Improvisations and Inspirations: Interview with Multi-Instrumentalist Fred Frith

CMA Concerts at Transformer Station presents Fred Frith live on Friday, February 28.


Fred Frith is a songwriter, composer, improviser, and multi-instrumentalist. He learned his craft as both improviser and composer playing in rock bands, notably Henry Cow, and creating music in the recording studio. Much of his composition output has been commissioned by choreographers and filmmakers, but his work has also been performed by Ensemble Modern, Hieronymus Firebrain, Arditti Quartet, Ground Zero, Robert Wyatt, Bang on a Can All Stars, Concerto Köln, and Rova Sax Quartet, among many others. He continues to perform internationally, most recently with Lotte Anker, Evelyn Glennie, Chris Cutler, John Zorn, Eye to Ear (a septet performing selections from his film music) and his latest band, Cosa Brava, whose first CD—Ragged Atlas—was released in 2010 to critical acclaim.

Enthusiastically, he records and performs all over the world with icons of contemporary music. He is currently leading the Gravity Band, Eye to Ear (his film music group), and Cosa Brava, whose second CD—The Letter—was released to critical acclaim in 2012.

Frith will perform in Cleveland on Friday, February 28. The event is part of the CMA Concerts at Transformer Station series, which strives to showcase eclectic and adventurous music from around the world in the Hingetown arts venue. Before his performance, he took some time out to chat with us his inspirations and improvisations.

CMA: You have been creating music now for nearly five decades. What first prompted you to start writing music and performing?

Fred Frith: Actually, I’ve been creating music for more like six decades, because I started when I was about 5: there was a grand piano at home, and I started violin lessons at that age, and I was part of a family for which music-making seemed to be considered a normal every day activity. No prompting necessary!

Your music has bridged across so many genres. Is that something you purposely set out to do or would you consider that the result of your musical improvisation?

When I was growing up we competed for time at the gramophone, and everyone had different tastes. My father listened to Britten and Delius, and played Bach and Chopin and Debussy on the piano. My oldest brother Chris introduced me to jazz, folk and Blues music, including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Alexis Korner, and Django Reinhardt. Simon meanwhile was a pop fanatic, so I could hear Johnny Ray and Bobby Vee and Elvis Presley, we’re talking about late 50s and early 60s of course. All in all it’s hardly surprising that genres don’t represent barriers for me, but opportunities. It’s just the way I grew up.

Your musical discography is nearly endless, and you even have a record label devoted just to your early work. How do you stay inspired after already creating so much?

The thing is I never think much about what I’ve already done, because I’m busy dealing with what I’m going to be doing next. I don’t think it’s so much about inspiration as it is about respiration – from my point of view it’s like breathing.

We've read that you are currently teaching music at two different universities. Do you ever bring your real-life experiences into the classroom?

That would be hard to avoid don’t you think? My value to my students rests on who I am and what I’ve done, and what I’ve learned along the way. They take on whatever seems useful to them, and question what doesn’t, which is the way it should be.

Music is an art form that the Cleveland Museum of Art celebrates. What do you hope for audience members to come away with after seeing you perform at Transformer Station next week?

The feeling that we are alive in this moment, together, and everything is possible. Or at least, not having a splitting headache.


See Fred Frith at Transformer Station this Friday, February 28: Tickets are $20 ($18 for CMA members) and available online, at the Cleveland Museum of Art box office, and Transformer Station. Please be advised seating is very limited. 


> Learn more about this show

> Buy tickets

> About this City Stages Concert Series

> The New York Times review: Fred Frith (2014) 

> Listen to Fred Frith on Spotify:


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