My biography of the quietly revolutionary and hugely influential American guitarist Bill Frisell was published by Faber in 2022…
An unlikely guitar hero for our genre-blurring times, Frisell has synthesised many disparate musical elements – from jazz to pop, folk to film music, ambient to avant-garde, country to classical – into one compellingly singular sound. He has broken down borders, transformed the language of his instrument, and forged a panoramic and pluralist new approach to American music.
Once described as “the favourite guitarist of many people who agree on little else in music”, Frisell connects to a diverse range of artists and admirers, including Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Gus Van Sant, Gerhard Richter, Van Dyke Parks, Charles Lloyd, John Zorn, Gavin Bryars, Gary Larson, Marianne Faithfull, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Everybody digs Bill Frisell.
This is the first biography of the guitarist, and I had unprecedented access to Frisell, speaking to and spending time with him over many days in various cities, both in the US and Europe. I also interviewed his close family and friends, and almost everyone with whom Frisell has had a significant musical relationship.
The book, titled Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed the Sound of American Music, was published in hardback in 2022, and paperback and audiobook – read brilliantly by visionary folk musician Sam Amidon – in 2023.
Beautiful Dreamer was widely and favourably reviewed in titles ranging from the New Yorker to Mojo, Guitar World to the Daily Telegraph, and Jazziz to the Wall Street Journal (a few quotes are below). It was also well received by musicians – one of my favourite reviews was by the fine English pianist and composer Liam Noble – and the biography made several Book of the Year lists, including being nominated for a prestigious international Jazz Journalists Association Book Award.
For more information on Bill Frisell, see his website here.
“A beautiful and long overdue portrait of one of America’s true living cultural treasures – Bill Frisell. Watson approaches his subject with deep respect and understanding, and through insightful prose, interviews and listening sessions, he deftly peels back the layers of the onion to reveal a complex and dedicated musician whose openness, loyalty, courage, vision, humility, lovingkindness, generosity, and remarkable ability to challenge himself again and again, has made him one of the most beloved and influential guitarists of all time. A brilliant book about a brilliant musician. If music was a religion Bill Frisell would be a Saint.” – JOHN ZORN
“Philip Watson’s book on Bill Frisell is wonderful. It is a model of immaculate research. It is imaginatively structured and very well written, with real feeling and insight. And it captures exactly the Bill that I know.” – GAVIN BRYARS
“Warm-hearted, collaborative, and discreet to the point of being almost ambient, Beautiful Dreamer manages to be the perfect companion piece to the music of its subject.” – BEN THOMPSON, MOJO
“The biography is stuffed with musical encounters, so many that every couple of pages there’s an unheard Frisell recording for the reader to chase down.” – PAUL ELIE, NEW YORKER
“The most thorough, exhaustively researched biography that I have ever read about a living jazz musician… Watson seems to have read and absorbed every profile and review ever published about Frisell, and to have listened to and critically cogitated on his entire leader and sideman corpus… A compelling work.” – TED PANKEN, JAZZIZ
“An exemplary biography that convincingly argues for the enigmatic musician to be recognised as the most innovative and influential guitarist of our times.” – NEIL McCORMICK, DAILY TELEGRAPH