Bill Frisell on Ginger Baker: “Nobody sounded like that”

The Jazz guitarist remembers the influential drummer.

Ginger Baker
Image: Jan Persson / Getty

Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, speaking to Rolling Stone, reminisced that “nobody sounded” like the late Ginger Baker, who died on Sunday at the age of 80.

Frisell went on to describe what made Baker’s sound so unique to him: “It wasn’t how the drums were tuned or anything, but it was that touch, and the way he placed the beat; the feel of it was so extraordinary. If you had told me then that someday I would actually be playing with him, I would never have believed you.”

The pair played together in The Ginger Baker Trio, alongside bassist Charlie Haden, releasing Going Back Home in 1994 and Falling off the Roof in 1996.

Baker was noted for his cantankerous personality – Frisell described his meeting with Baker in the studio as gruff and awkward – yet it’s clear this didn’t come through when Baker was drumming: “we start playing, and suddenly it was just like three guys playing, and he just started smiling. It’s just incredible what music does. However many years ago this was – 25 years, I can’t believe it’s that long – it was just this instant bonding; an understanding [and] the way music just breaks down any kind of barrier. And there was this joy.”

In Frisell’s view, Baker was more sensitive than he might have seemed on the surface: “to me, his gruffness was more of a protective shell. What I was seeing was this true love of the music, and you can’t play like that if you’re not sensitive.”

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Frisell is just one of the many musicians Baker had a profound impact on – even outside of their collaboration, Baker’s distinct, innovative style captivated people across his career, and had a great influence on jazz and rock players.

Listen to The Ginger Baker Trio’s music below:

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