Happy Birthday Bill Frisell

March 18, 1951

A tribute to the distinctive guitarist

Guitarist and leader William “Bill” Frisell was born on March 18, 1951 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Frisell grew up in Denver, played clarinet from the age of nine along with tenor but also began on the guitar when he was 11, originally inspired by blues and rock guitarists.

Frisell led his first band when he was 14, took guitar lessons from Dale Bruning, loved the music of Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Jimi Hendrix, studied with Johnny Smith, and attended Berklee during 1975-77.

He spent much of 1977-79 overseas, making his recording debut, touring England with the Mike Gibbs Orchestra, and recording with Eberhard Weber.

During 1979-97, Frisell was an open-minded avant-gardist whose playing shifted (sometimes on a moment’s notice) between a variety of styles including free improvisations, Jim Hall-style modern jazz, country music, swing, heavy metal, r&b and pure noise; he never lost one’s attention.

A master of the six-string guitar who easily played bass lines in addition to the wide variety of sounds that he created, Frisell worked with Paul Motian’s Trio (a bassless group that also featured Joe Lovano), recorded diverse albums for ECM, played with John Zorn, toured with Julius Hemphill, worked with such greats as Jim Hall, Don Byron, Charlie Haden, David Sanborn and Tim Berne, and led colorful groups of his own as one of the stars of New York’s downtown jazz scene.

His focus changed when he teamed up with country musicians for 1997’s Nashville, becoming a much mellower and laidback player, utilizing the Nashville sound on his later projects which could be called modern Americana.

Bill Frisell is featured on “Julia” from August 31, 2012, performed at a concert in Paris.


Bill Frisell, guitar
Greg Leisz, pedal steel guitar
Tony Scherr, bass
Kenny Wollesen, drums

-Scott Yanow


Click here to Support Jazz on the Tube