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Frisell still keeps his ears, mind open.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

All of Bill Frisell's musical heroes - Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, John Hiatt, Stephen Foster, Charles Ives, Victor Young, Madonna and John Philip Sousa - can be heard in his jazz guitar playing, in ways that surprise even him.

"I just love music," Frisell said by phone from his home in Seattle. "I'm now 52 years old. I've tried to be open. Just to let it all come in."

Like his playing, Frisell's conversation comes in bursts, flowing from one idea to another, sometimes with an easily followed transition, sometimes not.

He continues: "I try to listen to music in general, not just the guitar. So a lot of what I play is other things I'm hearing in my head, and I'm filtering it through the guitar.

`Like, if I listen to an Aretha Franklin record or something, I'm not trying to play the guitar part correctly, I'm trying to play what she's singing. Or I'll listen to orchestral music, and I'll try to apply that to the guitar."

Frisell's musical appetite is enormous, and he often takes his steadily expanding cadre of devoted followers into unexpected territory.

Frisell is at the top of the list of current jazz guitarists (he won the Downbeat guitarist of the year award in 1998 and 1999), but he sounds like no other, often pulling country, rock and pop licks into his complex finger styles.

Born in Baltimore, Frisell grew up in Denver. A talented clarinetist, he played in the McDonald's All-American High School Band and later at the University of Northern Colorado.

He began dabbling with the guitar in teen rock bands in the late 1960s, covering tunes by James Brown, the Temptations, the Ventures, the Beach Boys and the Beatles.

In 1971, he attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston for a semester.

"As I got out of high school and started to get more into jazz music, most of the things I would listen to were saxophone players and trumpet players and piano players. I always tried to apply all that to the guitar," he said.

As a guitarist, he studied for two months with guitar great Jim Hall, then returned to school in 1975.

Since then he has played with Paul Motian, Julius Hemphill, John Zorn, Elvis Costello, Ginger Baker, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, John Scofield, Jan Garbarek, Lyle Mays, Paul Bley, Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb.

In 1989, he moved to Seattle. There he has worked often with bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Kenny Wollesen, who will be with him when he performs in Eugene next week.

Powerful ingredients

Over the years, Frisell's award-winning CDs have garnered high critical praise, with the reviewers frequently noting Frisell's distinct and unusual "voice."

"Part of what I thought was the most important aspect of jazz was everyone had their own sound," Frisell says. "Whatever kind of individual thing I have, it wasn't like I just pulled out out of a vacuum.

`I tried to imitate things then it all mixed together into whatever it is now."

Frisell cites as influences "Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker. Hundreds and hundreds of them."

Davis tops the list.

"If I ever get sort of lost and wondering what I'm doing, I put on a Miles Davis record and it's like `Oh, that's what it is.' Just the way he played himself, and also the way the groups that he had were so amazing. The way the musicians interacted with each other, and the effect that he had just standing there. He sets this incredible standard for what's possible."

Oddly enough, for a jazz player, Frisell sometimes drifts in the country stylings he heard as a kid.

"I had this period, just after high school, where I discovered jazz and I kind of shut out everything else, and I got a little bit of an attitude, like there was a higher or lower music. Then something snapped in my head and I thought, `I've been shutting out all the music that had gotten me started playing in the first place.' 'Frisell is attracted to a strong melody, which he works over in ways that, while sometimes obscured through delays and distortion, never loses the lyrical line.

"The jazz players that are my heroes all had their individual sound, but they also knew how to play the melody, the song. They always stayed true to that. You could always hear that underlying everything they played.

`I've tried to hold onto that idea. No matter what how far you go from it, I like to keep the melody somehow subconsciously there. It keeps the architecture intact when you're playing."

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or fcrafts@guardnet.com.

CONCERT PREVIEW

Bill Frisell with Viktor Krauss and Kenny Wollesen

What: Jazz guitarist Frisell teams up with his bassist Krauss and drummer Wollesen as part of the Oregon Festival of American Music's Now Hear This series.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, 285 E. Broadway

How much: $12.50, $14.50, $18.50, $22.50 and $28.50 through the OFAM ticket office, 687-6526

GuardLine: To hear some of Bill Frisell's music, call GuardLine at 485-2000 from a touch-tone phone and request category 3733.

CAPTION(S):

Bill Frisell, who was named Downbeat magazine's guitarist of the year in 1998 and '99, will play the Shedd on Tuesday.
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Title Annotation:Noted jazz guitarist will bring a combination of influences with him when he plays the Shedd; Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 2, 2003
Words:913
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