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The indefatigable Bill Frisell

Mario Calvitti By

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AAJ: You didn't actually see the movie before?

BF: No the music was happening while Bill was with us travelling and he was gathering all the material, because it's made from old films put together.

AAJ: So you were working in parallel while looking for inspiration?

BF: Yes! Which was great, because usually it's different. Many times you see the film when it's finished and then you put the music to it, but in this case he was hearing the music beforehand. I think it was really a true collaboration that way... and even now that it's finished and we perform it every night it still keeps changing. Sometimes Bill even changes the film.

AAJ: When you write music for these projects, do you keep some space for improvisation? How do you combine it with composition?

BF: It's both composition and improvisation. First of all I write a lot of music, more than we need. When we did "The Great Flood" I was reading books, reading about Louis Armstrong and all kinds of other things, trying to get ideas... so I would write, write, write. and then a lot of the process for me is taking away, like editing. And also Bill Morrison had a lot to feed. During that tour we were recording all the gigs and he was listening to them and he would think "oh this would be good for this section and this for that section" He had something to do with choosing, and with the structure and everything else. At the end, so much of what I write has to do with the way the guys in the band play it, so it changes. There's the big structure of the whole film but, within that, there are these little chapters, and then there's definitely a lot of improvisation that happens within.

AAJ: It was the same for Buster Keaton movies?

BF: In that case we had to follow the action on the screen. That was very most challenging. Buster Keaton is very fast!

AAJ: That must have been tough for the drummer...

BF: Joey Baron was great, a lot of the Buster Keaton stuff was really about the drums, all based on rhythm...

AAJ: Last month here in Bologna we had the European premiere of the documentary Emma Franz made about you and your music, Bill Frisell: A Portrait. Have you seen the final result? What do you think of it?

BF: It's difficult for me. It's almost embarrassing for me to have to watch and listen to me speaking all the time. What she tried to do was to show the creative process or the struggle... It doesn't even need to be about me. She tried to get deeper into what the process is for the artist, and how we try to arrive at where we are going.

Emma was with me for some years, she would come to gigs, and then she went away, and I thought "What happened?." She spent more years putting everything together. I didn't see it until it was finished, I didn't know what to expect... I was really happy with the result. I saw it for the first time just a few months ago at the world premiere in Texas. There are incredible things for me like the parts with Paul Motian, in the film there are the last notes of the last gig we played with that trio, or the things with Jim Hall. Lots of stuff that are really personal and important to me. I feel lucky that there is some document of those things, that someone captured those things on film. I like the way she used the music too. I think it shows some of my music that you don't always see in a CD. It shows more of what happens every day and the way you learn, the way things grow.

AAJ: Now you are in the process of moving back to NYC, where you have lived in the '80s. Is it because of all the work you do in New York?

BF: My wife and I had been thinking about it for a while, but it was in the last few months that we decided to come back. It feels good. New York always felt like home, so this feels like our coming back home. So many of my friends, Tony and Kenny are there, and Thomas... When I left New York for Seattle it felt good just to go away, and there were incredible musicians in Seattle, just like you have in California, or in Rome, everywhere there's amazing music. It's not like New York is the only place, but it definitely remains a magnet.

AAJ: Another musician with whom you had a very long association, John Zorn, is also based in New York. How did you first get involved with his music?

BF: That's another long long story... different things happened at different times. In the very early '80s John was working at a record store together with Tim Berne. Tim introduced me to John and then we just started playing, we did duo gigs. He had these game pieces like "Cobra" and "Track & Field," and I played in those. Then we did some recordings like Spillane and Godard and The Big Gundown. That was all before Naked City, which came later... I don't know when we started to do things, maybe 1983 or something like that.

AAJ: For John Zorn's label you have also recorded a solo experimental record, Silent Comedy, very different from your other records.

BF: That was really different for me because I didn't think I did any preparation. We recorded everything in a few hours. I came to the studio, just played, and then it was finished. I wanted to do something really fast, there's no composition, no preparation...


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