Dave Frishberg Day

March 23, 1933 – November 17, 2021

The pianist and lyricist is paid a tribute

Pianist, singer and songwriter Dave Frishberg passed away on Nov. 17, 2021 at the age of 88.

He was born on March 23, 1933 in St. Paul, Minnesota, started on piano from an early age, and did his best to avoid learning classical music in favor of playing boogie-woogie and swing.

He was a journalism major at the University of Minnesota, served in the Air Force for two years, and wrote copy for an advertising firm before he began his career as a jazz pianist.

Frishberg had a swing-based style that was also influenced by bebop; he worked in the 1960s with such notables as Carmen McRae, Ben Webster, the Gene Krupa Trio, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Jimmy Rushing.

Starting with “Peel Me A Grape” and “I’m Hip” (for which Bob Dorough wrote the music), Frishberg developed into a masterful lyricist and songwriter, one whose songs often dealt with humorous looks at the world, nostalgia for the past, and witty but insightful observations.

Frishberg spent 1971-86 in Los Angeles originally working as a studio musician, and as part of the Bill Berry Big Band and various swing combos.

From the mid-1970s on, he was frequently heard as a soloist who sang and performed many of his own originals; his best songs included “Blizzard Of Lies,” “My Attorney Bernie,” “Quality Time,” “Slappin’ The Cakes On Me,” “I Want To Be A Sideman,” “I Can’t Take You Nowhere,” “Dear Bix,” “Z’s,” “You Are There,” “The Wheelers and Dealers,” “The Dear Departed Past,” “Let’s Eat Home,” “My Country Used To Be,” and “I’m Just A Bill” (the latter written for Schoolhouse Rock).

Dave Frishberg moved back to Portland in 1986 but continued touring and performing (sometimes locally with Rebecca Kilgore) until a few years before his death when his declining health forced his retirement.

He was considered by many to be the top living lyricist, and one of the last of the piano playing jazz singer-songwriters.

Here is Dave Frishberg’s recording of the classic “I’m Hip.”

-Scott Yanow


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