Telluride Jazz Celebration: Guest of honor, Bill Frisell

Telluride Jazz Celebration: Guest of honor, Bill Frisell

[click "Play" button to hear Susan's interview with Bill Frisell]

2009 Telluride Jazz Celebration, June 5-7

Frisell08_hires1 No doubt about it. Telluride Jazz Celebration impresario Paul Machado is really good at his job. His choice of Bill Frisell as the 2009 Guest of Honor was inspired, perfect for a time when the chips are down, when substance trumps style every day.

Soft spoken – literally, I had to ask him to speak up more than once in our interview –  and self-effacing and shy, Frisell is a man you might miss at a party; that is until he straps on his ax. Ax in hand, this "Clark Kent" quickly morphs into a Superman, arguably, quietly, the most brilliant and distinct voice to come down the pike in jazz guitar since Wes Montgomery, not coincidently one of Bill's idols. Ax in hand, the man is on fire. Bill claims performance is his drug of choice. It transforms him, allowing him to do things he would not do in real life. Performance brings out his inner Woody Allen. 

Frisell's collaborations are legend and wide-ranging: Paul Motian, Elvis Costello, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright III, John Scofield, The Frankfurt Ballet, film director Gus Van Sant, Bono and friend, cartoonist Gary Larson ( a closet guitar freak). But he is just as accomplished as a bandleader and composer.

Paul is fond of chameleons: talent that won't quit, and can't be pinned down. Bill mixes rock and country with jazz and blues seamlessly and with impunity. Connect the dots and we have a tuneful meditation on American music.

Comparisons to Miles Davis abound. Like Davis, Frisell is a musician's musician, revered by his peers. Like the iconic trumpeter, Bill pushes the envelop with his instrument when he improvises, rushing headlong and joyfully into territory lesser mortals fear to tread.

Last time Bill was in town, in 2007, the Jazz Celebration was in August, monsoon season. He and his band got drenched. Out came a rainbow to the tune from the "Wizard of Oz." It was an experience the maestro will never forget.

To learn more about Bill's remarkable life and career, press the "play" button on his podcast.

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