In time for downbeat: Jazz record designer Jack Frisch hosts new jazz show on Valley Free Radio to ‘get the music out there’
|Published: 02-01-2024 3:13 PM
Back in the 1980s, Jack Frisch, then in his early twenties, got bitten pretty hard by the jazz bug, taking the ferry from his home in Staten Island, New York, over to Manhattan with some friends and haunting record shops.
His interest had been generated in part by seeing the legendary bassist and composer Jaco Pastorius perform in the city — and by some quirk of fate, says Frisch, he and a friend ran into Pastorius in lower Manhattan maybe a week later after buying a bunch of his albums. Pastorius chatted with them and signed all of Frisch’s record sleeves.
“That moment has stayed with me all these years,” Frisch, who now lives in Hatfield, said during a recent phone call. “I met a legend, he was really gracious to us, and that’s kind of what led me to where I am today.”
Where he is today: Frisch has spent some 27 years in the jazz business, designing CD packages, websites, press kits, photography and more for hundreds of jazz artists, running a transport business for musicians, and in recent years serving as art director for the Syracuse Jazz Festival.
Now, a couple of years after moving his base of operations from New York to western Massachusetts, Frisch has another gig going. He’s started a weekly jazz show, “The Downbeat,” on Valley Free Radio (WXOJ-LP) in Florence that’s built around classic and modern jazz, interviews, info on new album releases — and a solid dose of sounds from Valley jazz players.
“I’ve really been impressed by what I’ve heard since I moved up here,” said Frisch, 58. “There are a lot of talented musicians in this area, and I want to let people know about them by playing their music and talking to them.”
And, he added, “I want the musicians to know that this is an outlet for them.”
A recent broadcast of “The Downbeat,” which airs Tuesdays from 2 to 4 p.m., included cuts by Andy Jaffe, the Franklin County pianist, composer and bandleader, and Claire Arenius, the veteran drummer, composer and educator who teaches at Amherst College.
Along with that were performances by classic names such as the Chet Baker Quartet, Bill Evans, and a duet by Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery, as well as work by more contemporary ensembles such as the Dave Wilson Quartet.
That particular show was built around the theme of winter, Frisch noted, and he has plans for producing other shows along thematic lines, with perhaps some devoted entirely to Valley players.
He got his first good look at this region two years ago, as part of the transport business he formed in the late 1990s to take musicians and instruments to and from gigs and recording sessions. In this case, he drove Freddie Bryant, a New York guitarist (and Amherst College graduate) and some of his ensemble to a show at the Bombyx Center in Florence.
“We all had a great time at the gig,” he said. “I met some other folks at Bombyx, and I could tell right away that this was a rich arts community.”
Since Frisch also has some clients in Vermont, he decided to set up shop here, while also maintaining a home on Staten Island.
What comes through in talking to Frisch is his blazing enthusiasm for jazz and so many of the artists he’s worked with over the years. He doesn’t evangelize about it, but he says he’d like to demystify some of the more intricate parts of the music for more casual fans.
“I’ve been at enough shows to see when people who maybe aren’t as familiar with [jazz] aren’t sure how to react to a solo or a part of the music that really gets other people excited,” he said. “I’ve seen that look on their faces … I want to break though that barrier, introduce people” to the music.
His enthusiasm stems from his sense of being “just really, really fortunate that I’ve been able to make a life out of this, to find a niche that lets me have a career that’s built on my passion for the music.”
Frisch explains that his earliest interest in jazz was initially sparked by his teenage love of The Doors, the late 60s rockers whose sinuous, organ-driven sound was influenced in part by jazz. He was particularly drawn to the extended organ and guitar instrumental in “Light My Fire” and the jazz-flavored drumming of John Densmore.
“I thought ‘Where can I find more of that sound?’” he said.
That search brought him to groups like Weather Report, the jazz fusion band of the 1970s and 1980s — the late Jaco Pastorius was a member at one point — and guitarist Pat Metheny. From there he began investigating the full depths of jazz.
His friendly meeting with Pastorius led him in late 1997 to mail Hiram Bullock, a jazz fusion/funk guitarist he admired — Bullock was part of the band in the early days of “The David Letterman Show” and was an in-demand session player who recorded with a wide range of jazz and pop artists — some mock-ups for posters.
Frisch at the time was designing magazine ads for a chain of electronic stores in the Northeast, and he says he also had layout experience from designing and publishing his high school newspaper.
He met Bullock about a month later after one of his gigs, and not long after that Bullock asked him to design not posters but rather a website for him — one with a black background that Frisch says became very popular, developing a “cult following … this was still in the early days of websites.”
That was the start of a deep friendship Frisch developed with the late Bullock, who died in 2008, as well as the beginning of Frisch’s design business, Upright Graphics.
“Hiram really put me on the map,” he said. “I started hearing from so many people in the industry after that … I learned a lot about jazz from him.”
Among his many clients over the years has been the producer and composer Marcus Miller, who won a 2001 Grammy Award for his album “M2,” the art for which Frisch designed. Frisch has won recognition for a number of his other CD package designs, and he’s also a voting member of the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which issues the Grammy Awards.
His deep connections to jazz can be seen in a couple of other ways: He’s been playing and studying the fretless bass for some time, and so far he’s drawn almost exclusively on his own extensive CD collection for his “Downbeat” playlists.
Valley Free Radio has access to plenty of streaming music, Frisch said with a laugh, “but I can cover the bases pretty well on my own.”
He’s hoping that as “The Downbeat” attracts a wider audience, he can draw on his experience and connections in jazz to feature a range of interviews with musicians — live and remote, local and more far-flung — as well as publicize upcoming performances by Valley players, while delving into ever-deeper styles of jazz.
“I really want to get the music out there,” he said.
Players interested in having their music broadcast on “The Downbeat” can contact Frisch at email@example.com.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.