Though he is now living in the Southwest, Tucson, AZ to be exact, guitarist Michael Friedmann grew up locally, graduating from Bellows Falls Union High School. He also began his musical career here and was involved with several Southern Vermont bands before moving to Tucson to work for, and get a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, at the University of Arizona, where he has been a sign language interpreter since 1996.
Michael has recently completed a new CD, Stuck in Samsara, available on CD Baby, and will be back in the region performing this summer. An old friend, I've known Michael and his family for many years, and have heard him play numerous times with several different bands over the years. We share a mutual interest in a wide range of music, and when he's in the area, usually get out to listen to some live music.
Michael started singing as a kid, with his first school performance at Bellows Falls Middle School. He started playing guitar at about 15, and notes his earliest influences as Simon and Garfunkle, The Beatles, Billy Joel, Hall and Oates and Elton John.
"I don't claim to sound like any of these people (or to be Buddhist)," he said of his influences. "Stuff goes in, stuff comes out. They say great artists don't borrow ideas from other artists, they steal them. That sounds about right to me."
He's long had an interest in Buddhism. and studied a lot of martial arts, in particular aikido and tae kwondo.
When asked about the new CD, he said it was hard to categorize it.
"I'm always at a loss to describe the new CD," he said. "Someone recently called it jazz. I think the term has become meaningless. I'm saying this is the way a jazz musician would play pop music. It's singer songwriter. Brooding. Moody. I'm kind of envisioning the album as a story. A collection of stories. The vicissitudes of life. Loss, regret, pain. redemption?"
The CD shows Friedmann's wide range of influences from 20-some years of making music.
"The Twine was my big deal in Vermont," he said, "a band that was as influenced by Dada as Stevie Ray Vaughn. (Jazz guitarist) Draa Hobbes was and continues to be my main teacher. Ed Lopata was the first guy to start me out on jazz though. "
While at ASU, Friedmann performed with guest artists such as Linda Ronstadt, Jamie Aebersold, Emil Richards, Paul Horn, Armand Donelian, and Abe Most. He studied under Tucson jazzman Jeffrey Haskell, and has gone to school with and/or performed with nearly all of the jazz musicians in Tucson.
When asked about his songwriting, Michael was his usual thoughtful self in answering.
"Songwriting is a curious thing," he said. "Sometimes it all comes out in a flow. Sometimes a song takes months or even years of reworking to come to fruition. What chords will best support this melody? What lyrics will best fit the number of syllables for that measure? How can I best paint this picture?
"Songs are just pieces of things put together, and yet they are something more once they achieve their wholeness. People often ask what or who a song is about. Sometimes I really don't know.
"Sometimes the song isn't particularly mysterious, so there's nothing to ask. But most of the time I'm more interested in what it means to the listener. Sure I have my own connections to the songs, but what do they conjure up in you?
"I had a rather provincial friend who listened to some of the demo versions of my songs for Stuck in Samsara. He said they left him disturbed. He said a lot of stuff like that. I said, 'Good.' I hope the songs are evocative."
From the storytelling in Van Buren, 3a.m. to the dark confessions in Love is Suicide, it's clear Friedmann's songwriting has taken on the mature mantle of a man facing mid-life, but he adds a caveat.
"I think it's tempting to think in literal terms," he said of the songs. "To me a lot of the songs are metaphorical. Maybe they have more meaning if you think of them that way."
Clips and lyrics from the new CD are available at www.mfriedmann.com, where you can also purchase the new album.