Bill Frisell is developing an expanding pool of music which has proved to be very unique, and refreshing to the modern jazz listener. Quite often, the listener wonders whether he is listening to jazz or some new breed of folk music. Exploration is fundamental to Bill Frisell’s sound, and SSS was gratefully granted a moment to ask Mr. Frisell a few questions in order to explore more about this intriguing guitarist.
Get to Know Bill Frisell
SSS: What is your earliest musical memory?
Bill: My first musical memory….that’s difficult. My mother used to sing when she was working around the house. She knows hundreds of old standard songs…the words and everything. Years and years later when I became interested in jazz music and was trying to learn these old songs I was surprised to realize that she knew all of them. When I was very young I also remember being really excited seeing cowboys on television with guitars….also Jimmy on the Micky Mouse Club with his guitar. I thought he was cool. The first record I ever bought was a 45RPM with “Little Deuce Coupe” on one side and “Surfer Girl” on the other by the Beach Boys.
SSS: Why did you choose to play guitar?
Bill: Like I said in the previous question, I’ve been fascinated with the guitar since I was a little kid. The guitar has been the best way for me to communicate with people and meet new people…it brings people together. It has become my voice.
SSS: You’ve been seen with a number of guitars, but you seem to have come to favor your Telecaster. How have you made that guitar your own?
Bill: I love Telecasters because they are so simple and you can get just about any sound out of them. They will work in any situation and I like to play in all kinds of situations. I also like arch top guitars…I have a few made by Steve Andersen that are fantastic. I also have an old Gibson es 125 that I’ve been playing a lot.
SSS: What about the rest of your live rig? Can you give us a brief run through of your equipment and maybe a few insights as to how you make all of it contribute to your overall sound?
Bill: I use an Ibanez tube screamer, Rat distortion, Digi-Delay, Digitech 8 second delay, Line 6 delay modeler, Lexicon MPX 100…and some Maxon stuff…flanger, 707 distortion and tremolo…I own some old small Gibson and fender amps….and have some really great new amps made by Jack Anderson.
SSS: Who inspired you most as a young musician?
Bill: Who inspired me?….there are too many people to list…I just love all kinds of music and try to be open and learn about as much as I can. It’s infinite…so..well…
SSS: What influences guided both your playing and inspired your tonal palette?
Bill: Influences and tonal palette… I love hearing musicians who have their own unique voice… Thelonious Monk is one of my favorite musicians. The guitar is an incredible orchestral sort of instrument…it can sort of mimic any sound…so I like to imagine almost anything in my head…an orchestra, a bird, a train, Jimi Hendrix, a marching band…and try to make that sound come out of the guitar.
SSS: What spawned your venturing back into the world of folk and roots music?
Bill: folk and roots music…I like looking back at older music to try to figure out where I came from, where the music came from…what made it happen…and this helps me think about where it might be able to go in the future.
SSS: Your music sounds very honest, as well as eclectic in that it successfully blends jazz and roots music as well as other stylistic hues. How does a busy and touring musician maintain this serenity in his music?
Bill: I don’t feel very serene most of the time. I’m real busy and stressed out most of the time. Music is a world I can enter into where everything makes sense and is cool.
SSS: Tell us about the various projects you’ve put together.
Bill: Various projects…I love meeting new people as well as keeping older relationships….combining different groups of people together. This is usually how all my projects come about. It’s about the people and how they might interact.
SSS: The drumming of Brian Blade has blended very naturally with your own guitar playing. You two seem to have a knack for linking up rhythmically and with unique phrasing. can you give further insight as to your musical relationship with Brian?
Bill: Brian Blade is one of the most incredible musicians and people I’ve ever known. It feels like he knows everything I’ve ever played and everything I will ever play.
SSS: What drew you to Ron Miles, as both the musician and trumpeter that he was?
Bill: Ron Miles is an inspiration to me. Nobody sounds like him. I feel totally connected to him. Maybe because we went to the same high school in Denver.
SSS: Is there a chance that you might incorporate vocalists into your groups in the future?
Bill: Lately I’ve been playing with alot of vocalists…Elvis Ostello, Vinicius Canuaria, Rickie Lee Jones, Vic Chestnutt, Jesse Harris, Ron Sexsmith, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright….and many more.
SSS: Do you feel that you are able to express yourself with your six string more than you can with words at times?
SSS: Where is Bill Frisell headed in the future?
Bill: I don’t have any specific plans…I just hope I can keep playing…keep learning and keep playing with the people I’m playing with now and meet some new people too. I feel really lucky to get to play music. Music is good.
To learn more about Bill Frisell, please visit www.billfrisell.com.