After 20 albums, Four Grammy nominations, and Songs for everyone from Rosemary Clooney to Schoolhouse Rock, you rarely sing your material here. Why? When I came to Portland 25 years ago, I had to make a policy: should I sing on my local gigs, or not? And I decided, “I need a place where I can be a piano player.” Other musicians would call me to play on their jobs, and I said, “Gee, I can’t sing.” It would change the whole character of the gig, no. 1. No. 2, I wouldn’t get called back. They’d say, “Don’t call him—he does an act.”
People call your songwriting “quirky.” true? I do feel I’m marginal on the pop scene. When I was beginning, I tried to write commercial stuff. After years of ?rejections, I figured out that you can’t write a good song unless you like and respect what you’re writing.
Whom do you imagine singing your songs, while you’re writing them? I write more and more for myself to sing. But at the same time, more and more others (such as John Pizzarelli) are picking up on my songs, which is odd. I haven’t really listened to any current music for the last 40 years or so.
Yes, you’ve said you’re “fixated on the past.” What do you mean? Maybe I’m fascinated by my youthful impressions of the past. I’ve never gotten over the first baseball game I ever saw—no television, up close and personal in a small minor-league park. I’m kind of nostalgic for that. I think the music was better—the songs were better. The musicians weren’t better. Today’s musicians are better than they used to be. But yesterday’s musicians played better music.
Dave Frishberg plays (and sings!) Feb 20 at the Winningstad Theatre as part of the Portland Jazz Festival.