Bill Morrison and Bill Frisell: The Great Flood

January 21, 2022 7:30 PM

The Great Flood is a collaboration between filmmaker and multimedia artist Bill Morrison and guitarist and composer Bill Frisell inspired by the 1927 catastrophe. Many consider the flooding of the Mississippi Delta in 1927, which left 27,000 square miles of land underwater, to be the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States.  Part of its legacy was the forced exodus of displaced sharecroppers who left plantation life and migrated to Northern cities, adapting to an industrial society with its own set of challenges.  Musically, the Great Migration fueled the evolution of acoustic blues to electric blues bands that thrived in cities like Memphis, Detroit, and Chicago, becoming the wellspring for R&B and rock as well as developing jazz styles.

These events are reflected in Morrison’s film The Great Flood, a cinematic elegy based on archival photographs and newsreels and focused on ordinary people and their ability to adapt under extraordinary circumstances.  Frisell’s score is informed by elements of American roots music, mixing rock and country, jazz and blues.  Morrison’s projected film is accompanied by live performance of Frisell on guitar, Tony Scherr on bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums, and Ron Miles on trumpet.  Together, historic imagery dances with the sound of modern music.

"[The Great Flood] would be a memorable drama even played in total silence. Guitarist Bill Frisell's live soundtrack of howling blues chords, Thelonious Monk hooks, country-swing and Old Man River quotes would make a fine concert without a film, too. Put the two together [and] the result moves up another creative and emotional level." — The Guardian

This performance of The Great Flood is co-presented with Texas Performing Arts in conjunction with Bill Morrison: Cycles & Loops, on view at the Visual Arts Center January 21 – March 12, 2022.


Bill Morrison (b. 1965, Chicago) has premiered films at the New York, Rotterdam, Sundance, and Venice film festivals, and major performance venues around the globe, including the Carnegie Hall, (2004), the Brooklyn Academy of Music (2010 and 2012), and the Barbican, London (2014). His found footage opus Decasia (2002) was the first film of the 21st century to be selected to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. The Great Flood (2013) was recognized with the Smithsonian Ingenuity Award for historical scholarship. Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016) was included on numerous lists of the best films of the decade (2010s). His most recent movie is The Village Detective: A Song Cycle (2021). Throughout his career, Morrison has collaborated with some of the most celebrated musicians and composers of our time: John Adams, William Basinski, Maya Beiser, Gavin Bryars, Bill Frisell, Philip Glass, Vijay Iyer, Kronos Quartet, David Lang, Steve Reich, and Julia Wolfe, among many others. His work has been recognized with a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2000); the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (2003); the Creative Capital (2004); Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (2006); and a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (2014).

Bill Frisell’s career as a guitarist and composer has spanned more than 40 years and many celebrated recordings. Frisell’s projects include the Grammy nominated When You Wish Upon a Star with OKeh/Sony, germinated at Lincoln Center during his two-year appointment as guest curator for the Roots of Americana series (September ’13 – May ’15).  Recognized as one of America’s 21 most vital and productive performing artists, Frisell was named an inaugural Doris Duke Artist in 2012. He is also a recipient of grants from United States Artists, Meet the Composer among others. In 2016, he was a beneficiary of the first FreshGrass Composition commission to preserve and support innovative grassroots music. Upon San Francisco Jazz opening their doors in 2013, he served as one of their Resident Artistic Directors. Bill is also the subject of a new documentary film by director Emma Franz, entitled Bill Frisell: A Portrait, which examines his creative process in depth.

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