Saturday, January 12, 2008

Beautiful Dreamy Outlaw

One of the people I feel privileged to have gotten to know a bit is guitarist and composer Bill Frisell. His talented and lovely wife, Carole d'Inverno, started volunteering at Real Change in the early days, when it was just me and Ozula Sioux. Carole has this gorgeous accent that I never get tired of hearing and a keen working class Italian sense of outrage, so I was happy when she stuck around for more than a decade on the front desk, as a board member, and finally as a volunteer book keeper. That, apparently, was the last straw.

Carole kept talking about this guy she was married to. Oh, he'd just done a record with Elvis Costello. And had some project going with Marianne Faithfull. And played some with James Blood Ulmer, and worked a lot in New York with John Zorn. And so forth. And then one day she gave me his Live album, done with Kermit Driscoll and Joey Baron, and it blew my mind. His website generously streams highlights from most of the records. Take a listen. You'll see what I mean.

To say Bill plays guitar is kind of like saying Picasso drew pictures.

He did a bunch of benefits for us and would shyly chat from time to time as Carole's orbit drew him to our office. Bill does most things shyly. Except play guitar. The New York crowd he played with used to joke that Bill was "raised by deer."

Outlaw, performed above at the 2002 Montreal Jazz Festival, is off the Blues Dream record, which is wonderful. The trombonist is Curtis Fowlkes, who is best known for his work with The Jazz Passengers. Curtis was also a big part of the sound on Bill's Quartet album.

I love a lot of Frisell records, all for different reasons, but Quartet and Live remain my favorites. Listen to Tales of the Far Side on Quartet. With Eyvind Kang's spooky violin, Bill's ax murderer guitar, the sonorous trumpet of Ron Miles, and the great big beautiful splats of noise dropping from Fowlkes' trombone, this is, I think, the most amazing six minutes you'll spend anytime soon.

One year he did a benefit for us on one of the smaller stages in the then new Benaroya Hall, and as we waited together for me to go out and intro him I noticed Bill nervously doing this thing where he somehow got harmonics with just the hand holding his pick. I can't explain it. My playing has never progressed much beyond the rudimentary stage, so I'm easily impressed.

"You're pretty good at that thing," I joked. "Oh, this is nothing," he said. "Some guys can get all kinds of tones this way that I can't." And that's classic Bill. He's always quick to say that he's not much of a guitar player, really. I later came to understand that it isn't really that he doesn't believe he's good. He just doesn't think he's good enough.

Even now, after winning a Grammy.

And this is why Bill still inspires me. Our slight acquaintance has revealed that when people do remarkable things, it doesn't just happen. More often than not, the insanely talented are obsessive, single-minded, driven freaks who take their love for what they do to levels of self-torture that are simply beyond what most of us are willing to endure. And we love them for it and stand in awe.

The clip below was my second favorite on YouTube because it shows Bill more than twenty years ago, as a young turk, being obsessive, geeky, and brilliant.

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