ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA, 2006-2012
Dweezil Zappa talks to Stuart Maconie on BBC 6music Friday 16 December 2011 about
his current tour performing the music of his father Frank Zappa. Next
is a clip from the interview, which you can hear in full on Stuart
Maconie's Freakier Zone, Friday 16 December at midnight on BBC Radio
Dweezil Zappa BBC 6music interview clip.
Dweezil Zappa has been holding American, European and Australian tours playing his father's music,
spread out over the years 2006-2012. In Europe the band started on May 15th 2006
in the Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, Holland. This year they are touring in the U.S. Visit zappaplayszappa for the bands schedule, photos and videos. On the photo from left to right: Ahmet, Gail
and Dweezil Zappa (source Nobel PR Ltd, used by permission).
I visited the 2006 concert in Holland and I find it recommendable. The 2006 band consisted of Dweezil, six younger people and
Napoleon Murphy Brock. Napoleon does about all the vocals and dancing. Guest appearances are by Terry Bozzio, Steve Vai
and - as announced for some of the concerts - Ahmet. The show opened with footage of the Roxy and Elsewhere gigs, a smaller
nightclub, where Zappa performed three nights in a row. Zappa informs the audiance that he can see everybody in the audiance
for a change, instead of the blackness at the back of the larger halls.
The Zappa plays Zappa concert itself lasted two hours with a selection of Zappa's composition from the sixties and seventies.
The band showed guts, doing some of the most difficult compositions as "Edchina's arf", "The black page" and "Punky's whips".
I guess Frank would have been proud and the concert ended not only with applause for Dweezil's band but also with an ovation for
Frank, asked for by Dweezil. Next is a quote from one of their press releases:
"In concept and performance, Zappa Plays Zappa offers audiences
an opportunity to spend an evening with Frank Zappa's music, performed
meticulously by a group of top flight musicians who have been schooled in
its subtleties. Far from a "tribute band," Zappa Plays Zappa is more of a
vehicle that underscores the compositional genius of Frank Zappa much as a
symphony orchestra would perform pieces by a master composer. Nate Chenen,
writing about Zappa Plays Zappa in the New York Times recognized this when
he wrote that the show fully realized Dweezil's intent for it to be "an
argument for Frank Zappa's legitimacy as a composer".
Zappa Plays Zappa is an undertaking with a higher purpose in
mind beyond filling seats with concert goers. Dweezil Zappa explains, "I
think my Dad's music deserves to be heard by a wider audience. I really
think he's been misunderstood for far too long, which brings me back to why
I'm doing this: I'm so in awe of his accomplishments and want more and more
people to know about him, and I think the best way for people to first
discover his music is on a visceral level in a live situation. I think you
have to be confronted with the complexity and the beautiful subtlety of all
of it to fully appreciate the artistry of it."
Dweezil Zappa has recently opened a new site, Dweezilzappaworld. The pages include news, tour dates, video and audio samples, as well as a forum.
One of the recent activities is a five-day class called Dweezilla, held this summer and programmed again for 2011. Visit
Dweezilla for more information. Next is their announcement for this class:
"Get ready to expand your harmonic horizons and ignite your musical
creativity this summer at DWEEZILLA! DWEEZILLA is a unique five-day
experience where musicians will be surrounded by Dweezil Zappa and members
of his core band for a musical bootcamp. From June 21-24 in the Catskill
Forest Preserve in upstate New York, DWEEZILLA offers aspiring musicians a
wide range of master classes at all skill levels in addition to one-on-one
sessions with Dweezil himself."
THE GRANDE MOTHERS RE:INVENTED, 2010
Don Preston, Roy Estrada and Napoleon Murphy Brock are currently touring again with their band.
Visit FZ Alumni for the details.
More about the band's history can be found at
Project/object is the name of a Zappa tribute band set up the nineties, at various instances
including former members from Zappa's own bands. Recently they featured Ike Willis and Ray White performing together again.
Visit Project/Object for the tour program and the latest dates.
Next is a quote from their site:
"PROJECT/OBJECT formed in the early ’90s as an offshoot from an annual Frank Zappa birthday celebration that took place in guitarist Andre Cholmondeley’s basement in New Jersey. As the event grew in size and popularity, PROJECT/OBJECT decided to take their show on the road, performing Zappa’s music in more cities and larger venues, with a growing set list from every era of Zappa’s 30-year recording career. The band strives to stay true to Frank’s vision of constantly challenging the musicians and the audiences."
