Kevin Frenette: Fall River Guitar Guy

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However cool the surface of his music, Kevin Frenette is not content to serve up any sort of "easy listening." The guitarist grew up in Fall River, a small city in southeastern Massachusetts, but the beauty of his music is akin to a sylvan setting—to enter into it is to traverse a forest trail. Some themes and motifs—"organisms"—are finely formed and highly developed; some are just budding—new ideas still in the rough, offered to the ear as tokens of innovations transpiring or to come. There are frenzies of activity, coolly psychedelic, and then dry turns—demanding terrain that challenges, but in the final analysis leads to greater triumphs and more difficult pleasures. There is always in it a knot to unravel, or to tie, for those choosing to take his path.

In a similar way, Frenette and his band members spool together their lines and splice them, and pull them apart again. To listen carefully to the music is also to be drawn into these plays of interlocking and combination—and ultimately to feel a part of nature, sometimes cool, sometimes dry, sometimes wild and wet.

All About Jazz: Tell us about the cover band you were in before you played jazz.

Kevin Frenette: That was something I was in for about ten years. I haven't been in it for about the past seven.

AAJ: So you must have been quite young when you started in it. Was it high school?

KF: It was in college—UMass Dartmouth. One of the guys I was in high school with, he was also at UMass Dartmouth and he was in the band first, before me, and when their guitarist left I replaced him. And for better or for worse, I was in there for ten years. But it was a good ride, and we made a lot of money during that time. We did a lot of gigging, something that was regular—four nights a week during the summer—and I was still working a full time job during the day, too.

AAJ: How did you go about deciding the music you played? Was it stuff you liked, or was it stuff the audience liked?

KF: It was all the audience. It was whatever was on pop radio. One of the guys in the group would give us a CD on Saturday night, and say, "Next Wednesday, have all these songs ready to go." So you had the pressure of having to learn five or six songs, without the benefit of any rehearsal together with the band, and then Wednesday night you had to be ready to play them all. But it was just whatever bubblegum stuff was on the radio at the time.

AAJ: Was this the '80s?

KF: No, this was late '90s, into the early 2000s—

AAJ: Maybe Barenaked Ladies, Britney Spears—

KF: A lot of Barenaked Ladies, a lot of Prince, U2—all the stuff that was popular and on the radio.

AAJ: What drew you to the style of what you do now? It's difficult; it's cool on the surface, but not easy listening. Why do that when you could be making more money doing rock or straight-ahead jazz?

KF: There's something about being in the moment, with other players who are listening so intently and trying to make this spontaneous thing happen. To compare it to being in a cover band—you're there to play the tunes the way they are on the radio, that's what people expect—while you're still feeding off the other guys, and there might be flashes of, you know, playing off each other, there's nothing like being in an avant-jazz band. I can speak to myself and I can also tell it's happening with the other guys, but I'm trying so hard just to dovetail with them and just make music happen—make something that's really going to push forward. To me, there's so much to play in that kind of music.

When I went to college, I wanted to learn to play the guitar the best I could. And this music—it's the place. It's all about playing. And that's why I'm so interested in this.

AAJ: When did you start listening to jazz, and when did you start playing the type of jazz you do now? What teachers and friends were involved?

KF: I'll say '94. It was right when I started going to college for music. Originally I had gone for accounting, and then I begged my parents to jump over. And I had a bunch of friends; we were all in the same track, and we started all together getting into jazz around the same time. And what we would do—we would buy The Penguin Guide to Jazz, and we would all have a copy of that giant book—you know, like The Bible—we would read that thing and—I'm forgetting what their highest rating is. I think it's the crown. So we would look through everything that had the crown and try to investigate that.

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