Interview: Don Friedman (Part 1) - JazzWax

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September 22, 2009


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Randy Shiner

it's so funny that you got an interview with Don Friedman. I just this week discovered him on radio, where they played a song from his album "Six Variations on a Theme". I thought it was quite special, and now I understand that others evidently think so, too. I have to start collecting some of his music. Thanks a lot, Marc.

Randy Shiner

Correction: That was "Six Jazz Variations on a Theme".

Larry Kart

I've been a Friedman fan since "Circle Waltz" came out back in 1962. Its effect was and still hypnotic; I and my college roommate, a talented drummer, played it over and over. The somewhat later album Friedman did in the vein of "Dreams and Explorations," again with the late Attila Zoller but with Richard Davis and Joe Chambers taking the place of Dick Kniss and Dick Berk ("Metamorphosis," Prestige, rec. 1966) is a masterpiece IMO -- avant garde, I suppose, but in a vein all its own. In fact, I've never heard a Friedman recording under his own name (and I have quite a few, from then up to till recent times) that is less than excellent. Of his sideman appearances, I especially like Lee Konitz's "Thingin,'" with Zoller (Hat Art, rec. 1995).


"But where Bill was Euro-centric, influenced primarily by George Russell and relatively conservative in his approach, Don was more experimental and had more Bud Powell and Red Garland in his attack." Evans recorded with Russell a few times, but these are very different from his other recordings, so I don't think it's correct to say that Russell was his primary influence. Bill himself cited Bud Powell as his primary influence. The classical influence is also evident, so I guess you could say "euro-centric," but as for "conservative," it depends on how you define the term. To my way of thinking, Bill was a true revolutionary, whereas someone like Cecil Taylor was more of a primitive. (Just my humble opinion of course, and I can't comment on Friedman's free playing as the few recordings I have are more inside.)

Andrew Billek

I was a steady customer at the Half Note in NYC between 1969 and 1974 and saw Don often, with Zoot and Al, Kamuca or Moody. I remember one evening when he backed Jimmy Rushing, an odd combination, you will admit. The band, probably with Al and Zoot, was of course swinging furiously and Don's solos were lyrical bordering on introspective. Jimmy kept yelling at him to play blues but Don was determined to play Don - which was okay with me if not with Rushing. Make of that what you will!

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Rock Concert: An Oral History" (Grove), "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards
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