Guitarist shows his pluck

The Baltimore Sun

As much success as Bill Frisell has experienced in more than 20 years of recording and performing as a jazz guitarist, you would think he was born with his notable Fender Telecaster in his hands.

Surprisingly, the Baltimore-born, Grammy Award-winning artist's first foray into instrumental music wasn't with a guitar. Before pushing the boundaries of traditional jazz and eschewing the lines between musical genres, Frisell was tackling Tchaikovsky's "Stars and Stripes Forever" as a clarinet player while growing up in Denver.

It was during his teen years that Frisell made the transition from dedicated clarinetist in a junior high school band to an avid listener of surf music, English rock and pop, soul and blues heavyweights such as Otis Rush, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. It was then that he also picked up his neighbor's cheap, acoustic six-string guitar.

It was a match made in heaven.

Frisell will come back to his birthplace next week to perform (as a guitarist) with his trio as part of the Creative Differences Concert Series at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at An Die Musik Live.

Picking up the guitar and playing solo gave Frisell the freedom that he lacked when playing clarinet in a large school band - it allowed him to break from the bounds of his classical clarinet pieces and unleash his creative side by playing pop music and improvising. "When I first started playing guitar, it was like a completely different side of my brain was working," he says. "Clarinet was a real intellectual process, but when I started playing guitar, I just sort of did it all on my own."

Throughout the rest of high school, Frisell played in numerous bands, covering numerous pop classics and even James Brown. He would eventually study music at the University of Northern Colorado and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

But Frisell has never stayed in one place long. After attending Berklee, Frisell lived in a number of places, including Belgium and New York, before settling in Seattle.

It was his frequent moves, busy tour schedule and playing as ECM Record's in-house guitarist that have allowed him to collaborate with some of the biggest and most diverse names in music, including Elvis Costello, Ginger Baker, John Scofield and even the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But even after countless collaborations, Frisell managed to create long-lasting relationships and partnerships with some of these musicians. For more than 12 years, he made music with drummer Joey Baron and bassist Kermit Driscoll in the Bill Frisell Band before it disbanded it in the mid-1990s.

"It was almost like a marriage breaking up," Frisell said in a 1997 interview with Jazziz magazine.

But this painful experience hasn't prevented Frisell from collaborating again. He is currently touring with lap steel and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz and violinist Jenny Scheinman as the Bill Frisell Trio.

"What keeps me going is always reaching out for something more," says Frisell. "It's always been like that."

The Bill Frisell Trio will perform at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at An Die Musik Live, 409 N. Charles St. Admission is $30-35. Ticket availability is limited. Call 410-385-2638.

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