2012 Monterey Jazz Festival Commission Artist
Supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts
In a career spanning more than 25 years and over 200 recordings, including 25 albums of his own, guitarist, composer, and bandleader Bill Frisell is now firmly established as a visionary presence in American music. He has collaborated with a wide range of artists, filmmakers and legendary musicians. But it is his work as a leader that has garnered increasing attention and accolades. The New York Times said that “It's hard to find a more fruitful meditation on American music than in the compositions of guitarist Bill Frisell. Mixing rock and country with jazz and blues, he's found what connects them: improvisation and a sense of play. Unlike other pastichists, who tend to duck passion, Mr. Frisell plays up the pleasure in the music and also takes on another often-avoided subject, tenderness."
Born in Baltimore in 1951, Bill Frisell played clarinet throughout his childhood in Denver, Colorado. His interest in guitar began with his exposure to pop music on the radio. Soon, the Chicago Blues became a passion through the work of Otis Rush, B.B. King, Paul Butterfield and Buddy Guy. In high school, he played in bands covering pop and soul classics, James Brown and other dance material. Later, Bill studied music at the University of Northern Colorado before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston where he studied with John Damian, Herb Pomeroy and Michael Gibbs. In 1978, Frisell moved for a year to Belgium where he concentrated on writing music. In this period, he toured with Michael Gibbs and first recorded with German bassist Eberhard Weber. Bill moved to the New York City area in 1979 and stayed until 1989. He now lives in Seattle.
Over the years, Frisell has contributed to a large body of work with such collaborators as Paul Motian, John Zorn, Elvis Costello, Ginger Baker, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright III, Van Dyke Parks, Vic Chesnutt, Rickie Lee Jones, Ron Sexsmith, Vinicius Cantuaria, Marc Johnson (in "Bass Desires"), Ronald Shannon Jackson and Melvin Gibbs (in "Power Tools"), Marianne Faithful, John Scofield, Jan Garbarek, Lyle Mays, Vernon Reid, Julius Hemphill, Paul Bley, Wayne Horvitz, Hal Willner, Robin Holcomb, Rinde Eckert, the Frankfurt Ballet, film director Gus Van Sant, David Sanborn, David Sylvian, Petra Haden and numerous others, including Bono, Brian Eno, Jon Hassell and Daniel Lanois on the soundtrack for Wim Wenders’ film Million Dollar Hotel, and Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester.
This work has established Frisell as one of the most sought-after guitar voices in contemporary music. The breadth of such performing and recording situations is a testament not only to his singular guitar conception, but his musical versatility as well. In recent years, it is Frisell's role as composer and band leader which has garnered him increasing notoriety.
The New Yorker wrote that "Bill Frisell plays the guitar like Miles Davis played the trumpet: in the hands of such radical thinkers, their instruments simply become different animals. And, like Davis, Frisell loves to have a lot of legroom when he improvises--the space that terrifies others quickens his blood."
On this subject DownBeat has noted: "With his respectful if improbable eclecticism and audible ethnic guitar roots, Frisell is the new music's Ry Cooder...His engagingly droll sense of humor is never far from the surface; no one else's persistent dissonances sound so consistently congenial."
Sometimes using delays and distortion and an unmistakably unique touch, Frisell, as JazzTimes once observed, "has an airbrushed attack, a stunning timbral palette and a seemingly innate inability to produce a gratuitous note." Musician has described his guitar style as "modern in the best sense of the word, straddling the electronic ambiance and distortion of contemporary rock and the nuances of touch and harmonic sophistication usually associated with jazz."
Frisell’s recordings over the last decades span a wide range of musical influences. His catalog, including over twenty recordings for Nonesuch, has been cited by DownBeat as “the best recorded output of the decade.” It includes original Buster Keaton film scores (The High Sign, One Week, Go West) to arrangements of music for extended ensemble with horns (This Land, Blues Dream); adaptations of his compositions originally written as sound-tracks to Gary Larson cartoons (Quartet); interpretations of work by other classic and contemporary American composers (Have a Little Faith) ; and collaborations with the acclaimed rhythm section of bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Jim Keltner (Gone; Just Like a Train; Good Dog, Happy Man).
