Bill Frisell: A Portrait Dir: Emma Franz


A few days ago I nominated BANG! The Bern Berns Story as the best music documentary at this year’s film festival (read review here). After watching Bill Frisell: A Portrait, I must say that it comes in as a close second.

If you haven’t managed to listen to any of the dozens of albums Frisell has released over the past 35 years or so, then you’ve probably heard his guitar playing on sessions for Bonnie Raitt, Allen Toussaint, Lucinda Williams, Joe Henry, Rickie Lee Jones, John Scofield or countless others.

This film helps put a face to the name. But more than that, it shows just what a singular talent this 66 year old musician/composer really is.

Director Emma Franz begins by throwing up a couple of big guns to testify to Frisell’s talent…we get interview clips with Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt and Wilco’s Nels Cline. But once the introductions are over, Franz digs deep into what drives Frisell to make the incredible music he does and how he does it.

One thing that sets this film apart from other music documentaries…there is no scandal, no personal demons to overcome, no battles with addiction or record labels or feuds with other musicians. In fact Bill Frisell comes across as one of the nicest guys on the planet.

But that doesn’t make his music any less interesting.

In fact, the opposite can be argued. Bill Frisell seems dedicated to pursuing his muse no matter where it takes him.

He seems to naturally be a jazz musician…he certainly has the technique and the mind-set…but as we see, Frisell is happy to explore Americana, Avant Garde, Country and Classical. To him it’s all just music and his mind seems to be brimming with ideas.

Over the years, Frisell has worked with an incredible amount of equally talented musicians and they all are very willing to talk about him. We hear from jazz greats such as Jim Hall, Ron Carter and Jack DeJonette.

The best stories come from Frisell’s long-time drumming friend Joey Baron, who seems to be able to articulate Frisell’s genius even when the subject himself is lost for words.

Frisell comes across as humble, thoughtful, generous and honest…a man who is determined to make as much great music as he possibly can.

And make no mistake; Franz has included plenty of footage of Frisell performing with any one of his numerous bands including the BBC Orchestra, as conducted by his teacher at Berklee, Michael Gibbs.

Frisell’s playing is almost overshadowed by drummer Joey Baron who comes across as Frisell’s perfect musical foil. He so impressed audience members at the screening I attended that I swear, half of them were Googling his name after the film.

Bonnie Raitt characterises Bill Frisell as “universally loved”. After watching this wonderful film and experiencing his magical approach to music, you’ll be a fan too.

Marty Duda