In appreciation of Bill Frisell, at the end of 2020

Frisell Trio saves the day!

For a while I used to do a “favorite artist of the year” write-up and then I stopped for a while. I made it a point not to repeat any of them and it was fun to think of a single musician or band who encompassed an entire year… or musical year, at least. As 2020, this fucking year, comes to an end, I feel compelled to write a little bit about the guy who was clearly the musician of 2020 for me, for me and so many others. Of course, that is Bill Frisell, who was actually the guy I wrote about a few years back as the guy. I’ve written a lot about Bill Frisell over the years. I find I repeat myself in these ramblings, but he’s the kind of musician that’ll have you wax poetic even though words cannot do justice to his music.

I’ll spare the note-by-note majesty of Frisell’s music in 2020. If I allow myself to go back to the final days of 2019 when Frisell appeared on the stage at the Yo La Tengo show and instantly made it a magical night I will never forget, or back to January when the “special guest” for Mark Guiliana’s set was, of course, Bill f’in Frisell, it had to be, if I can go back that far to the before times, then it’s clear that Frisell and his music have become the de facto soundtrack to my middle age. The soothing adult pacifier that can calm any situation, make any moment more beautiful, inspire and elevate. Frisell played gigs this year, they were wonderful. He put out music this year, a gorgeous trio album, a very cool record with Gregoire Maret, you should listen to all of it.

All of that seemed to just be the set-up for 2020, the year when the world needed a big, Earth-sized pacifier stuck in its crying, howling, unconsolable maw. Should it have been any surprise that the musical hero of NYC’s pandemic days, the person who was compelled to play gig after gig, be they on sidewalks or parking lots, backyards or rooftops, that the gentleman there, ready to pacify, playing music because he needed to, because the universe compelled him to, the needy ears of a city crying out to be properly filled only by the guitar playing of Bill Frisell, any surprise that it was BF? It had to be Bill and he stepped in. With his core trio, in other groups.

I have a certain wariness about meeting, knowing, or otherwise learning the “real life” goings-on of musicians I love. Why taint the image in my head? There’s so little to be gained and so, so much to lose. Still, you want to believe your heroes, your saviors, your pacifiers are good people. And with Bill Frisell, there was little doubt in my mind that his soul was as pure as you’d imagine. In 2020, though, I got to confirm this to be true. What a wonderful thing that is! In 2020, a day-after-day torrent of shit, I got to stand on a sidewalk in Brooklyn as the sun went down and listen to Bill Frisell reduce the temperature of the city, the world, the universe with just a guitar and whatever once-a-generation magic resides in his soul. Pure bliss. I will never be able to properly put into words what his music is, what it does, and how it makes me feel, but I will never stop trying. Whatever all that is, there was just the right amount of it this fall, just the right dose of vaccine for those of us lucky to catch him. Bill Frisell, quarantine hero. There could be no other.

The other day an email dropped in my box from Joel Harrison, largely talking about the state of his Alternative Guitar Summit. Tucked at the end was a link to something Joel had written and, of course, of course, it was something he had written about Bill Frisell. As with all things Frisell, it appeared in my life at just the right moment and it rings true about music and about life, and I will close by urging you to read it, too.