Articulating Ideas With Music

Question: Describe a little about what music means to you. 

Bill\r\n Frisell: It’s a world where anything is possible and just whatever \r\nis in your imagination can happen and so... I mean, there’s ways of \r\nexpressing. I think it’s a healthier way of getting things out rather \r\nthan punching somebody in the face, or something. I can play it on my \r\nguitar and it doesn’t hurt anybody. You can say what you need to say and\r\n I can see nothing but good comes from music. For me it’s just been a \r\nway. Like now, as I’m struggling to find words to express myself. When I\r\n play music I feel like that’s where my real voice is, or that’s where I\r\n really say something more than with words. I mean, words are cool too, \r\nbut I’m not that good with them. 

Question: How do you \r\nuse silence in your music? 

Bill Frisell: I think \r\nthere’s a natural way I have of speaking. I hesitate and I think it \r\ntakes me a while to get the thoughts formed in my mind and to get them \r\nto come out. And the same thing happens when I’m playing music. I’m \r\nthinking and I’ll hesitate, so there’s a natural rhythm that I have that\r\n happens when I play. But then also, the silence is as important. \r\nThere’s dark and light and you can’t see one or the other if you know \r\nthey cancel each other out, so I mean... if there’s sound, there has to \r\nbe no sound to go with it before it will mean anything. 

Question:\r\n Do you consider yourself a jazz musician? 

Bill Frisell:\r\n I guess I don’t really think so much about what it is called, although \r\nit’s just music, or but there was a time when I shied away from calling \r\nmyself a jazz musician, or maybe it was because I don’t like to be boxed\r\n in, somehow. When I started to find out about jazz music, that was a \r\nplace where anything was possible. The people that I listened to... when\r\n I started to hear Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk and Charlie \r\nParker, there was something that those guys were doing that it seemed to\r\n include – it wasn’t exclusive. I don’t think they were thinking about \r\nthe name. You know, Duke Ellington. There was something in their music \r\nthat it wasn’t exclusive, it included everything that they knew, all of \r\ntheir experience and in that way I still think of myself as a jazz... \r\nIt’s that I take what I know and where I’ve been and just try to make \r\nsomething out of it and that’s what I think Jazz to me means. So, I \r\ndon’t mind being called a jazz musician. 

Question: How\r\n much of your music improvised versus composed? 

Bill \r\nFrisell: I’m not sure it's improvisation and composition. It’s \r\nharder to separate the two. Sometimes I used to say that when I would \r\nwrite music, it’s sort of a slowed down version of when I improvise or \r\nsomething. You have more time to be critical or block yourself. And when\r\n you’re improvising, you just have to deal with the moment, but I think \r\nthe two things are getting closer together where when I’m writing music \r\non paper, I’m able to maybe not judge it so much in the moment and just \r\nlet it come out. And then at the same time when I am improvising \r\nspontaneously I’m getting closer to having it be maybe the structure of \r\nit be more solid or something. I don’t know. 

I mean, even if I \r\nplay the same notes, there are so many things that are happening with \r\nthe people I’m with... playing and the sound in the room and the \r\naudience and the temperature and whatever other noises that are going \r\non, or what happened that day or there’s no way you can play the same \r\nthing twice, even if you’re trying to. I mean, I’m trying to actually \r\nnot play it the same way twice I guess. But, so I mean in that way, even\r\n playing in a set piece for me, it doesn’t feel that much different from\r\n something that’s improvised. 

Question: What is your \r\nmethod of composing? 

Bill Frisell: It used to be it \r\nseemed like it would be easier for me to do it when I was traveling, or \r\nanywhere I would just write stuff down. But now I need more solitary, \r\nconcentrated time and I’ll write a lot. I actually had a little bit of \r\ntime off recently where I wrote music every day. I didn’t have any \r\ndeadline or it wasn’t for any other reason other than just doing it. And\r\n then I was able to get into a real rhythm... It’s almost like an, I \r\ndon’t know what. See, for me it works best if I don’t judge what I’m \r\ndoing as I’m doing it. Every time I start to think about what it \r\nactually is, then I become too critical and it just stops the process. I\r\n get into the energy of it and the stuff just comes out and pages and \r\npages of this stuff. I filled up a few notebooks with music over a few \r\nweeks recently. Then I go back and I start looking at it more critically\r\n and sometimes there’s fully formed things there or there’s just germs \r\nof things that can become something bigger. I’ve been just so lucky or \r\nso fortunate with the people that I play with over the last, I don’t \r\nknow, well since I started trying to do my own music. I feel really \r\nlucky that I’ve been around people who have backed up or encouraged me, \r\nand so much of what I write, so much of it comes from the people I’m \r\nwith. When I bring them a melody and they put stuff into it that I could\r\n never... You can’t really write it down. 

So with the different \r\ngroups I have, I usually present them with some kind of structure, like \r\nmaybe it’s just one melody or maybe it’s like more fully formed \r\nfour-part thing, or something. But there’s a point where I just leave it\r\n up to them to do with it what they want. And that’s really exciting \r\nfor me. It’s not just like writing music and bringing it to some \r\nanonymous people and have them play exactly what’s there. There’s more \r\ngoing on than that. 

Question: How does your interest \r\nin electronics influence your music? 

Bill Frisell: \r\nWhen I started listening to Miles Davis playing the trumpet, or Bill \r\nEvans playing the piano, I’d hear the piano and I’d think, "Oh they can \r\nplay notes in one hand and the notes just ring out and then they can \r\nplay other notes," and so that led me to get a delay pedal so I could \r\nplay something and then the notes would keep going and then I could play\r\n some other stuff. I mean that came really from thinking about piano. \r\nOr, even a distortion. I remember I was hearing Miles Davis playing a \r\ntrumpet, and then I heard Carlos Santana playing the guitar and... he \r\nwas pushing the amp way past what was the normal. I mean he was really \r\ngetting this distorted long... Or Jimi Hendrix did that. But then I \r\nstarted to hear, "Wait a minute, that’s kind of like the trumpet," so \r\nthen I got a distortion thing. 

So I mean, it kind of came almost\r\n more from trying to mimic these other instruments than... although I \r\ndid, you know, of course I listened to Jimi Hendrix and I listened to \r\nSantana too. But a lot of that stuff, it’s just something I’m trying to \r\nrealize that I’m hearing in my head. 

Recorded on May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

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