ZAPPANALE FESTIVAL, GERMANY
In Germany a yearly event is organised commemorating Frank Zappa. Visit Zappanale for their current program as well
as photos of all past events. This years 21rst event took place from August 10-15th, with a large
number of bands taking part on two stages.
THE ZAPPA FAMILY TRUST
This trust, run by Zappa's wife Gail and her children, is administering all Zappa business other than the Rykodisc catalogue
(see below). It includes selling scores
and videos, granting permissions to play the scores in public and controlling the tape archive. Ever since Zappa's death, fans have been lobbying for more releases from the tapes. Rumours circulate about the contents of unfinished projects and treasures that Gail Zappa would be obstructing to be released. The content of Zappa's will hasn't been made public, but you have to take into account that Zappa himself has expressed that with "Ahead of their time" he found that the number of live compilations from the tapes had been sufficient. He saw no use in coming up with still more versions of the same songs.
The Zappa Family Trust policy has been moderate at first, but more recently they are
turning up the pace of new releases. Their issues are available sometimes only via the www.zappa.com site,
others also reach the record stores. They are listed under the CDs and scores section.
Zappa's early death in 1993 followed upon a struggle for years against prostate cancer. At the end it wasn't unexpected. Shortly before his death he decided to sell the entire CD catalogue to Rykodisc, so that his wife wouldn't be bothered with the administration of it.
Rykodisc is handling the distribution with care, all CDs are carrying the original album covers and inner sleeves. As all record companies do, Rycodisc every now and then comes up with alternative compilations, collectors items and thematic collections. "Cheap thrills" and "Son of cheap thrills" are offering a low budget introduction to Zappa for people unfamiliar with his music.
The availability of Zappa's CDs is good. The larger record stores in the major cities are usually displaying about the whole catalogue, the smaller ones can't afford to have such a large collection in stock. But they can order them individually at request.
THE ENSEMBLE MODERN AND THE ASKO ENSEMBLE
The Ensemble Modern plays Zappa (photo by Allegri film/VPRO)
Both these classicaly trained ensembles specialize in performing music by modern composers and have a continuing interest in Zappa's
modern compositions (see also below at the Holland Festival). The Ensemble Modern by now has three Zappa CD on their albums list, "The yellow shark", "Everything is healing nicely" and
the November 2003 release "Greggery Peccary & other persuasions" (see the seperate Ensemble
Modern section for track listings). According to a Ali Askin interview (who was hired by Zappa
as an arranger for the Yellow shark project and others) by Thomas Fichter, the origins of this CD lead back to 1996. After the 1996 US tour
by the Ensemble Modern, that included Yellow shark pieces, three of it's member visited Gail Zappa, who informed them about the
existance of the Greggery Peccary scores. It was in a closet of which she had lost the key. So this closet was broken up and
the unpublished scores came into light. It wasn't completely identical to the Studio Tan version. According to Ali Askin their were parts
on the album without underlying scores as well as written out parts that never reached the album. Ali arranged this piece
as well as synclavier music for the new release. For further information, visit www.ensemble-modern.com.
On the 4th and 6th of December 2003, the Asko Ensemble has performed several synclavier pieces
from among others "Jazz from hell". On the program were:
- Outrage at Valdez
- Outside now again
- Get whitey
- Beltway bandits
- Night school
- Jazz from hell
- G-spot tornedo
The arrangements for this specific occasion are delivered by Ali Askin, Django Bates, Ron Ford and Corrie van Binsbergen (see also below).
HOLLAND FESTIVAL 2000
After the 1981 debacle, when negotiations failed and ended with a malcontent Zappa, the board of the Dutch Holland Festival returned to the idea of making Zappa the central composer of the festival in 2000. This time the Zappa business was handled by Gail Zappa and things could get realized. The festival program parts about Zappa consisted of six concerts and events. Three are commented upon below. The other evenings dealt with films, lectures and "Civilisation, phaze III". All performances took place in Amsterdam, Holland.
I) 200 Motels, the suites.
200 Motels, the suites, was reassembled by Zappa's earlier assistent Ali N. Askin at the request of Gail Zappa. It could be made up from the archives with the pieces meant for a live performance by The London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1971. About 80% coincides with the 1971 album version of 200 Motels. The other 20% is unreleased. The set up of 200 Motels, the suites, is:
- We're on the road
- Tuna sandwich suite
- The restaurant scene
- Touring can make you crazy
- What's the name of your group?
- Can I help you with this dummy?
