In the Concert Hall: Film, music come to life in Aspen

Sam Johnston
In the Concert Hall

I consider myself an expert in a handful of things. For example, I make the best guacamole you’ll ever eat. And I am a breakfast-burrito aficionado (I think I’ve tried every one in town). I also am very good at Pac-Man. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up with an appropriate appreciation of music or independent film. To be clear, I listened to a lot of music, but it was mostly the kind of stuff that would cause the eyes of someone like Bill Frisell to roll backward in his head.

When I got an invitation to attend a screening of Bill Morrison’s “The Great Flood,” with a live score played by legendary jazz guitarist Frisell and His Friends, you can understand how I thought that perhaps tickets to such an event would be wasted on me. In a speech he gave the night before, Neil Karbank referenced late Aspen Times Arts and Entertainment Editor Stewart Oksenhorn’s summary of his first Frisell performance as “stupendous.”

I’ll summarize my experience: pure, unadulterated magic.

The film is a look at the Mississippi River flood of 1927 through Morrison’s breathtaking compilation of footage from old newsreels. The film, which has no spoken words, was brought to life by music in a way that can only be felt. There are no words to describe the emotions that Frisell’s music coaxed out of me. I was heartbroken and happy and overwhelmed and encouraged all at once. Certain pieces brought tears to my eyes, while others made me want to stand up and dance. And I learned more about a slice of American history in 75 minutes than I learned in a lifetime prior.

As I walked home that night, I thought two things. First, how lucky I am to I live in a place where watching an independent film with a live score is even a possibility. And second, how lucky I am that I experienced art that forever changed my perspective about independent film, about music and about history.

I was so excited about my experience that I promptly tweeted a one-liner about the magical evening. Unfortunately, the @BillFrisell I added prompted him to retweet it. In most cases, that would be awesome. In this case, I pushed “send” without a good look, and I typed “scored” instead of “score” in reference to what Frisell and his band played. What’s more disappointing than a sloppy tweet is that I’m afraid Frisell might not have understood the true impact his music made.

It was pure, unadulterated magic.