Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bill Frisell Solo on "I Got Rhythm"

"I Got Rhythm" - Bill Frisell Solo - PDF

So one of the main reasons I started this blog was to get myself transcribing solos again.  In the course of searching the internet I've found there to be a lack of transcriptions of one of my favorite guitarists: Bill Frisell.  I understand he is not a house-hold name, but he is definitely respected and admired within music circles.  He goes from playing on Norah Jones albums to the avant-garde side with the likes of John Zorn.  But he is probably best known for his spacey "Americana-Jazz" approach that makes his playing and composing very personal.  His phrasing can be minimal like Miles Davis, yet with folky string-bends and a fondness for lyrical melodies.  Sometimes I think of him as a love child of Davis and Bob Dylan.  :)

If you've never heard him, please check him out.  For guitarists out there, Frisell is not a technical-phenom.  So if you're only looking for that, you'll be disappointed.  One of his attractions I believe is that it seems like he experiences an almost child-like joy every time he plucks a note on the guitar.  He plays with his mind and heart open all the time, and it can be just plain fun to listen to.  He'll try whatever comes to mind.  I like that long as you know what your surroundings are.  Obviously, he stays more "in the box" on a Norah Jones recording than he would playing a be-bop tune.  (This makes me wanna go off on a tangent...which I won't, I'll just make it another post.)

After reading through some forums there seemed to be others like me.  Those who love listening to Frisell, but never took the time to sit down and learn a solo of his.  I think I know why.  His playing is so much about phrasing, tone and atmosphere.  So just by listening you feel like you get an idea of what he does.  It's more mindset than finger-practicing.  Well, I finally finished my first transcription and I thought I'd share it.

This Frisell solo comes off a Paul Motian album of standards called On Broadway, Vol. 2.  The reason I chose their performance of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" is simply because I was curious to hear what Frisell would do over rhythm changes.  (For those who aren't familiar, "rhythm changes" is the term used to label the chord progression and form of "I Got Rhythm."  Google it for more info)  Any student learning jazz or improv from High School on up either learns to love or hate these chord changes.  I don't HATE them, but I quickly realized that I usually don't enjoy improvising over them.  So that was another reason for choosing this song: to get myself playing over rhythm changes again (at least for a little bit).

Anyway, enough yada-yada-yada, take a look either from the .pdf file above (it'll show it to you in Google Docs) or you can click on the .jpgs below...

(Oh, the chords I listed are just examples of the traditional changes.  The Ebm7 is commonly replaced with either Ab7 or Edim7, among others)

Frisell grew up learning the language of be-bop, yet over the years he chose not to follow the typical approach (some may call it a "trap) too many players take (or fall into).  He doesn't feel the need to outline every chord.  He allows his playing to breathe.  Something we guitar players tend to forget about since we don't use our mouth to produce sound (like singers, trumpets, saxes, etc).

You notice that in the beginning he is thinking most in terms of the key of Bb, than individual chords.  If you want to be specific: Bb Mixolydian (Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab) with the use of the raised 2nd (or minor 3rd).  Immediately, the sound is very bluesy.  In the second line, he then outlines the chromatic movement in the harmony.  Something he continues throughout the solo.  You could argue he doesn't show any "bop lines"until measures 11-12.  The B natural comes from thinking G7 (instead of Gm7, a common substitution) and the F-E-Eb at the end of the F7 chord is one of the most common jazz movements over any Dominant 7 chord.  (Start at the root and go: 1-7-b7-9-6-5.  That's like riff #3 on the first page of How to Improv: A Guide to Make You Hopelessly Believe That You Can Sound Like Charlie Parker)  I could probably write another 2-3 paragraphs analyzing his solo, but I won't bore ya.

I tried to make this transcription as accurate as I could.  Again, sorry this isn't in TAB.  If you listen to the recording, you'll heard that he uses his volume knob during the solo.  There are a couple nice 1/2-step bends as well.  I notated those with the little bracket thingy.  My favorite lick of the solo is on the second page.  It occurs at the beginning of the second B section, over the D7.  If you want something to practice in all twelve keys, that would be the one!

I hope this interests some people and that you can take something new out of it.  Enjoy, and thanks for reading!


  1. Nice transcription, I love Frisell. I just came upon your blog through the forum at I will be adding a link to your blog from mine. If you like, you can check out my blog which is also music related at

  2. Hey thanks man! I'll definitely check yours out.

  3. So great! John, thanks so much for the transcription!