For the past few years I’ve been working on a biography of the quietly revolutionary and hugely influential American guitarist Bill Frisell.
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 will be the first biography of the guitarist, and I have 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’ve 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, will be published by Faber on 17 March 2022. Publication dates for Australia/New Zealand and the US are 17 and 24 May, respectively.
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