Other releases include an album with Nashville musicians (Nashville), the solo album Ghost Town, an album of his arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach (The Sweetest Punch), a trio album with jazz legends Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, and a collection of American traditional songs and original compositions inspired by them entitled The Willies. The Intercontinentals, nominated for a Grammy in 2004 is an album that combines Frisell’s own brand of American roots music and his unmistakable improvisational style with the influences of Brazilian, Greek, and Malian sounds. His 2004 release, Unspeakable, produced by Hal Wilner, won a Grammy® for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. East/West is a two CD set, featuring his two working trios recorded in concert on both coasts. Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian features two jazz legends that Bill considers among his true mentors and musical inspirations.
His collaborative project Floratone (Blue Note) with drummer Matt Chamberlain and producers Lee Townsend & Tucker Martine, was described by All About Jazz as “a modern masterpiece.” History, Mystery was nominated for a Grammy award in Best Instrumental Jazz category, featuring an octet of strings, horns and rhythm section with some of his closest music collaborators exploring a fuller palette of compositional colors and timbres than any he has previously written for. “The whole album stands as yet another testament to the man's place at the very epicenter of modern American music" wrote the BBC. His 2009 album, Disfarmer, inspired by the photographer Mike Disfarmer, was described by the Houston Chronicle as “…magnificent, and the album sweeps along with purpose like a gorgeous, spacious epic. It is full of sounds that suggest settings and characters, including the mysterious eccentric who inspired the recording."
Frisell’s 2010 album, Beautiful Dreamers, launched his new relationship with the Savoy Jazz label and features Eyvind Kang (viola) and Rudy Royston (drums). “This record doesn’t really sound much like jazz as much as compelling, emotionally resonant, genre-free music. Sure, it swings in places, and there’s some fiery improvisation. But after decades of trodding such a brave and singular path, maybe Frisell deserves his own genre. How about ‘friz’?” wrote the Financial Times. Frisell’s 2011 collaboration with Brazilian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Vinicius Cantuaria, Lágrimas Mexicanas (E-one), has been described as “warm, sexy and visionary” by the All Music Guide and draws heavily from Brazilian and Latin rhythms; blending them with contemporary ambient sonic effects, creating a fresh new brew of multi-cultural music.
Frisell’s recently released his 2011 recording, Sign of Life with his 858 Quartet featuring Jenny Scheinman (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola) and Hank Roberts (cello). “We recorded music inspired by a series of paintings by Gerhard Richter entitled 858 #1-8,” says Bill. “We kept the name. Since then, we've continued to play as a group, all over the place, all kinds of stuff, in all kinds of situations. The 858 Quartet can be previously heard on my Unspeakable and History, Mystery albums.”
Beginning in 2008, a trilogy of Frisell’s music DVDs was released. First was Solos, shot in Toronto in high definition. Following in 2009 were the long-awaited Films of Buster Keaton, Music By Bill Frisell featuring Frisell’s original trio, Kermit Driscoll on bass and Joey Baron on drums as well as Live From Montreal, shot at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2002 and featuring Matt Chamberlain on drums, Billy Drewes on alto saxophone, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Ron Miles on cornet and Greg Leisz on steel guitars. It showcases the music of Frisell’s celebrated album, Blues Dream.
Bill has been recognized with many awards, some of which include the DownBeat Critics Poll Award--11 in a 16-year period (1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011); the Jazz Journalist Association’s Guitarist of the Year Award (2006, 2008, 2009); and the German Record Prize (1997, 2005). He has additionally been nominated for three Grammy Awards (2004, 2005, 2009), and won the 2005 Grammy for "Best Contemporary Jazz Album" for Unspeakable.
In 2006, Frisell was named a USA Rasmuson Fellow and became a recipient of a grant offered by United States Artists, a privately funded organization dedicated to the support of America's finest living artists. That same year, he also won the Letter of Distinction Award from the American Music Center, which recognizes those who have made a significant contribution to the field of contemporary American music.
2012 will be Bill Frisell’s third appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. In 2000, he was the Showcase Artist, and in 2008, he performed in duo with drummer Matt Wilson.