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Guitar legends Frisell, Fisk to share Newman Center stage

Bill Frisell

Guitarist Bill Frisell performs at the Newman Center on Jan. 21. Photo: Courtesy of Michael Wilson

Guitarist Bill Frisell is no stranger to collaboration. Over a career spanning more than 30 years, he’s played with a host of jazz and pop luminaries including Elvis Costello, Ginger Baker, Rickie Lee Jones, Ron Carter, John Scofield and Lucinda Williams.

When Frisell performs at the Newman Center on Jan. 21, he’ll be collaborating with a musician a little lesser known but no less talented: classical guitarist Eliot Fisk, one of the last students of famed Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia.

“We challenged Bill because I really wanted him to play solo for us, but I thought we needed something else to provide internal variety,” says Newman Center Executive Director Steve Seifert, who programmed the concert as part of the venue’s “legacies” season. “So I said who else — not a jazz guitarist — do you think it would be fun to collaborate with, and he shot back several names, one of whom was Eliot Fisk.”

For his part, Frisell — who grew up in Denver and now lives near Seattle — is excited about the collaboration, if a bit intimidated.

“I’m not a classical guitar player, but I studied some of that stuff way back,” he says. “I actually spent quite a bit of time playing these Bach pieces and things like that, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it in public. And forget about doing it with somebody like that who really knows what they’re doing. It’s going to be a real trip for me.”

Though the two guitarists will finish the concert by playing on stage together, each will play a solo set first. Frisell says the idea of performing completely alone used to terrify him, but he’s gotten better at it over the years. His solo sets these days are a mix of songs from his extensive catalog and complete free-form improvisation.

“I basically have my whole life to draw from. I don’t plan it out too much, I just start playing whatever comes into my mind at that moment,” he says. “There are, however, many hundreds of tunes I know, and sometimes I can’t think of what to play and I’ll just start playing something and something will emerge from it.”

Though he studied clarinet at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Frisell eventually switched to guitar full time and became well known for his out-of-the-mainstream jazz style. He also garnered notice for his recordings on German label ECM and collaborations with avant garde musicians such as Arto Lindsay and John Zorn. He studied with jazz guitarist Dale Bruning, who now lives in Longmont, Colo., and records frequently with Denver-based trumpeter Ron Miles.

“My whole life is like getting this amazing lesson,” Frisell says. “That’s how I learn, is by playing with these people. I feel so lucky and so spoiled. That’s the best way to learn is when you’re sitting right with somebody, playing with them. It’s like you get this incredible shot in the arm or infusion of stuff you just can’t get from reading a book or listening to a record.”

Fisk and Frisell will lead master classes for Lamont School of Music students at DU’s Newman Center before their Jan. 21 concert at the Newman Center. The classes are free and open to the public. Fisk speaks from 4–6 p.m. Jan. 20 in the Hamilton Recital Hall; Frisell’s class is from 10 a.m.–noon Jan. 21 in the Williams Recital Salon.

“Guitar Legends,” featuring Bill Frisell and Eliot Fisk, begins at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 in DU’s Newman Center, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. A free “Behind the Curtain” lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $32–$48; visit for tickets and more information.

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