While famously based in New York, Bill Frisell could hardly be considered a stranger on this coast.
The visionary guitarist has played any number of high-profile Bay Area gigs, including nights in residency at Yoshi’s. At such shows, his repertoire has ranged from bracing originals to celebrating John Lennon’s music to accompanying silent films.
For all that, it’s worth noting that it’s just this weekend that Frisell makes his Stanford Jazz Festival debut. He’ll be fronting the 858 Quartet – the name is borrowed from a series of Gerhard Richter paintings – Sunday night at Dinkenspiel Auditorium. I caught up with the guitarist via e-mail.
Question: The Stanford date finds you working with your 858 Quartet of Jenny Scheinman on violin, Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello. Discuss, if you will, the chemistry that exists among the four of you?
Frisell: Jenny, Eyvind and Hank are some of my oldest, closest, friends. Musically and personally. It’s family. The music we play is so much about trust. With this band, it becomes very difficult to say what is composed, arranged, or improvised. Those definitions become blurred. There is no way to adequately describe what happens when we get together to play. I write the music down on paper but that is just the beginning. The seed. It feels like magic. I’m so lucky to be playing with these guys.
Question: I tend to associate you with two locations in particular – New York (I saw you play the Village Vanguard in April 2007) and the Bay Area (Yoshi’s residencies, etc.). This may seem a hackneyed question but are there any significant differences between these two jazz audiences?
Frisell: I feel so lucky having all these opportunities. When I first tried putting a band together in the mid-‘80s, I was living in New York. One of the very first places outside of New York (and Europe) that seemed to have interest in my music and gave me the chance to play was the Bay Area. I’ve played at Yoshi’s so many times I can’t even remember and SFJAZZ and Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz. These were the first places where I felt like I could try things and learn and grow and there was an audience that was willing and interested to go along with it.
It’s hard for me to say if East Coast or European or West Coast audiences are different. Every single gig is different. At Yoshi’s or the Village Vanguard, we can play for a whole week in the same place. What a luxury! But, even then, every night becomes its own world.
Question: Bay Area audiences have had the opportunity to hear you improvise scores to silent films. In the fall, you have dates scheduled where you will accompany the documentary “The Great Flood.” How did you initially get involved in such projects?
Frisell: Being in the world of music has brought me so many opportunities. Seems like my whole life, I’ve never really aggressively gone after things, other than just trying learn more and more about music. There’s always something to do. You can never “finish” the work. The music will take you all over the place. The idea to go to Nashville and record or to play for Buster Keaton films or the Disfarmer’s photos or writing for Gary Larson’s cartoons or “The Great Flood” or Gerhard Richter or Jim Woodring, etc., etc. … these were not my ideas.
Sorry to keep saying how lucky I am but these were all opportunities (challenges) that seemed to appear before me. Just being in the world music brought them to me. Writing music for film or being inspired by a visual image is a challenge and always seems to get the music to stretch and grow in ways I wouldn’t have imagined otherwise.
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