'What Made That Thing Work?': Bill Frisell Takes On Screen Music While making his latest album, the inventive guitarist found that covering classic film and TV scores has an existential side effect.
NPR logo

'What Made That Thing Work?': Bill Frisell Takes On Screen Music

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/463750885/464180378" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'What Made That Thing Work?': Bill Frisell Takes On Screen Music

'What Made That Thing Work?': Bill Frisell Takes On Screen Music

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/463750885/464180378" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of the world's most inventive guitarists and composers has recorded a tribute to some of his favorite music from TV and film. Bill Frisell's "When You Wish Upon A Star" covers the screen from "Bonanza" to "The Godfather" to the poignant themes of "To Kill A Mockingbird."

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL SONG, "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD")

MARTIN: Bill Frisell joins us from the studios of KUOW in Seattle. Welcome to the show.

BILL FRISELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Did you grow up watching a lot of TV and movies for that matter?

FRISELL: Yeah (laughter), I think there was no escaping it. It was such a - you know, growing up in the '50s - I was born in 1951. And you know, I still remember, vividly, when my father brought home this big box and opened it up and there was a TV in there. It was, like, wow. This is - I couldn't believe it.

MARTIN: That's huge, yeah. So even when you were young, was it the soundtracks to these shows that stood out to you?

FRISELL: Maybe it was more subliminal or something. It's not just the film or the TV show, even. There's all these memories associated - I remember, whatever, going to - getting my driver's license and on one of my first dates, driving my parents' car to go see a "James Bond" movie. And so when I hear that "James Bond" theme, it brings back all kinds of stuff, you know?

MARTIN: So let's talk about that cut on the album. It's a cool one because you have a pretty awesome vocalist on this Petra Haden, one of the daughters of the late, great bassist Charlie Haden. She sings the theme. Let's listen to this and talk on the other side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE")

BILL FRISELL AND PETRA HADEN: (Singing) You only live twice or so it seems. One life for yourself and one for your dreams. You drift through the years.

MARTIN: And of course, the film was called "You Only Live Twice," but I will cop to not knowing which film this was. Who was the James Bond in this movie?

FRISELL: It was Sean Connery who, for me, is still the real one, you know? Sorry for all the...

MARTIN: (Laughter) You're not a Daniel Craig guy?

FRISELL: I like him, too, but there's something about those first ones. That's the stuff for me.

MARTIN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL SONG, "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE")

MARTIN: Is there a song on here that really resonates with you, that actually conjures up some kind of specific childhood memory?

FRISELL: There's a great combo here (laughter) - "When You Wish Upon A Star" and "Bonanza." It was - like...

MARTIN: I'm so glad you said "Bonanza."

FRISELL: Well, one of my real strong memories is, when I was a kid, my best friend who lived across the street, he had a guitar over there sitting around. That was, I think, the first time I tried to pick up a guitar. But his family also had a big color television set. And so it was Sunday evening. It was sort of a routine that I'd go over to his house, and his mom would cook dinner and then there would be the - I guess it was called "The Wonderful World Of Disney" or something like that - would come on.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Walt Disney presents...

UNIDENTIFED PEOPLE: (Singing) The wonderful world of color.

FRISELL: But there - it would - I remember it starting off with Jiminy Cricket singing "When You Wish Upon A Star." I guess "When You Wish Upon A Star" was sort of the theme music for that - a lot of that Walt Disney stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR")

CLIFF EDWARDS: (As Jiminy Cricket, singing) When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.

FRISELL: And so that's just way, way back in my DNA.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR")

FRISELL AND HADEN: (Singing) Anything your heart desires will come to you.

FRISELL: So then right after that - I think it was right after.

MARTIN: It was a double-header (laughter).

FRISELL: Yeah. Then "Bonanza" would come on and it was, like, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL SONG, "BONANZA")

FRISELL: That I heard so many - that - you know, how many times have I heard that theme? But I didn't actually try to play it until just in the last couple of years.

MARTIN: Is it hard?

FRISELL: It is - for me (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL SONG, "BONANZA")

MARTIN: It sounds like you are at a particularly reflective moment, where you're kind of looking back. You're trying to figure out how it is you became who are you and the kind of music that you make. What'd you find out?

FRISELL: Well, it's not like I want to go backwards so much. I'm also looking for, maybe, some keys to some mystery about - what was it when, you know, the first time I heard some of these song? - or the first time you hear something extraordinary, something new and something amazing. Like, what made that thing work?

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL SONG)

MARTIN: Guitarist and composer Bill Frisell. He joined us from the studios of KUOW in Seattle. His new album is called "When You Wish Upon A Star."

Bill, thanks so much for talking with us. It's been great.

FRISELL: Oh, thank you. Thanks for listening.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.