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Bill Frisell is an American guitarist and composer. One of the leading guitarists in jazz since the late '80s, Frisell's eclectic music touches on progressive folk, classical music, country music, noise[…]

Playing the guitar is a healthier form of self-expression than punching somebody in the face.

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

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

Question: How do you rnuse silence in your music? 

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

Question:rn Do you consider yourself a jazz musician? 

Bill Frisell:rn I guess I don’t really think so much about what it is called, although rnit’s just music, or but there was a time when I shied away from calling rnmyself a jazz musician, or maybe it was because I don’t like to be boxedrn in, somehow. When I started to find out about jazz music, that was a rnplace where anything was possible. The people that I listened to... whenrn I started to hear Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk and Charlie rnParker, there was something that those guys were doing that it seemed torn include – it wasn’t exclusive. I don’t think they were thinking about rnthe name. You know, Duke Ellington. There was something in their music rnthat it wasn’t exclusive, it included everything that they knew, all of rntheir experience and in that way I still think of myself as a jazz... rnIt’s that I take what I know and where I’ve been and just try to make rnsomething out of it and that’s what I think Jazz to me means. So, I rndon’t mind being called a jazz musician. 

Question: Howrn much of your music improvised versus composed? 

Bill rnFrisell: I’m not sure it's improvisation and composition. It’s rnharder to separate the two. Sometimes I used to say that when I would rnwrite music, it’s sort of a slowed down version of when I improvise or rnsomething. You have more time to be critical or block yourself. And whenrn you’re improvising, you just have to deal with the moment, but I think rnthe two things are getting closer together where when I’m writing music rnon paper, I’m able to maybe not judge it so much in the moment and just rnlet it come out. And then at the same time when I am improvising rnspontaneously I’m getting closer to having it be maybe the structure of rnit be more solid or something. I don’t know. 

I mean, even if I rnplay the same notes, there are so many things that are happening with rnthe people I’m with... playing and the sound in the room and the rnaudience and the temperature and whatever other noises that are going rnon, or what happened that day or there’s no way you can play the same rnthing twice, even if you’re trying to. I mean, I’m trying to actually rnnot play it the same way twice I guess. But, so I mean in that way, evenrn playing in a set piece for me, it doesn’t feel that much different fromrn something that’s improvised. 

Question: What is your rnmethod of composing? 

Bill Frisell: It used to be it rnseemed like it would be easier for me to do it when I was traveling, or rnanywhere I would just write stuff down. But now I need more solitary, rnconcentrated time and I’ll write a lot. I actually had a little bit of rntime off recently where I wrote music every day. I didn’t have any rndeadline or it wasn’t for any other reason other than just doing it. Andrn then I was able to get into a real rhythm... It’s almost like an, I rndon’t know what. See, for me it works best if I don’t judge what I’m rndoing as I’m doing it. Every time I start to think about what it rnactually is, then I become too critical and it just stops the process. Irn get into the energy of it and the stuff just comes out and pages and rnpages of this stuff. I filled up a few notebooks with music over a few rnweeks recently. Then I go back and I start looking at it more criticallyrn and sometimes there’s fully formed things there or there’s just germs rnof things that can become something bigger. I’ve been just so lucky or rnso fortunate with the people that I play with over the last, I don’t rnknow, well since I started trying to do my own music. I feel really rnlucky that I’ve been around people who have backed up or encouraged me, rnand so much of what I write, so much of it comes from the people I’m rnwith. When I bring them a melody and they put stuff into it that I couldrn never... You can’t really write it down. 

So with the different rngroups I have, I usually present them with some kind of structure, like rnmaybe it’s just one melody or maybe it’s like more fully formed rnfour-part thing, or something. But there’s a point where I just leave itrn up to them to do with it what they want. And that’s really exciting rnfor me. It’s not just like writing music and bringing it to some rnanonymous people and have them play exactly what’s there. There’s more rngoing on than that. 

Question: How does your interest rnin electronics influence your music? 

Bill Frisell: rnWhen I started listening to Miles Davis playing the trumpet, or Bill rnEvans playing the piano, I’d hear the piano and I’d think, "Oh they can rnplay notes in one hand and the notes just ring out and then they can rnplay other notes," and so that led me to get a delay pedal so I could rnplay something and then the notes would keep going and then I could playrn some other stuff. I mean that came really from thinking about piano. rnOr, even a distortion. I remember I was hearing Miles Davis playing a rntrumpet, and then I heard Carlos Santana playing the guitar and... he rnwas pushing the amp way past what was the normal. I mean he was really rngetting this distorted long... Or Jimi Hendrix did that. But then I rnstarted to hear, "Wait a minute, that’s kind of like the trumpet," so rnthen I got a distortion thing. 

So I mean, it kind of came almostrn more from trying to mimic these other instruments than... although I rndid, you know, of course I listened to Jimi Hendrix and I listened to rnSantana too. But a lot of that stuff, it’s just something I’m trying to rnrealize that I’m hearing in my head. 
Recorded on May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown