Guitarist Bill Frisell, widely known as one of the most versatile players in jazz history, performed for the first time in Vietnam at the “Bill Frisell: Summer of Guitar” concert last Sunday (May 26) in HCM City.
Frisell has won many awards, including a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Jazz Album” for his album “Unspeakable”. Thu Ngan spoke with Frisell about his first trip to Vietnam and his views about bringing the jazz music to Vietnamese audiences.
Can you tell us about your first performance in Vietnam and describe your feelings after the performance?
That’s always a difficult question. I have played a long time with Thomas Morgan on bass and Rudy Royston on drums as a trio. For me, I’m excited to see what happens because every time we play we are affected by the atmosphere and the people. So, coming here, everything was still so new and unfamiliar.
We played a lot of songs, but we didn’t really make up anything. Usually we start to play and, you know, there might be a song that somehow relates to something that we saw during the day. It was exciting for me to come to a completely new place. We’re all discovering something at the same time.
For me, that’s so amazing about this kind of music. It’s like when we’re playing we’re trying to find something, so the audience can come with you at the same time. It’s the most amazing feeling. It’s fun to find a connection with the audience and especially an audience that maybe hasn’t heard a lot of this music.
Jazz music is still a new genre to Vietnamese audiences. What message do you want to send through this concert?
For me, I discovered jazz when I was in high school. I had always loved music. But when I found jazz, it seemed like a place that included everything. It wasn’t about one style or another style. It was a place where all music could come together in one place and bring people together. I hope people can feel that, maybe if someone’s never heard it before. It can be a window into really wonderful play. I have always studied music. I played a clarinet in the school band and I then started to play guitar. Music was always a place where my friends came, that everything made sense somehow. The things you think about are harmony, melody and rhythm. All the parts of music give you a way to think about people being together.
Why did you choose to play guitar?
Now I’m 68. You know when I was growing up, the guitar was everywhere on television. First, it was good seeing scenes in cowboy movies on TV and the guys playing guitar, and then when I saw the Beatles on television, everybody wanted to play guitar. It was so popular. It was just like the coolest thing.
A Vietnamese artist says that you are “very established and very unique”. He says that you “invented your own way of addressing and interfacing with jazz”. What inspired you to follow jazz?
Like I said before, jazz includes everything, and that’s so great. Everything is possible when you use your own experience. It becomes your own language. I think all the way back when I was a kid and try to hold on to all those memories. I think it’s really important. It’s a way of showing your whole life. So I say it’s difficult to say what influenced you when you think of all this time, all these things you heard, all the people you’ve met: the Beatles, Wes Montgomery, who was a great guitar player, Jimi Hendrix.
How did you overcome challenges and gain achievements in your career?
Yeah, I think maybe I was very lucky. First of all, as long as I can remember, I wanted to play. But then I was really lucky with my parents, and I always found really great teachers and really great friends. There was always somebody helping me along the way. My parents were always saying, “Keep trying”. I had some really great teachers. Like now, Rudy’s my teacher.
What can be done to bring jazz closer to the audience, and what can jazz artists in Vietnam do to popularise jazz?
I think you have to be honest with what you like. It’s impossible for me to know what other people think or what they like. I have to play what makes me excited, play what I love. The feeling that people can see is that I love it, so then they can feel that. But if I’m trying to guess what they like, it doesn’t feel true.
How do you feel about your first trip to Vietnam? Did you visit some attractions or try any local food in HCM City?
When we go to a new place, the food is where we really connect with what the place is. There are many Vietnamese restaurants in the US, but just to experience the real, authentic taste of Vietnamese food has been very exciting for me. I love trying the taste of a home-cooked Vietnamese meal.
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