Issue 4, Winter 2006. Accessed February 6, 2013. "But it was hard to live; I never even made it to New York! I was actually living in New Jersey. We couldn’t even afford to live in New York so we lived most of the time in Hoboken."
- Seven, Richard (April 22, 2001), "The Sound of One Man Dreaming", Pacific Northwest magazine (The Seattle Times)
- "Bill Frisell Biography". Billfrisell.com. Retrieved 2012-03-08.
- The Sweetest Punch: Songs of Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach Rolling Stone review.
- Independent Music Awards - 6th Annual Judges
- Link to Frisell's performance at TEDx GoldenGateED's Teaching Compassion program, June 11, 2011- http://tedxgoldengateed.org/presenters/bill-frisells-video/
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