Crossing Borders to See One of a Kind

Operating on a "sublime and visionary level" Bill Frisell has a "spare yet evocative playing technique that values space, shape and structure; a playful and irreverent slant:" the stuff of dreams

“Everybody digs Bill Frisell,” writes Philip Watson in the first biography of one of today’s most innovative and influential musicians, Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed The Sound of American Music. Since 1982 when Bill made his first recording, people from all over the world have been listening to his music (more than 500,000 a month—just on Spotify) and attending his concerts. Coincidentally, also since 1982 when the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival first began, people from all over the world have been coming to Washington state to see this flower show. The instant I read that Bill would be playing at Domitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle I booked us a table. Our first holiday crossing a border in two years. The day of the event was glorious, the warmest and sunniest this year. At Magellan’s suggestion, we stopped at RoozenGaarde, the largest display of tulips, daffodils and irises in the country—attracting more than 500,000 people during the month-long festival.

“This is a one-of-a-kind business as far as spring tourism goes,” says Brent Roozen, one of the four brothers who co-owns the family farm in an interview in Klipsun magazine. “It’s really the only place outside of Holland and a few other places that you can go to see this.”

Every fall the family redesigns their 30-acre display garden and plants 300,000 spring-flowering bulbs. (Though they often repeat a favorite ‘river’ of blue muscari running through the tulip beds.) Besides the display garden, the Roozen’s plant 500 acres of daffodils, 350 acres of tulips and 150 acres of irises. (They also plant 500 acres of wheat, jsyk.) Fresh-cut tulips and other flowers are grown in fifteen acres of greenhouses. Their flowers are shipped around the country but their primary business is selling bulbs, tens of millions of them every year.

RoozenGaarde’s success began with Brent’s grandfather, William Roozen Sr. and his wife Helen choosing to settle in the Skagit Valley where the mild climate and rich topsoil are excellent for growing flowers and bulbs.

William Roozen emigrated from Holland in 1947 with years of experience in the bulb industry. He had a good back, strong hands, and a heart pulsing with dreams. Roozen started a bulb farm on five acres of land, holding meetings in a garage and toiling long hours beside a few hired hands. He saved money by buying used tractors and farm equipment.

The Roozen family’s work ethic spans six generations, back to the mid-1700s when the family first began raising tulips in Holland. In 1955, William purchased Washington Bulb Co. from its original founders, the first bulb growers in the Skagit area. Thirty years later he handed the business down to his five sons and one daughter. Today there’s the display garden, a gift shop where I bought daffodil napkins and a bouquet of pink tulips, and an outdoor snack shop where we got a coffee and walked quickly past the fudge. Admission includes a well-organized parking lot across the road, unlike many fields in the area that are drive-by only and parking on narrow shoulders is precarious.

“About 5,000,” a happy-faced volunteer told Magellan when he asked how many people would be wandering the tulip and daffodil fields that day. “10,000 on the weekends,” he said, directing visitors to the entrance. The festival is staffed by more than 1,400 volunteers and attended by visitors from 85 countries around the world. A bloom map of the Skagit Valley fields is updated daily.

For more than two hours we wandered the blazing rows of colour, cameras clicking under the glacier eye of Mount Baker. People were jazzed. Groups of girls posing alongside rows of tulips. Gardeners recording the names of special bulbs: Whispering Dream, Lingerie, Renown Unique. (“That one sells for $18.95, each!” I overheard.) Older women gossiping among the daffodils. Jubilados like us. Artists leaning over easels. Photographers shouldering foot-long lenses. Families trying to keep young kids out of puddles. Couples romancing among the flowers. Selfie sticks atwirling. And this was just the warm-up act to the main event, the Bill Frisell concert that night with his long-time bandmates, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Rudy Royston.

Readers of this blog might remember our story of the last time we saw Bill perform at Jazz Alley.This time was even better.

