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
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
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
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.
Dr. Herb Wong/Jazz Times
Photo: Wolfgang Voglhuber