“Bill Frisell is the Clark Kent of the electric guitar. Soft-spoken and self-effacing in conversation, he apparently breathes in lungfuls of raw fire when he straps on his [guitar].” —Spin
An eccentric and an outsider, photographer Mike Disfarmer took portraits of the residents of Heber Springs, Arkansas, in the 1940s, chronicling heartland America’s working poor. Inspired by these arresting portrayals of postwar rural life, guitar genius Bill Frisell created an evening of new compositions. His atmospheric and innovative musical language offers a perfect complement to the photographer’s images dissolving across multiple screens framing onstage. Musical Portraits from Heber Springs: Bill Frisell’s Disfarmer Project will be performed on Saturday, October 27, at 7 and 9:30 pm in the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater. In a performance of diverse styles—including jazz, classical, and traditional Ozark fiddle music (which Disfarmer played)—Frisell is joined by violinist Jenny Scheinman and lap steel guitar virtuoso Greg Leisz. Copresented with Northrop Jazz Season.
Co-commissioned by the Walker Art Center and the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University with support provided by the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund.
Despite his eccentricities and antisocial attitude, Disfarmer made his living shooting commercial portraits of the citizens of Heber Springs, Arkansas. During the WWII era, his customers often came to have their pictures taken as a kind of Saturday night going-to-town entertainment. They routinely met with lengthy ordeals as the cranky Disfarmer fussed until he felt it was the right moment to capture their likenesses with his antique glass negative camera, framing them as timeless specimens against a ratty, masking tape-patched backdrop.
Following his death in 1959, hundreds of his glass negatives were discovered in his dilapidated studio. New prints were struck from these negatives in the early 1970s and sent to the editor of Modern Photography magazine. They were subsequently published and exhibited at the International Center of Photography in New York, causing a sensation for their hauntingly penetrating qualities, formal elegance, and stark observational poetry. Since then interest in Disfarmer’s work has grown and has included the recent exhibitions of a newly assembled body of original Disfarmer photographs at Edwynn Houk Gallery and Steven Kasher Gallery in New York.
In a career spanning more than 25 years and over 200 recordings, including 25 albums of his own, guitarist, composer, and bandleader Bill Frisell has established himself as a visionary presence in American music. He has collaborated with a wide range of artists, filmmakers, and legendary musicians. But it is his work as a leader that has garnered increasing attention and accolades.
The New York Times described Frisell’s music this way: “It’s hard to find a more fruitful meditation on American music than in the compositions of guitarist Bill Frisell. Mixing rock and country with jazz and blues, he’s found what connects them: improvisation and a sense of play. Unlike other pastichists, who tend to duck passion, Mr. Frisell plays up the pleasure in the music and also takes on another often-avoided subject, tenderness.”
Frisell’s recordings over the last decades span a wide range of musical influences. His catalog, including 20 recordings for Nonesuch, has been cited by Downbeat as “the best recorded output of the decade.” It includes original Buster Keaton film scores to arrangements of music for extended ensemble with horns (This Land, Blues Dream); adaptations of his compositions originally written as soundtracks to Gary Larson cartoons (Quartet); interpretations of work by other classic and contemporary American composers (Have a Little Faith); and collaborations with the acclaimed rhythm section of bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Jim Keltner (Gone, Just Like a Train, Good Dog, Happy Man). Other releases include an album with Nashville musicians (Nashville), the solo album Ghost Town, an album of his arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach (The Sweetest Punch), a trio album with jazz legends Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, and a collection of American traditional songs and original compositions inspired by them entitled The Willies. The Intercontinentals, nominated for a Grammy in 2004, is an album that combines Frisell’s own brand of American roots music and his unmistakable improvisational style with the influences of Brazilian, Greek, and Malian sounds. His 2004 release, entitled Unspeakable, won a Grammy.
East/West is a two-CD set, featuring his two working trios recorded in concert on both coasts. His most recent album is Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian featuring two jazz legends that Frisell considers among his true mentors and musical inspirations. His new collaborative project with drummer Matt Chamberlain and producers Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine, Floratone (Blue Note), is a groove and textural extravaganza, described by All about Jazz as “a modern masterpiece.”
In December 2006, Bill was named a USA Rasumson Fellow and became a recipient of a grant offered by United States Artists, a privately funded organization dedicated to the support of America’s finest living artists.
Greg Leisz has been much in demand for playing country, folk, pop, and rock music with such artists as Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Beck, KD Lang, Randy Newman, Dave Alvin, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow, Paula Cole, Fiona Apple, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, John Mayer, Matthew Sweet, and Joe Cocker. Leisz lives in his native Los Angeles and is well-known for his mastery of a variety of guitars and string instruments, including pedal steel, dobro, National, Hawaiian Weissenborn, lap steel and mandolin, all of which he plays on Frisell’s CDs, Blues Dream, Good Dog, Happy Man, and The Intercontinentals. Leisz also performs with Frisell in both duo and larger group formats.
Violinist Jenny Scheinman grew up in Northern California, studied at Oberlin Conservatory, and in New York with Gerald Beal. Aside from being a member of Frisell’s Unspeakable Orchestra and his 858 Quartet, she was in The Intercontinentals, appearing on the Grammy-nominated album of the same name. She also performs in Frisell’s trios with Ron Miles and Greg Leisz. Scheinman leads a number of her own groups with constantly fluctuating guests and works frequently with Madeleine Peyroux, Marc Ribot, Vinicius Cantuaria, and Scott Amendola. She has played with Aretha Franklin, Norah Jones, Myra Melford, Nels Cline, John Zorn, among others. Her own recordings include 12 Songs, Shalagaster, The Rabbi’s Lover, Live at Yoshi’s, The Django Project, and Giant Trio. Scheinman also appears on a new album by Lucinda Williams as well as a number of CDs produced by Lee Townsend with singers Cantuaria (from Brazil), Shweta Jhaveri (from India), Gabriela (from Argentina), and fellow Californian Paul Sprawl. She first played with Frisell on Gabriela’s recording Viento Rojo. Early in her career she lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently lives in New York City.
Alex Nichols – Lighting & Set Designer
Alexander V. Nichols’ design works span from lighting and projections to scenery and costumes for dance, theater, opera, and art installations. Theater credits include designs for Berkeley Rep, Arena Stage, Alley Theater, American Conservatory Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
California Shakespeare Festival, Huntington Theater, Baltimore Center Stage, National Theater of Taiwan, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, ODC/SF, Hubbard Street Dance, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Paul Dresher Ensemble, and Rinde Eckert. Nichols has served as Resident Designer for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Co., Pennsylvania Ballet, Hartford Ballet, and as Lighting Director for American Ballet Theater. Other dance credits include designs for choreographers Christopher d’Amboise, Ann Carlson, Val Caniparoli, Bill T. Jones, Jean Grand Maitre, Mark Morris, Mikko Nissinen, Kevin O’Day, Kirk Peterson, Stephen Petronio, Dwight Rhoden, Michael Smuin, and Brenda Way. Video credits include Life–A Journey through Time with Frans Lanting and Philip Glass and Visual Music with the Kronos Quartet. Other projects include the exterior lighting of the Sentinel Building, Francis Ford Coppola’s historic headquarters in San Francisco, and structural and lighting design for the traveling art installation Circle of Memory.
Tickets to Musical Portraits from Heber Springs: Bill Frisell’s Disfarmer Project are $35 ($30 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.