Anyone acquainted with David Friesen’s exceptional music quickly thinks of his creative universe. Ocean-deep in his sensitivity to the human spirit, Friesen is compassionate and his music founded on integrity and the pursuit of excellence.
He began playing the ukulele and the accordion at 10, and a guitar professionally at 16. Born in Tacoma, Washington May 6, 1942, he was raised in Seattle. Friesen’s first exposure to jazz was Slim Gaillard in an L.A. club when he was underage and playing guitar.
At 19, while stationed with the U.S. Army in Paris, he sat in with George Arvanitas, Johnny Griffin and Art Taylor. Then, in Copenhagen, he gigged with drummer Dick Berk and met Ted Curson in 1961. Back in the U.S., he became committed to the bass in 1964, practicing about ten hours a day. He was jamming in Seattle with local musicians – Larry Coryell and Randy Brecker were among his young compatriots – at such places as the Penthouse, where Miles, Coltrane and Bill Evans would perform; David would play opposite them and occasionally sat in with the visiting giants. Also, for two years Friesen played piano and bass at a coffee house called the llahngaelhyn owned by bassist Jerry Heldman.
David Friesen playing his Hemage Bass. Photo by Watzek Photografie. After a long tenure touring with Elmer Gill, who played with Charlie Parker and the Lionel Hampton band; Friesen opened his own coffee house in 1973 in Portland where he and his family make their home. Word began to circulate and his gigs assumed a different perspective as he hooked up with John Handy and others. Jazz education also entered his sphere of interest, and he became a faculty member of the National Stage Band Camps for a couple of summers working with Marian McPartland, John La Porta, Phil Wilson, and the Jamey Aebersold combo clinics.
Joe Henderson was his next association, which was followed by a 1975 summer tour of Europe with the Billy Harper Quintet. This tour opened new doors and led to stints with Stan Getz, Sam Rivers, Kenny Drew, George Adams and Danny Richmond (records with the latter three), and concerts with Dexter Gordon and Mose Allison. Then in 1976-77, he joined Ted Curson, who showcased Friesen’s solo bass work and gave him more visibility in the jazzscape.
I first became acquainted with Friesen’s gifts at a very moving, successful clinic the Curson group gave to the jazz studies students at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I was on the faculty in 1977. Then at the 1977 Monterey Jazzfest … Friesen captured the entire audience of more than 7,000 as he opened the festival with a bass solo – sitting on a drum stool, cello-style.
With barely half of 1977 gone, Friesen was joined by the imaginative young guitarist John Stowell; together they geographically dotted the West Coast from B.C. to L.A. with performances and clinics, garnering more fans along the way.
Musical associations with legendary pianist Mal Waldron and f lutist Paul Horn resulted in duet albums with each man, and several concert tours in Europe and America. In August of 1983, Friesen accompanied Paul Horn on a historic 4 week, 18 concert tour of the Soviet Union.
David Friesen has recorded over 65 CD’s as a leader/ co-leader and appeared as a sideman or featured artist on more than 100 recordings. He has performed and/ or recorded with many of the great names and legends of jazz including: Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Sam Rivers, Michael Brecker, Bud Shank, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Freddy Hubbard, Art Farmer, Clark Terry, Joe Venuti, Mal Waldron, Jaki Byard, Kenny Drew Sr., Chick Corea, Milt Jackson, Slim Gaillard, John Scofield, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Paul Motian, Jack Dejohnette, Airto Moreira, and many others. He has performed in concert as a soloist (Friesen is one of two or three bassists in the world that is able to play a solo concert and keep an audience riveted) and with his own groups throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Turkey, Poland, Japan, Australia and South America.
Friesen’s music, which is imbued with certain ingredients of jazz, is also characterized by folk-flavored things and classical and Jewish veins with substantial spontaneity, lyrical strength, warmth and creative discoveries in the musical wilderness.