A Conversation with Bill Frisell

Last night was one of those kismet nights where things fall into place at the last minute. Everything went right, except for that point in the evening that mattered most, which was a brief conversation I had with one of the best guitarists in the world.

Oh well.

I was downtown on business yesterday afternoon/early evening, and after that ended I was simultaneously overdressed and underdressed, which is to say I was wearing spiffy clothes but not enough clothes because, well, it was cold. That really wouldn’t have mattered if I had driven home right away, which was the original plan, but as I headed to my car I remembered that Bill Frisell was performing at the Emery Theatre as part of The Requiem Project. If I can get in for half-price, I told myself, then I was meant to see this show, and if not I’ll go home. When I told the ticket sellers that I saw the note on soapboxmedia.com about reduced-price tickets, they said sure, no problem, and suddenly I was going to the show. While standing out front with Ron Esposito, whose third singing bowls release, We Are One, came out recently, he said this to me:

“We’re going to talk to him after the show, right?”

“Do you think we can?”

“Sure we can.”

That planted a seed that played into future events.

I had seen Frisell a few times in the past. The first time was with John Zorn’s Naked City during the Torture Garden tour, an event at which (this came as no surprise to Zorn) about a third of the audience walked out during the first half hour. You know that’s a great concert, but even though no one walked out of The Emery last night, it too was a great concert. Blending an electric guitar with acoustic string instruments is not, I assume, an easy thing, but the interplay between the musicians during a concert that primarily focused on the Disfarmer Project was remarkable, and I loved how Frisell was able to weave Americana into his jazz-based style. During the encore he ended with some wild rhythm guitar work that reminded me of the sped-up guitar tracks on some old Les Paul albums, except that involved studio trickery and Frisell was doing it live. I have to think that was a tip of the hat from guitar master to another, and I should have asked him about that, but I didn’t, because, well, I forgot.

After the show many of the Who’s Whos of Cincinnati were milling about near the stage—the photographer Michael Wilson, for example, whose work has appeared on album covers (among  many others) by Bill Frisell, and who also has an edition of special fine art portraits devoted to Frisell; and Linford Etweiler and Karin Bergquist from the group Over the Rhine; and (again) Ron Esposito, who told me that if I wanted to talk to Bill Frisell all I had to do was walk up to the stage. Which I did—but let me rush through the rest of the night first.

As often happens when last-minute improvisation plays into your day, I hadn’t eaten since morning, and hunger had taken hold of me. After talking to Bill Frisell I chatted with Julie Fay and William Messer in the Emery lobby. (For starters, Julie is the proprietor of Urban Eden and Iris Book Cafe and Gallery; to quote a insightful source, “Julie Fay has been investing time, money, labor and love into Over-the Rhine since 1991;” along with many other artistic endeavors, Bill curates photography shows at Iris Book Café and Gallery.) It turned out that Julie had an extra ticket to the Disfarmer- connected post-concert soiree at Japp’s, where I ate the best food I have ever had while people watching. Julie made great company at this event, because she shares my knack for forgetting people’s names, which meant both of us could practice the fine art of allowing people you know to introduce themselves to the person you’re sitting next to. While we were sitting there someone from ispycinci.com came by and took our picture, which was indeed a rare event; you could chop off several fingers and still be able to count all the events Jeff Wilson has attended where people drop by just to take pictures and post them on a cool website take place.

But the night was not yet over, a friend and I walked to MOTRPub, which was packed, yet somehow we found seats at the bar and were able to order drinks right as Zammuto, a spinoff of The Books, began their set. I thought they were great, and I probably would have stayed for the whole set except (A) I was parked probably ten blocks away on a cold night, (B) my friend offered to drive me there.

This blog has already broken all previous word-count records, so I’ll have to come back to my conversation with Bill Frisell, who was extremely nice; I hope to chat with him again someday.

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