TranscriptQuestion: 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.
Like 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.
Question: Who are some young musicians today that you admire?
Bill 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 great, recently.
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.
Recorded on May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown