Question: How is jazz changing as today’s music students come
to it through the academy?
Bill Frisell: When I was
starting to play, I think in Boston, Berklee was one of the very few
places where you could actually, I’m not even sure you could major in
guitar. It’s like, well you know... yeah you can play the guitar, but
you have to play a real instrument if you’re going to get a degree or
something. And I played clarinet in college. When I first went to
college, I majored in clarinet because they wouldn’t let me major in
guitar. And all that’s changed. There was North Texas State and Berklee
and a couple of places that had these jazz programs. And that’s
definitely changed. And there’s so much available... so much music you
can get in books and it’s all around. My generation, I still had to
learn by going, you know, I’d go to clubs and older guys would let me
play and a lot of it happened outside of school. And I’m thankful that I
was able to learn in a bar or something, that’s where you learned how
to play. But that doesn’t seem to happen. I guess it's still there,
but... And I’m glad that all of this stuff is available, but I think you
can’t just go one way, you have to try to get as much as you can get
from as many different directions. I think the danger is just to go into
a school and stay within that... I mean there’s a lot in there, you
could spend your life just right in there, but there’s a lot of other
stuff outside of there and I think the danger is just staying... closing
off whatever other ways there are to learn about stuff.
the thing about... you go to a college and then end up teaching at the
college and then this sort of incestuous thing starts happening and I’m
not sure how healthy that is. I think there’s laws against that.
Who are some young musicians today that you admire?
Frisell: I just recently have gotten to play with Jason Moran, a
piano player. He’s not that young... But he’s someone within the last
few years that I heard something in his music that I hadn’t heard for a
long time that goes way, way back. Way, way deep, into some place way
far back and every once in a while I get afraid that these things are
getting lost sometimes. And I heard him and I was like, "Oh okay, we’re
safe." I love his music so much and to get to play with him was really
I heard another piano player from New Orleans,
Jonathan Batiste. He’s young and his band was young. Some of the guys
in the band were not even 20 years old yet. I just heard them a few
months ago. And I heard something in that music that, again, it was this
emotional heart.... He’s a fantastic technical player, but what was
getting me was he was tapped into this emotional thing that gets me
going when I listen to music and he was working with that. And that
really gives me hope... there’s no way we’re ever going to kill music.
There’s always going to be somebody that’s going to get it.
on May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown