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Music and the Creative Spirit

Bill Frisell: The Quiet Genius

By Published: June 24, 2009
BF: Boy, I wish it was that way because it feels uncomfortable to be boxed in or labeled and perhaps I have gotten out of it a little bit but I still feel excluded. I feel as if a small victory has been made if someone from another area gets to hear my music. It's frustrating that if it can be one thing that it can't be another, and it doesn't make any sense because hardly any music is just one thing. Pulse magazine had those desert island discs where people were asked to select ten records they would bring to an island. I don't know if it's a reflection of how people have been conditioned, but one person would list ten Rolling Stone records and the next guy would list ten polka records. It was weird. I couldn't believe how narrow some of the listening was. If I had to go to an island and only had ten picks, I would want to listen to different flavors of music and that would seem the most logical thing to do. But we have had it pounded into us and it just doesn't make any sense to me at all.

LP: There seems to be a younger crowd, more open to being challenged and checking out creative music today. Are you noticing that?

BF: A couple of weeks ago I was playing with Paul Motian
Paul Motian
Paul Motian
1931 - 2011
and Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
at the Village Vangaurd and I noticed the age span of the audience. There were little kids with their parents, students, and there was a gentleman that must have been ninety years old sitting in the front row. It was incredible and really cool. There were all kinds of people and I felt that what I was seeing had nothing to do with what the big machinery puts on us. It seemed like a whole bunch of people that just wanted to listen and it was as simple as that.

LP: Have we become a society without the patience to be challenged?

BF: I'm really starting to think the volume of information we receive and the speed it comes at you is overrated. It's not necessarily good. I'm constantly running around from one place to another, and more and more I'm feeling how important it is to stick with one thing. As I get older, it takes me longer to absorb things in a deep way, and I feel that that's what I need to do for the music to really come out in a true way. Subsequently, before the information gets processed, it has to seep way down in me to get absorbed and taken in. I just can't take it in and spit it back out. Part of the reason I came to Seattle was because I wanted to be in a place unlike New York where I would soak up as much information as I could. I needed to slow down and not be in a place where I was constantly bombarded and be able to meditate on what was in there and try to figure out what my own thing was. There was a documentary on Warren Zevon who recently died where he said, and I don't know if this is from him or if he is quoting someone else, "We buy books because we think we are buying the time to read them." I don't know if that does anything for you but it's what I do and what I think a lot of people do. I sometimes think back to the period I was in college and was living in a house with a bunch of friends. We would sit around hour after hour listening to music, and I just don't get a chance to do that much anymore. It's getting harder and harder to get into stuff in a real deep way.

LP: Is it more difficult for a student to be creative in today's society?

BF: It's always been difficult, but perhaps it's worse now than it's ever been. But I'm also not sure if it's not the same pattern happening over and over. The people that are doing something different always have to struggle against the easy way somehow. I know it's hard but I'm just not sure if it's more difficult now or just the same pattern going around in a circle.

LP: Do you have a philosophy that you try to impart among students or young musicians?

BF: You have to really love what you're doing and just keep trying, staying persistent and keeping at it. Every time I have done something with any kind of ulterior motive other than just for the music, I've always gotten into trouble. I have always tried not to sacrifice any part of the music and kept my focus on what I'm getting out of it musically and I think that's where people get into trouble. They start looking for something other than the music, whether it's for money, girls, or trying to get famous. You start running after something you'll never figure out because you can never figure out what people want you to do. You have to do what you want to do and believe in that and that's all you can do really. I know there are pressures and it's not easy, but it's just a disaster if you start running around trying to figure out what somebody else thinks is right.

LP: Do traditionalists have a difficult time accepting that a music form considered "American" now has more international and diverse aspects within it?

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