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Music and the Creative Spirit

Bill Frisell: The Quiet Genius

By Published: June 24, 2009
BF: Well, I'm hoping it's coming from that place that he's talking about. That's what I'm trying to get at but, like he said, there's all that stuff like discipline. For me, music is kind of a magic thing. When it's really happening, I'm trying to figure out what it is though I can't really describe it. But the real depth comes when you get caught up in this ocean of music and get swept away.

LP: How much of your compositional approach would you say comes from musical intellect versus intuition or instinct?

BF: It can come from both, though ideally when writing, I won't even think about it. I may not know what to do at first and will start with an intellectual exercise that will get me going and lead into a place where I don't know where I'm headed. It's the same way when I'm playing. The best stuff seems to come when things are not figured out, but it can be such a mixture. I'll write and accumulate a lot of little things and if I have the time, I'll write everyday. Those little things will add up but are not fully formed but come from musical thoughts floating by. When it's time for a project to be done, it becomes a little more intellectual in that I'll take these bits and try to stick them together and try to actually see what they are. See if it will work or maybe add things to it or harmonize something in a certain way but the raw material always seems to come from a more mysterious place.

LP: This is a quote from Miles Davis: "You have to pick out the most important note that fertilizes the sound. It makes the sound grow. It's like putting lemon on fish or vegetables. It brings out the flavor. Your sound is like your sweat." Are you getting closer to the sound that you hear or does it keep changing?

BF: Every time I try to play a note, I just can't quite seem to get it. I move closer but can never really get it and it's a constant struggle all of the time. But music has always felt like that. I used to think that there would be a time when it would just become good or that everything would feel wonderful all the time. But that's not in the nature and there's always this infinite way to go. But if there weren't, there wouldn't be any reason to play anymore. It would be boring. But it can also be frustrating, and it took me awhile to learn what that feeling was. It would seem that it could kind of flip people out to where they would quit playing and never really get there.

LP: You play with a diversity of musicians and are getting ready to collaborate with Sam Yahel
Sam Yahel
Sam Yahel

and Brian Blade
Brian Blade
Brian Blade
. What goes into consideration when determining whom you want to play with?

BF: I don't know how I choose people to play with, but so much of it has to do with the person and the feel I get from being around them. Of course I want to play with great musicians, but there has to be a feeling. I can usually tell before we have played a note if it's going to feel good when we play, just by what it feels like standing next to them. I met and played with Sam through Brian a couple of years ago. We played only one song for a benefit concert and it felt so good and I have been trying to figure out a way of how we could get together again. And Brian is one of those guys that is so open, giving, and everything he plays just makes you feel good. He's just one of my favorite musicians and you can tell how much he loves it.

LP: You have done two projects with visual artists. The projects were based upon the works of Gerhard Richter and Jim Woodring. Is there a relationship in your music to what you see visually?

BF: I tried to let the paintings dictate or determine the structure of what I was writing, but I also tried to take into account Richter's way of working. I have never met him but I viewed a documentary on him and read a lot of the things he had to say and he seemed to struggle with a lot of the same things that a musician does. A lot of his paintings are done with a lot of improvisation and he struggles to know when to stop or the moment you know it's there. If you go too far then you've lost it. When we recorded the music, we did it all live and it was just one take from beginning to end, and that was definitely influenced by thinking about the way he painted rather than going back to mix or fix things. With Jim Woodring, I was writing for the images but I also felt we had this common unexplainable thing and really understood each other and the music would happen in a very abstract way in the same way that his paintings do. I guess it's different because we're close friends but just comparing those individual things; there is a different feel because of that.

LP: Where does your inspiration come from or what influences your creativity?

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