Performance Friday, November 4, 2011 | 10 PM

Bill Frisell / Bill Morrison
The Great Flood

Zankel Hall
The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was an epic disaster, wreaking horrible havoc on an entire region of our country and displacing thousands, including scores of Delta blues performers who took their music north to cities like Chicago. Composed by jazz great Bill Frisell, The Great Flood is an evening-long suite accompanied by Bill Morrison’s film that tells the story of these musicians and how their migration transformed American music forever.


  • Bill Frisell, Guitar
  • Ron Miles, Trumpet
  • Tony Scherr, Bass
  • Kenny Wollesen, Drums


  • BILL FRISELL The Great Flood
    (NY Premiere, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall)
    Film by Bill Morrison
    Music by Bill Frisell


  • Bill Frisell

    Bill Frisell's career as a guitarist and composer has spanned more than 35 years and 250 recordings, including 40 albums of his own. His most recent albums include Sign of Life with the 858 Quartet, his trio recording Beautiful Dreamers, and his new collection of interpretations of the music of John Lennon, entitled All We Are Saying ... He has collaborated with a wide range of artists, filmmakers, and legendary musicians, but it is his work as a leader that has garnered increasing attention and accolades. 

    Frisell's recorded output spans a wide-ranging wellspring of musical expression-from original Buster Keaton film scores to arrangements of music for extended ensembles with horns and strings (the Grammy-nominated History/Mystery and the Grammy-winning Unspeakable, Blues Dream, and This Land); interpretations of work by other classic and contemporary American composers (Have a Little Faith); and collaborations with the acclaimed rhythm section of bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Jim Keltner (Gone, Just Like a Train and Good Dog, HappyMan). Other releases include an album with Nashville musicians (Nashville), the solo album Ghost Town, an album of his own arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach (The Sweetest Punch), two trio albums with jazz legends (one with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, and one with Ron Carter and Paul Motian), and a collection of traditional American folk songs and original compositions that they inspired (The Willies). The Grammy-nominated The Intercontinentals combines Frisell's own brand of American-roots music with the influences of Brazilian, Greek, and Malian sounds. His album Disfarmer was inspired by the work of the mid-century rural Arkansas photographer Mike Disfarmer.

    Frisell's collaborations that involve film include prior works with Bill Morrison (The Film of Her and The Mesmerist), and with the cartoonists Gary Larson and Jim Woodring. He has also contributed to a project inspired by the painter Gerhard Richter.

    In 2006, Frisell was named a Rasmuson Foundation USA Fellow. He is also a recipient of grants from Meet The Composer and National Performance Network.

    Bill Morrison

    Bill Morrison's films and multimedia environments have been presented in festivals, theaters, museums, and concert halls worldwide. His work often combines archival material with original footage to create unique visual tapestries that are set to contemporary music. He has collaborated with some of the most influential composers of our time, including John Adams, Laurie Anderson, Gavin Bryars, Dave Douglas, Michael Gordon, Henryk Górecki, Vijay Iyer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Steve Reich, and Simon Christensen.

    Morrison is a Guggenheim Fellow and has received an Alpert Award in the Arts, an NEA Creativity Grant, a Creative Capital Grant, and a fellowship from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. His work with Ridge Theater has been recognized with two New York Dance and Performance Awards and an Obie Award.

    Morrison's recent work includes Spark of Being (2010) with a soundtrack by Douglas, The Miners' Hymns (2011) with a soundtrack by Jóhannsson, and TRIBUTES-Pulse (2011) with a soundtrack by Christensen. Decasia, his 2002 feature-length collaboration with Michael Gordon, is one of the most acclaimed avant-garde films in recent decades.

    Morrison first met Bill Frisell while working in the kitchen of the Village Vanguard in the early 1990s. The Great Flood is their third collaboration together, and their first evening-length project.

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  • Ron Miles

    A Denver native, trumpet and cornet player Ron Miles has played with Bill Frisell in a number of recorded and live performances: as part of his current quintet and the celebrated quartet of the mid-1990s, in collaborative multimedia pieces along with artist Jim Woodring (Mysterio Sympatico and Probability Cloud), in his septet, and with the group that interpreted his arrangements of songs by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. Miles has appeared on several recordings, including Blues Dream, Quartet, and The Sweetest Punch. He has recorded as a leader for two releases: Woman's Day and My Cruel Heart. More recently, he recorded a CD entitled Heaven-a duo recording on which Frisell is his guest-as well as Laughing Barrel and Stone/Blossom with his quartet, featuring Brandon Ross, Anthony Cox, and Rudy Royston. Miles also plays with clarinetist Don Byron and vocalist Madeleine Peyroux, and he has worked with drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Charlie Hunter. When not on the road, he serves as coordinator of jazz studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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  • Tony Scherr

    Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Tony Scherr is one of the most in-demand sidemen in New York City. As a bassist, guitarist, and singer, he has worked with many ensembles, including the Bill Frisell Trio, Sexmob, John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, Willie Nelson, Rickie Lee Jones, Ani DiFranco, Jason Collett (Broken Social Scene), Rufus Wainwright, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Jesse Harris, Richard Julian, Sasha Dobson, Shawn Colvin, The Abrams Brothers, and Teddy Thompson.

    Scherr has made two records of his own music entitled Come Around (2001) and Twist in the Wind (2008). His current band, the Tony Scherr Trio (with drummer Anton Fier and bassist Rob Jost), has been playing various steady Monday-night residencies in New York City since 2006. The band currently plays Mondays at The Living Room, where it recently recorded a live album.

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  • Kenny Wollesen

    A ubiquitous presence in the New York downtown scene, drummer Kenny Wollesen's latest projects include collaborating with Cyro Baptista on The Sound of Community project, playing bass drum with the marching band Himalayas, playing vibraphone in a plethora of John Zorn bands, and playing drums regularly with Sexmob, Love Trio, Bill Frisell, and U-Roy. Wollesen is a founding member of Wollesonic Laboratories.


"Benny's Bugle"
Bill Frisell

About the Program

The Great Flood is a film-music collaboration by Bill Morrison and Bill Frisell, based on and inspired by the catastrophic Mississippi River Flood of 1927 and the ensuing transformation of American society.

The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in American history. In the spring of 1927, the river broke out of its earthen embankments in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles. Part of its legacy was the forced exodus of displaced sharecroppers, who left plantation life and migrated to northern cities, adapting to an industrial society with its own set of challenges. Musically, this Great Migration fueled the evolution of acoustic blues (including artists who witnessed the flood, such as Charley Patton and his “High Water Everywhere,” as well as Memphis Minnie and her “When the Levee Breaks”) to electric blues bands that thrived in cities like Memphis, Detroit, and Chicago, becoming the wellspring for R&B and rock, as well as developing jazz styles.

Frisell has drawn upon his wide musical palette, informed by elements of American-roots music and refracted through his uniquely evocative approach, which highlights essential qualities of his thematic focus. Morrison’s work is based on actual footage of the 1927 flood, including source material from the Fox Movietone Newsreel Archive and the National Archives. All footage documenting this catastrophe was shot on volatile nitrate stock, and what footage remains is pock-marked and partially deteriorated. The degraded footage figures prominently in Morrison’s aesthetic, with distorted images emerging from nitrate prints that suggest different planes of reality in the story—those lived, dreamt, or remembered. In The Great Flood, the bubbles and washes of decaying footage are associated with the destructive force of rising water, the footage seeming to have been bathed in the same water as the images depicted on it. These layers of visual information, paired with Frisell’s music, become contemporary again. We see the images through a prism of history—but one that dances with the sound of modern music.
Program Notes
This performance is part of Signatures.

Part of