Pure joy. Visionary, an artist of supreme versatility and humble virtuosity, Bill Frisell is constantly imagining, exploring and cross-pollinating musical genres, He’s been the leader on forty-one albums; the latest was Valentine, with Thomas and Rudy, released by Blue Note in August 2020. AllMusic called Valentine “a portrait of this trio at a creative peak” and “one of [the] most inquiring, rhythmically inventive, and lyrical” albums of Frisell’s huge discography.” He’s appeared on more than three-hundred recordings. Played at innumerable concert halls and festivals around the world (134 gigs in 2019). And received all sorts of prestigious awards, including $275,000 from the Doris Duke Foundation. One of a kind.

More joy. While Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed The Sound of American Music isn’t on the shelves until May 24, copies of the book were available for purchase at Jazz Alley—and Bill was available after the show for signing!

What was I going to say to this genius, knowing he’s extremely shy and barely speaks two sentences in any concert we’ve been to, preferring to communicate via his guitar?

I said the term ‘National Treasure’ that the Japanese give to  gifted artists applied to him.”No way,” he replied.  “You’re an international treasure,” I said. “Maybe in Canada,” he humbly replied.

After the standing ovation, the trio returned and played “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” the Sixties entreaty they recorded on the Valentine album, about which a reviewer said,

“What the World Needs Now” is one of Frisell’s prettier covers, and that’s saying something. The intricate architecture of his guitar voicings, the chimes, octaves, mixture of single note and chords to efficiently fill in all the crucial details of this perennial melody. It’s classic Frisell craftsmanship fully dedicated to the beauty of the song.

In the album’s liner notes Bill says,

It’s like when you’re dreaming and you’re on the edge of a cliff, and you know on a certain level that it’s a dream, so you can jump off. With this music, we could do that. All three of us could take big chances, and we’d always be rescued. It’s about the trust that makes risks possible.

Precious in our lives are spring days like this when the sun shines, flowers open, music gladdens and we are filled with the still point of the world. The horrors of Putin’s war on Ukraine momentarily suspended. Our remembrance of this day is captured in Magellan’s video and in the words of Philip Watson describing Bill Frisell:

…his music is about crossing borders not building them…he has ended live sets with a version of Burt Bacharach’s ‘What the World Needs Now is Love’…

Navigation

Abrahams, Luke. “15 Unbelievable Places You Probably Never Knew Existed in the USA.” Culture Trip.

Footh, Jane. “Old roots, new growth.” Klipsun Magazine, August 20, 2018.

RoozenGaarde website.

Skagit Valley Bloom Map.

Watson, Philip. Bill Frisell, Beautiful Dreamer: The Guitarist Who Changed The Sound of American Music. London: Faber, May 24, 2022. UK music journalist and writer Philip Watson “tracks Frisell’s continued evolution across a career spanning more than 45 years: from his days at Berklee through to his time as a jazz guitarist in New York’s Downtown scene into the genre-spanning blend of folk and Americana that he tapped-into throughout the ’90s and beyond… Clocking in at over 450 pages, it looks set to become the definitive document of one of North America’s living guitar legends. Guitar World has had a sneak preview and can tell you it is beautifully written and addictively constructed.” Guitarworld review.

10 Responses

  1. Maybe an overkill of what Mother Nature can provide, but what’s wrong with that, absolutely nothing.

    Extremely beautiful and the short video was an excellent match for the fields in bloom.

    Most excellent. 👍👍👍👍

    1. Yes, “extreme beauty” kind of says it. Focusing on a few renegade flowers or unusual hybrids helped manage the excess.

  2. Ohhhh! This brings back so many memories of the time you took me and mom to the Tulip Festival. It was truly spectacular. Ribbons and ribbons of color as far as the eye could see. I love the video and the music. The tulip at :39 sec is blooming in my yard right now! Happy Spring!

  3. Ohhh!!I just LOVED this one! The JOY on your face! I’m feeling it now too…the still point of the world 🙂 I’m so glad the video zoomed in on those beautiful flower faces…extraordinary! I had never heard of this flower festival or of Bill!! You bring the Best of the world right to my doorstep…Thank You!

  4. Love todays note. Something about tulips..always amaze. And with the colder weather this year we had a longer than normal showing. Thanks. Heather

    1. I read that May 12 was the coldest day in YVR in a hundred years, but you’re right it’s prolonged the blossom season: every cloud has a “flowery” lining this year.

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