Preview: Jazz guitarist and band come together to play a Beatle's music

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Guitarist Bill Frisell's most recent appearance in Pittsburgh, in 2007, was as part of a three-guitar act with Earl Klugh and Russell Malone.

Saturday, in a concert co-presented by MCG Jazz at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts on the Fox Chapel campus of Shady Side Academy, he's taking on another challenge: reinterpreting the songs of John Lennon.

'Bill Frisell Explores the Music of John Lennon'

Where: Hillman Center for Performing Arts, Shady Side Academy, Fox Chapel.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $45, 412-322-0800, or 412-968-3040.

Well, perhaps that won't be so much of a challenge, as he and his band have been doing just that for the past two years, since his album "All We Are Saying, Frisell Plays Lennon" was released.

"We're approaching them the same way we play a standard song, [and] I can't really improve upon that -- they're deceptively simple," Mr. Frisell says.

Because he does come out of the jazz tradition, Mr. Frisell says he has been known to reinterpret, say, Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk. However, what makes this project daunting is that the general public, not just his hard-core fans, knows the material.

"The audience knows what the words are -- I don't think I've done anything where the audience is that familiar," he says. "It's not usually the case with other music that I've played. I never spent all that much time with all this other music."

Mr. Frisell, 62, who grew up in the Denver area and lives in Seattle, says he was inspired to take up the guitar by seeing the Beatles during that iconic appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

"It's music that's been around my own life, but I realized that I never really played it," he says.

Mr. Frisell's quintet includes violinist Jenny Scheinman, pedal steel and acoustic guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen.

"We've all been playing together for many years," Mr. Frisell says. "When we did the record it felt so good, [and] we already had our own language playing as a group."

As for the actual material, "I tried to cover the whole life in music -- 'Across the Universe,' 'Beautiful Boy,' " he says. "I tried to cover his latest things as well."

On the other hand, "I didn't want to reharmonize things or change the music," Mr. Frisell says. "What's interesting for me is that everyone in the band has their own relationship with these songs. It's more the way we play together."


Rick Nowlin: or 412-263-3871.


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