John Wheatcroft introduces the brilliant and innovative jazz style of the fabulous Bill Frisell.
Bill Frisell is one of the most influential and unique guitar players active on the scene today. With a career spanning four decades, Frisell has played and recorded with legendary jazz artists and peers such as Paul Motian, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Mike Stern. Bill has had a longstanding association with ECM records and from the mid 80s has produced a steady stream of unique albums as a bandleader. Always evolving as an artist, his albums encompass jazz, country, blues, folk, electronica and even original soundtracks to long-forgotten silent movies.
Bill’s playing has great beauty and depth and while jazz is at the heart of his music, there is an underlying authenticity that implies knowledge and understanding of a huge range of music styles. Not dissimilar to Jim Hall in some regards, there is intelligence and sophistication to his sound that comes from adopting a considered approach to selecting each note. He is both retrospective and futuristic, actively studying the evolution of each musical genre while embracing any technological development he can employ.
His manipulation of harmony, with exquisite voicings, superb dynamics and time-feel can be felt in each generation of guitarists, from his Berklee co-students Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Mike Stern, to younger players like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Lage Lund and Gilad Hekselman.
There are 10 unaccompanied examples, nine of which are typical of ideas that Bill might present in a solo setting, while we round up our study with an exercise that gives us options all over the fretboard for triad inversions and 7th voicings in both drop-2 and drop-3 variations. You’ll need an extensive knowledge of chords to get close to Bill’s level of harmonic fluency, so now is as good a time as ever to give this aspect of your playing some attention. Ted Green’s book, Chord Chemistry (Alfred 1981) and Mick Goodrick’s The Advancing Guitarist (Music Sales 1987) are both amazing resources for developing chord vocabulary and knowledge of the instruments in equal measure.
Begin by learning each example as written, making note of any unfamiliar shapes and then attempt to incorporate these new forms in your playing. It’s a bit like learning new words: at first it’ll all feel a bit contrived when you attempt to insert any new word into a sentence, but with patience and perseverance, in time you’ll find yourself using these words without thinking. As always, enjoy.
SometimeS, i will be hearing an orcheStra in my head and i’m trying to get that Sound to come out on the guitar Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell playing a black Gretsch Duo-Jet with Di Armond pickups