Tony Scherr

The {vurb} interview with Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell’s summer touring schedule includes New York, Chicago, Paris, Toronto, Montreal, Helsinki … and Nelson.

Bill Frisell’s summer touring schedule includes New York, Chicago, Paris, Toronto, Montreal, Helsinki … and Nelson.

In The Royal’s latest coup, the brilliant jazz guitarist comes to town next Wednesday with bandmates Greg Leisz, Tony Scherr, and Kenny Wollesen.

One of the most tasteful, innovative, and influential musicians of his generation, Frisell will perform the music of John Lennon.

Originally conceived as an impromptu set for an event in Paris, the project ultimately turned into an album, All We Are Saying, released last September.

Frisell’s excitement at further exploring the Lennon catalogue was obvious when he spoke to {vurb} from Seattle, where he kicks off his tour Thursday night.

Have you ever been to this part of BC?

No, I need to look at the map. We’re driving from Seattle. Certainly never played there. I’m really excited — I just keep hearing it’s this super cool place.

We like to think so … Are you basically going to recreate your John Lennon album on stage?

Not really. Whenever I record an album, it feels like it’s the blueprint. We’ll just continue trying to get further and further along learning the songs. I’m really excited for the whole summer. In a couple of days everyone’s coming to Seattle and we’ll be playing four nights here, starting off this whole bunch of gigs. It’s this strange double thing: I’ve known this music my whole life. But I haven’t really played it in the same way I’ve played other music — the time and obsessiveness I’ve spent trying to learn a Thelonius Monk or Charlie Parker song.

How did you approach it? Were you trying to reinvent these songs or stay faithful to them?

I made little charts but wanted it to be absolutely true to the original versions of the song. So I wasn’t trying to rearrange or re-harmonize them. I didn’t want to think that way. What I’m happy about, and what I was hoping for, was just the language I have with these guys, which has developed over the 10 or 15 years I’ve been playing with them. So it’s this sort of unspoken way we have. We really don’t have to figure things out — it’s just a conversation that begins. That’s what was so amazing. We just played. I didn’t tell anybody what to do. We didn’t even really decide on anything. All we knew is here’s the song, let’s play it. That’s the way it came out. I feel like we’re being true to the song but also our own language somehow comes through at the same time. I’m really excited about that and continuing on and seeing how far or deep we can get into the songs.

What did the Beatles mean to you as a kid?

[They were] absolutely gigantic. About as gigantic as you can get. It was February 1964 [when they arrived in America]. That’s a month before my 13th birthday. I had just started to get fascinated with the guitar. It’s at the very beginning of me wanting to do this stuff. Then they come along and it was like oh my god. It’s so huge for me. It’s about as big a thing in my life, an event, as you could possibly imagine. It got me playing music, really.

And John Lennon specifically?

Really it was more him being part of that thing. For me the really personal part of it is just that band. It’s weird this thing ended up being just about him. It’s about them too. There’s so much music, that’s what crazy. You could easily do a George Harrison record, or just Paul McCartney music, or even just Ringo music. Or another John Lennon record right away. It’s massive how much stuff there is. I hope it doesn’t ever seem like “Who’s your favourite Beatle?” I don’t know. It’s not really about that.

Will you be doing any Lennon tunes that aren’t on the album?

Yes. I’ve started looking around. We’re going to be playing all summer. One we didn’t even record was Strawberry Fields Forever. I know we’re going to do that. Just in the last few days I’ve been snooping around for some others. I’m sure we will.

You don’t mind playing club dates? That’s something you still enjoy?

I love that. I’m thankful to be playing anywhere, but it’s great to play a room in a size that’s made for people to be comfortable and hear it and be close to the audience. Mostly I play in clubs. I just was in New York at the Village Vanguard.

We’re looking forward to seeing you. Anything else you want to add?

You’re catching me at a good time, just at the beginning of this tour and I’m excited. I’m excited to come there too, because I just keep hearing good things about the people and the place.

Bill Frisell performs at The Royal on Wednesday. Doors open at 6 p.m., show at 8. Tickets are $30 from Urban Legends, The Music Store, and liveattheroyal.com.

 

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