Piano Man Is Hip to Singing His Own Songs

Dave Frishberg has taken his music a long way.

A recognized jazz pianist on both coasts, the Minnesota native has also established himself as an internationally known composer and solo performer.

His performances are anything but routine, featuring witty--and biting--lyrics. On Saturday evening, he is scheduled to appear in Santa Monica, where his program will include material from his recent album, "Quality Time," and such hits as "Blizzard of Lies," "I'm Hip" and "My Attorney Bernie."

Frishberg has recorded more than a dozen albums and written about 100 songs--many of which, he says, he wrote "as assignments" for himself.

He wrote "My Attorney Bernie" for a lawyer friend who was celebrating his 25th anniversary with his firm. Written more than a decade ago, the song is about a hotshot lawyer showboating at an upscale restaurant.

"I write songs for adults," said Frishberg, who makes his home in Portland, Ore. "It's easier for me to write that way. . . . I'm not addressing kids and the record buying public at large."

Frishberg took classical piano lessons as a child. By the time he was a teen-ager, he was swayed by boogie-woogie and jazz. He studied journalism at the University of Minnesota and, in 1957, moved to New York City to play jazz piano. He was part of the jazz scene there in the early 1960s, playing with artists such as Anita O'Day, Jimmy Rushing, Zoot Sims, Carmen McRae and Ben Webster.

Although he accompanied a number of notable jazz singers, Frishberg wanted to write lyrics and music of his own. Influenced by songwriter Frank Loesser, the pianist began writing his own material but discovered it was difficult to find a niche.

"I noticed there wasn't a great rush by industry stars (to record my works)," he said. "I had a feeling that they were good songs. Out of self-defense, I began performing."

In the late 1970s, Frishberg flipped the microphone on and found that singing for audiences offered a new twist to his career.

"Performing (on stage) came decades after I had been in the music business," he said. "I was a little surprised what a ham I really am. The reaction was positive enough that it gave me heart enough to go in public and do it."

Since then, his music career hasn't skipped a beat. Frishberg has continued to earn a living as an accompanist but also performs in cities including Boston, New York and London.

"I never knew how much I enjoyed (performing)" he said. "I thought I would always be an anonymous piano man."

Dave Frishberg performs at 8 p.m. Saturday and 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday. Parlor Performance, 601 17th St . , Santa Monica. Tickets are $22.50 and $20. Reservations required. Information: (310) 471-3979.

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