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.
Born in Tacoma, Washington May 6, 1942, he was raised in Seattle, though his first exposure to jazz music was at the age of 5 years in Spokane, Washington hearing in his home a friend of his sister Diane playing Boogie Woogie on his family’s upright piano. After this individual left the home, David went to the piano and tried to emulate what he had just heard…thus his musical career had just begun. His sister Diane played the piano and for many years growing up, together they would play four handed piano and spent many evenings playing the piano and singing. His parents Ben and Clara Friesen were not professional musicians, but his mother had played C Melody saxophone as a child and his father had a beautiful singing voice...especially at church David could hear his father’s beautiful voice harmonizing with the congregation when they would sing hymns. Far removed from the music world, His mother was a professional bowler and his father was a Life Insurance executive. However, both his parents supported his love for music and made it possible for David to explore music on many different instruments. His sister Diane’s love for the movies and acting as a child, eventually led her into a very successful career as an actress, her name known as Dyan Cannon .
David began playing the ukulele and the accordion at 10, and a guitar professionally at 16.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 Jerry Heldman.
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 stool, cello-style.
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 Union.
David Friesen has recorded over 80 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, Czech Republic, Ukraine, New Zealand, Australia, China, Nigeria and South America.
David has three children, he was married in May 1964 to Kirsten Friesen for 58 years until Kirsten’s demise on February 19, 2022. He has since been remarried to Natalie Digtyar (Friesen), a fashion designer from the Czech Republic.
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.
Photo: Wolfgang Voglhuber