Art Works Blog

Bill Frisell: The Guitar is My Voice

If you drew a Venn diagram to illustrate the myriad overlapping connections between NEA Jazz Masters—who played with who when—there’d be at least one unexpected artist floating somewhere in the center: guitarist, Bill Frisell. He’s collaborated with so many NEA Jazz Masters it’s almost impossible to keep track. The list includes Jim Hall, Ron Carter, Lee Konitz, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, and Charles Lloyd. Then, there are the countless non-jazz musicians he’s performed with, such as Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Sam Amidon, and Carrie Rodriguez.

But what strikes me most about Bill Frisell is his distinct musical voice, which in this case is his guitar. The space he leaves between the notes pulls you into his otherworldly orbit. His resonant tones stretch and bend and dance in a way that’s unequivocally Frisellian. That searching sound, he explains in reference to his 2014 album, Guitar in the Space Age!, is anchored in the 1950s America of his childhood. Born in Baltimore and raised mostly in Denver, Frisell came of age when the U.S. was redefining itself as a boundary-pushing superpower (think surf-rock and space exploration). Like the country he was born in and the Jazz Masters he admires, Frisell is always working, always reaching, always seeking to improve. Yet in his own words, “I’m just at the beginning…every day I wake up and I feel like I’m just starting to play.” It’s a humility as authentic as his music is beautiful. 

Other NEA productions featuring either Bill Frisell or his music: 

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