At a Q & A session with the audience following his concert, Bill Frisell gamely fielded questions.
Bill Frisell’s Big Sur Quintet, in Kansas City, played for 90 minutes. Comprised of Bill on guitar, Rudy Royston on drums, Eyvind Kang on viola, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Hank Roberts on cello, they played music drawn largely from the catalog of Woody Guthrie.
I photographed Bill earlier that day during the sound check. It was not an ideal situation, but it rarely is. These people were working, yet they graciously agreed to let me set up lights so I could photograph Bill with his Rick Kelly Telecaster. It was a long day for the ensemble which started when they boarded a 6 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Kansas City. Bill, in particular, did a big favor for me. (More on that later.)
Bill answered questions from the audience about how the music that evening came to fruition. He discussed choosing the songs, arrangements and the leeway enjoyed by the band. They were not tied down to the notes on the page. For good measure, they even included songs by artists influenced by Woody Guthrie. Bob Dylan was one.
The story Bill shared with me is about the Kelly Telecaster he played that night. Made from pine, the guitar was crafted by Rick Kelly, proprietor of Carmine Street Guitars in New York City.
This is an outtake from the photo shoot during Bill Frisell’s sound check in Kansas City.
Bill explained the pine used for his guitar was recovered from the New York City loft of film director Jim Jarmusch. Bill is a fan of Jarmusch’s work and the story he shared is one of coincidences.
I fully intended to travel to Seattle in January, when Bill had some time off from touring. I wanted to photograph him on his home turf. When we couldn’t find a date that would work in our schedules, Bill offered to use the Kelly guitar on this tour so I could do the shoot on the Kansas City stop.
Bill Frisell travels with one guitar. He said if he had the luxury of roadies at his disposal, he could travel with more. He doesn’t. As a result, his party of six is responsible for their own luggage when they board 6 a.m. flights. As I’ve observed before, it’s a hell of a way to make a living.
Bill could have, and might well have, chosen a different guitar to use with the Big Sur Quintet. His accommodation of me was a big deal. And in case you’re wondering, not all guitars are the same.
The gentleman called on to ask one of the last questions of Bill was vexed over the thought of genres. “How do I describe your music to someone? What is your genre?”
I could tell Bill had heard that question before.
“Do labels really mean anything?” he said. Labels don’t always describe music with accuracy. He said he loves all kinds of music, which is clear.
You’ll never hear Bill Frisell’s music on the radio sandwiched between Miranda Lambert and Toby Keith.
I heard jazz licks from Bill followed by classical strains from his ensemble. Fat bass notes boomed from his Tele which you’d associate with a country song. “This Land Is Your Land” had, at times, a bluesy flavor both from Bill and the cello, viola and violin. The group played a type of roots chamber music and the audience loved it.
I can’t put a label on it. But the question remains: Who does Bill Frisell sound like? Maybe the answer is Bill Frisell.