Connect with us

Artist Features

Bill Frisell: Playing With Musicians You Want To Be With



Jazz Guitar Today’s Bob Bakert catches up with guitarist Bill Frisell for a very candid conversation about current projects.

Editor Bob Bakert: Bill Frisell is the most humble unassuming guitar genius I have ever met or interviewed.  Everything about the man is understated laced with elegance and genius. His music is full of authenticity and generosity as he guides his listeners through his musical visions. He is consistently at the top of the most influential and admired players by the public and his fellow musicians …

We at Jazz Guitar Today are so proud to present Bill Frisell.

Photo credit: Kyra Kverno

JGT:  How do you feel your music has changed through your career?

Bill: Yeah, that’s one of those questions that I can’t… maybe that’s more for you to say. What I’m doing every day – it’s hard for me actually to see the tiny steps.  You just keep plugging away day after day so it’s hard to see the progress or it’s hard to see the change. When you’re in the midst of it, sometimes it feels like you’re not making any progress at all. You keep trying and trying and trying, but incrementally, it’s so minuscule. So, I don’t recognize the change – I also don’t go back. I really don’t spend time listening to things I’ve done in the past. So I’m sort of just here in the midst of trying to figure it out. 

I can’t say how it’s changed. I guess I’m speaking more from what it feels like internally for me. I could say, yeah, I’m not using this pedal or that pedal or I hope it’s changed in a way. I think what I’m trying to do is get more to the point. It’s this combination of you trying to accumulate more knowledge, you’re trying to learn more, but at the same time, I’m trying to get really direct with what the point is.  I try not to have anything get in the way of the actual music.

“All the people I play with are basically my teachers. I think of it that way.” Bill Frisell

JGT: Is there a dream project that you’d like to do?

Bill: Again, I’ve been extremely fortunate, it’s been incredible. It blows my mind how lucky I’ve been with my career.  I’m just swimming around in this ocean of music and there have been so many people that I’ve gotten to play with already. I could list a whole bunch of names of famous people but that’s not what it’s about. I’ve gotten to play with a lot of the people that have inspired me to play in the first place. We probably talked about that in our previous interviews. But how did it possibly happen that someone that I heard when I was in high school – then 20 years later I find myself actually hanging out with them and playing music with them, That’s happened a lot. 

And, again, it wasn’t something that I set out to do. I wasn’t determined to play with Ginger Baker. It just happened. So, you know, it’s like that. I just kept following the music and these opportunities would come. I’ve just been so lucky with everyone that I’ve played with. I’m just attracted to hearing someone or finding a teacher. All the people I play with are basically my teachers. I think of it that way. Everyone in my band – the reason I put together a band is to play with musicians I want to be with – I want to figure out what is going on with this person. It’s not like I want them to back me up. I’m attracted to a person because I want to learn what they are doing. And that’s a luxury, you know, to put a band together with all the people that I want to learn from. Embed from Getty Images

JGT: What’s coming up in 2023 for you?

Bill: Well, a lot of traveling, again… I have this new album coming out with a new group. The album’s called Four with Gerald Clayton playing piano, Jonathan Blake and Greg Tardy. I was lucky enough to get them to do the recording – getting everyone in the same place at the same time was very fortunate. I wasn’t sure if we’d actually be able to do live gigs but we have a few things coming up in 2023! And then there are so many different tours with different combinations of all these people that I’ve been playing with over the last few years. 

JGT: That is really, really great news. it’s a great project. Thanks again for your time. We’ll look forward to talking to you down the road.

Bill: Great. Thank you so much. 

Exclusive Jazz Guitar Today interview with Bill Frisell from Dec. 2022

“Four” convenes a new line-up of musical friends, independent spirits, and like minds with Gerald Clayton on piano, Johnathan Blake on drums, and longtime collaborator Greg Tardy on saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet.

Latest Bill Frisell album Four, produced by Lee Townsend

During the lockdown, like so many prolific artists, Frisell turned inward. “It was traumatic not to be with people,” he says, “so I picked up my guitar, and my guitar saved me.” For those months, he wrote stacks of melodies and compositional ideas. By the time he scheduled Four’s recording sessions, he’d amassed piles of notebooks filled with fragmented music. Laying little more than a sketch of information before his fellow artists, Frisell encouraged a kind of spontaneous, cooperative orchestration. “Everyone had the information, but it was super open as far as who plays what when,” he says. “Without a bass, it was a little scary, but I wasn’t thinking so much about the instruments. It’s always more about the chemical reaction that’s going to happen.”

Just a few from Bill’s discography

For More on Bill Frisell

Subscribe to Jazz Guitar Today – it’s FREE!

Continue Reading

Featured Luthiers