Dave Frishberg, the jazz musician and music-education pioneer who co-created the influential “Schoolhouse Rock!” series as well as a Grammy Award-winning albums, has died. He was 73. The jazz/children’s advocacy organization Ovation announced Frishberg’s death in a press release Wednesday. No cause of death was given.
Born in New York City in 1944, Frishberg began playing the piano at the age of four. He honed his skills at the famed Birdland jazz club, where, in 1966, he met his future teacher, Michael Gilson, who would later manage Frishberg’s musical career. The pair formed Frishberg & The Friends, and Frishberg took the name Dave Frishberg and The Friends in 1970. His first album with the band was launched in 1973, and Frishberg and the Friends became the house band for The Today Show in 1975.
Frishberg also made a name for himself as a jazz sideman. After joining Miles Davis’s touring band for the band’s Paris concert in 1972, Frishberg and Davis performed and recorded the album “Rebel Monk,” which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1976.
A quarter century later, Frishberg teamed up with Gilson and two fellow jazz musicians, Garth Fagan and David Hidalgo, to form The Dave Frishberg Quartet. The group released three albums and won a Grammy for Best Traditional Jazz Album in 2004. The quartet’s songs are most well-known for their jaunty rhythms and clear intentions. “Fat Bottom Girls” is a charming reminder to young listeners that cupcakes are delicious; “Stand by Me” is a send-up of teen heartthrobs; and “Ave Maria” calls attention to the difficult lyrics that kids get from their vocabularies. “I’ve Changed My Mind on Election Day” is no less a lesson in introspection.
Despite acclaim and a reputation as a prodigy, Frishberg never received formal training in music, according to Ovation, and was initially reluctant to let any official music education teacher into his private music lessons.
In addition to the music, Frishberg was also a champion of history and literacy. The Grammy Award-winning “Schoolhouse Rock!” suite was a cultural phenomenon, airing on children’s television shows beginning in 1972 and making Frishberg a household name.
Frishberg himself co-authored the soundtrack album for his quartet’s Album of the Year Grammy Award-winning album, 2005’s “Shady Lane,” with Gilson and Hidalgo. His music also found a niche in the popular educational children’s show “Countdowns.”
Beyond “Schoolhouse Rock!,” Frishberg also performed on six albums and several albums with many acclaimed jazz musicians, including Roy Hargrove, Hank Crawford, George Winston, Donald Byrd, André Watts, Gerry Mulligan, and Martin Sexton. Frishberg was a member of the National Council on Education for the Arts for 20 years, and was honored with several honorary doctorates and fellowships.
Dave Frishberg, Jazz musician and creator of “Schoolhouse Rock!,” has died at age 73. https://t.co/xxvPw2HP8P — OvationTV (@OvationTV) July 25, 2019
Statement from David Gilson on the passing of Dave Frishberg. https://t.co/5xOlMi8MRQ pic.twitter.com/XcbcozSPSy — OvationTV (@OvationTV) July 25, 2019
In 2016, Frishberg appeared in the documentary about jazz legends Benny Golson and Miles Davis, “Ike and Tina: Together Again,” which explored their complicated collaboration and the lasting influence that’s still evident in the music world today.
In addition to his wife and business partner, Dr. Kathryn Lynne Haas, Frishberg is survived by two sons, Dale Frishberg and Danny Frishberg.
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