May 23, 2024

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CD review: Bill Frisell & Mary Halvorson – The Maid With The Flaxen Hair: A Tribute To Johnny Smith 2018: Video

Mary Halvorson is one of the most acclaimed guitarists of her generation – a virtuoso improviser, distinctive composer, arranger and a deep student of the jazz guitar.

Here she joins forces with living legend Bill Frisell to pay tribute to Johnny Smith, a guitarist who has been a huge influence on them both. Performing nine ballads associated with Smith and his classic composition “Walk Don’t Run”, this is an essential CD of soulful guitar duets by two of the most beloved and original guitarists in modern jazz. A beautiful CD of ballads like you have never heard them before!

Guitarists Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell have two of the most distinctive musical voices of their respective generations. Each has found a rare and unparalleled way of approaching the instrument, with such unique approaches to melody, harmony, and their respective sounds, and it’s no surprise that they’ve both inspired the future of guitar music. At the impetus of composer and Tzadik records proprietor John Zorn, Halvorson and Frisell teamed up to pay tribute to another guitar iconoclast, Johnny Smith, with their new duo record, The Maid With The Flaxen Hair.

Johnny Smith was one of the biggest voices in jazz guitar in the 1950s. Known for his lyrical lines and intricately voiced chord melodies, Smith worked with big names of the day like Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton, and spent time as a staff guitarist with NBC. On his own records, Smith covered a wide range of material, from pop hits to folk songs and jazz standards. His 1952 take on “Moonlight in Vermont” was one of the best-selling jazz singles of that year, though it’s his 1954 original composition “Walk Don’t Run” for which he may be most widely known, after it was popularly covered twice by The Ventures.

Poised to be one of the most well-known voices in jazz guitar, Smith left New York to raise his daughter in Colorado after his wife died during childbirth. In Colorado, Smith ran a music store, performed locally, and continued to design signature model guitars for Guild, Gibson, and Heritage. It was in Colorado where Smith and Bill Frisell would cross paths, when Frisell briefly studied with him at the University of Northern Colorado.

Johnny Smith

On The Maid With The Flaxen Hair, Halvorson and Frisell have created a detail-oriented record that finds two masters of the instrument performing reverent arrangements of material associated with Smith. They bring their own voices to the music, creating a bridge between three generations of transformative guitarists. Halvorson and Frisell each took time to discuss their experience making The Maid With The Flaxen Hair, their process working together, and their personal experiences with Johnny Smith and his music.

1 Moonlight in Vermont (6:03)
2 The Maid With the Flaxen Hair (8:12)
3 Scarlet Ribbons for Her Hair (3:15)
4 In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (4:33)
5 Shenandoah (3:30)
6 The Nearness of You (4:26)
7 Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair (3:25)
8 Old Folks (3:18)
9 Misty (2:56)
10 Walk Don’t Run (2:28)

Bill Frisell: Guitar
Mary Halvorson: Guitar

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