On June 24th, 2007 I went to the National Library and Archives to see a concert by the Bill Frisell Quartet as part of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Now that I think about it, it’s pretty awesome (and maybe a little odd) that so many government-run buildings here in Ottawa have concert venues tucked away somewhere within their walls. Over the years I’ve seen concerts at the National Gallery, the War Museum, the Nature Museum, the Museum of Civilization, and now the National Archives.
If you ask me it’s tax money well spent.
For some reason I was on the fence about going to this concert but I sure am glad I did (of course) because it was a great show, probably the best Bill Frisell concert I had seen up to that point. He played plenty of material from his wonderful Gone Like a Train album (with a few covers like You Are My Sunshine and Dylan’s Masters Of War thrown in), which is the record that got me into Bill Frisell in the first place.
The three musicians* were totally on fire all night. They were locked in one of those extended psychic moments that improvisers are fortunate to find themselves in once in a while, and they were obviously having a ball. As good as the concert was (and again, it was very) what I remember most about this show was meeting Bill Frisell at the merch table after the concert.
I had met Mr. Frisell before, briefly saying hello and getting an autograph** when he played with Kevin Breit at the Guelph Jazz Festival six years previously. This time I had much more time with one of my guitar heroes, though it was moderated…strangely.
Bill was sitting at the table and I said hello as I passed him my just-purchased copy of his most recent CD for signing. There was a lady standing next to him – obviously some jazz fest rep – and as I was in the process of raving about the concert I had just seen she politely interrupted.
“Oh!” she cooed in my direction. “Have you seen Bill Frisell in concert before?”
“Yes, I’ve seen him play several times” I told her, quickly turning my attention back to Bill.
“Really?!?” she exclaimed, clearly impressed. “So you’re a big fan are you?”
“Of course,” I said, again turning back to…
“And what was one of your favourite times seeing him?” she asked, leaning in with wide, questioning eyes and an inquisitive smile.
She was obviously trying to be conversational and effervescent but c’mon! I looked at Bill and he gave me an amused look. It seemed like he and I were on the same page here.
I took the opportunity to mention the Kevin Breit show and Bill remembered the experience well. We gushed at each other about Breit’s playing and how great Guelph is and together we collectively shut out the unstoppable clucking of the lady beside us. I even got to ask him about his relationship with Gary Larsen. I had long heard that the creator of the Far Side comic and Bill Frisell were friends and moreover that Larsen had been a jazz guitarist before he fell into cartooning. Apparently he retired the strip intending to get back into playing jazz. Bill told me that Gary was a pretty good player but that he lacks motivation to get anything done. I guess that killer day job he used to have might have something to do with it.
By this time the lady must have either disappeared or at least gotten the message, as her presence fades from my memory. Bill and I chatted a bit more and finally he uncapped his Sharpie and signed the CD I had just bought. It reads:
Thanks for listening
I’m sure in some twisted way Bill’s signature reads “Bill Frisell” but it sure looks like “Bill Nill” to me. M’lady and I have always and exclusively referred to him as Bill Nill ever since.
*Despite what the ticket indicates I recall this show being a trio.
**Yes, I’m an autograph hound, though I’ve learned to be selective.