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Guitarist Fred Fried on 'When Winter Comes'

Franz A. Matzner By

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Fred Fried is a gifted guitarist and composer. He plays with a soft, subtle, and complex touch that takes full advantage of his skilled, emotive compositions. Fried is not only a gifted musician, he is also a man of great thought with whom it is fascinating to discuss music, history—just about any topic at all. Like many jazz musicians, he possesses both a keen intellect and great depth of feeling. It was as a result my distinct privilege to speak with Fried about his latest release, When Winter Comes.

The conversation took place early in the morning, and after discussing our mutual need for coffee, we began.



AAJ: Could you describe the origins of When Winter Comes, particularly the concept of using orchestrated strings?

Fred Fried: Well, you read the liner notes of course, and that is all true. I knew about Richard DeRosa. I had heard his arrangements on a recording about 12 years ago, so I just called him up. I always tend to write tunes that don’t seem to be your standard jazz vehicles. They seem to be more. There’s more harmony to them. I take melody very seriously. That’s what moves me. Actually, one of the things that got me interested in this whole thing was, strangely enough, Sibelious. Do you know about that?

AAJ: Not the composer?

FF: No, no, the software. The software was named after the composer.

AAJ: No, I’m not familiar with it.

FF: It’s a music writing software that enables you to notate music on the computer... which is becoming quite standard. That and Finale. So I got this just to print out my tunes so people can actually read them—my handwriting is pretty terrible—and turns out one of its features is that you can have your music played back over the computer speakers, by any number of instrumental voices. Now, most of them are terrible, I mean the guitar sounds are awful, everything is awful, except the piano and the string sounds are O.K. So I would write it out how I wanted it, and then I kind of said to myself, ‘Now, I wonder how this would sound on strings?’ And it was so nice hearing these tunes played back, that I was just amazed.

AAJ: Going back for a second to what you said about melody and harmony, one particular track immediately came to mind, “Hold Your Breath”, which has that beautifully penetrating melody. It’s not a typical jazz improv vehicle.

FF: Well, I’m approaching it more like a composer. I’m never thinking, ‘Is this going to be fun to blow on?’ If I did that, they wouldn’t come out anything like the way I want. And, again, some of them are very hard to blow on. I figure that’s a trade off. I want the song to be the way I want it, wherever it’s going to go. Like that piece, it’s got that section where the bass line goes up chromatically with that little motif (humming) and, I don’t know, I just love harmony and like to do different things. Fortunately for me, I didn’t presume to be an arranger, especially a string arranger...so I figured if I want this to be as good as it can be, I’d call Rich and see if he was interested.

AAJ: He did a fantastic job.

FF: Yes, he did.

AAJ: It seems you are both coming from a similar place.

FF: Right. I think he feels the tunes the way I do. To my great wonderment and joy. What he did, he gave them to me all on MIDI first, sort of simulated orchestrations, with simulated guitar sounds and everything...even then, I was struck immediately.

AAJ: So it seems technology is really opening things up.

FF: Well, it’s really a double-edged sword, the advent of MIDI and synthesizers. It really gives the composer freedom and at the same time a lot of what you hear in movies and recordings is not what you think it is. A lot of people have been put out of work.

AAJ: I also wanted to ask about the specifics of playing on a seven string.

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