- The peated gazelle
- I'm stealing the room
- Shove it right in
- Penis dimension
- Strictly genteel
The unreleased material deals with a groupie, adressing herself to the audiance. She's asking if she can take a polaroid picture and then continues confessing that she likes masturbating with the aid of a dummy. "Can I help you with this dummy?" is about the girl being sexually excited by the dummy, while a certain Rance first asks if he can help. Later on Rance gets disgraced as he understands what the girl was doing, while she's trying to apologize. The score was first published in the The Frank Zappa Songbook from 1973. Zappa comments: "Can I help you..." was originally scheduled for use in 200 Motels but was excluded due to technical difficulties beyond...".
200 Motels, the suites, was premiered on June 23 in the Carré theatre, with a second concert on June 24 (flyer above, there's no information about the image designer on it). It was performed by the Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra and the Amsterdam Capella choir with Jurjen Hempel conducting.
II) A tribute to Frank Zappa
Bruce Fowler arranged a series of Zappa compositions for the Metropole Orchestra for a concert in the Paradiso. Bruce Fowler was the trombone player in Zappa's band from 1972 to 1975 and returned in the brass section of the 1988 band.
On the program were among others "The grand wazoo", "Duke of prunes", "Regyptian strut", "Big swifty", "Edchina's arf (of you)" and "Don't you ever wash that thing".
III) Greggery Peccary & Other persuasions
The Ensemble Modern made a short tour with a sequel to "The yellow shark" in 2000. Concerts were held in Germany and the Ensemble visited the Holland Festival as well. The Zappa Family Trust cooperators Ali N. Askin and Todd Yvega delivered the scores and rearranged them for the ensemble.
The concert included "The adventures of Greggery Peccary", "The black page", "Dental Hygiena Dilemma" and "The dangerous kitchen". In total twelve compositions were played in the Concertgebouw. It was the third time that Zappa got played in this famous Dutch concerthall. The Ensemble Modern had earlier made a guest appearance with material from "The yellow shark". In 1999 the Asko Ensemble had played Zappa's music as part of the American Adventures program. On June 25 1999 five of Zappa's modern pieces were performed, along with compositions by Conlon Nancarrow, Charles Ives and Edgar Varèse.
TRIBUTES, ZOOT-SUIT I
The interest by musicians in playing Zappa's music is ongoing, by tribute bands as well as by
classical ensembles. Due to his illness in 1993 Zappa was forced to refrain from visiting the "Zappa's universe"
shows with many of his former band members participating. An audacious attempt at a tribute has been done by Corrie van Binsbergen, who
wrote original material in the style of her admired composer.
Corrie, a Dutch jazz composer and bandleader, included a tribute to Zappa in her 1997 album "Corrie en de grote brokken"
(in English "Corrie and the big lumps"). It's a suite of five compositions,
"Zoot-Suit I" through "V". In this page I've transcribed the first half
minute of "Zoot-Suit I". The reminiscence of Zappa is intentional and well
done. It starts with a variation upon the "Ich bin deine Tage und Nächte"
theme from "Sofa" (German for "I am your days and nights"). In this study the "Zappa in New York" version of this melody is transcribed as the second
guitar theme in the "Sofa" example from the Counterpoint subpage.
The movement through various keys, the use of strings of fast notes are
remindful of Zappa, as well as a harmonic surprise effect. In bar 3 the
melody ends with G going to D. You might expect this to return in bars 8
and 9, but here the G moves to a 9th chord, E flat plus F and B flat. The instrumentation, especially the use of vibes, are also Zappa-stylish.
Zoot-Suit I, opening (midi file)
Zoot-Suit I, opening (transcription).
For further information about Corrie van Binsbergen you can visit a site by a fan of hers, www.sofa.demon.nl. The photo above of Corrie van Binsbergen is copied from this site, source unknown.
DOCUMENTARIES BY FRANK SCHEFFER AND VPRO
Frank Scheffer is a Dutch documentary and filmmaker with a special interest in music. He's made a trilogy about the composers Mahler, Louis Andriessen and Zappa. The Zappa documentary has been presented in two forms that don't overlap completely.
The first one of 60 minutes, "Phase I, the present composer refuses to die", was broadcasted by VPRO on Dutch tv in 2000. The second edition of 2002, "Phase II, the big note", was shown in cinemas. It lasted 90 minutes, mostly an extended version of the tv documentary, but not everything returned.
Subjects coming by are Zappa's guest appearance in a 1962 Steve Allen show (where he played on a bicycle), an Australia tv interview with Zappa conducting the audiance, a visit of the tape vault, looking for Zappa's teenage home, where he used to play with Don van Vliet, and many more.
The image is from the DocuZone flyer, advertising the film; it has no credit information.
In April 2007 the Dutch TV broadcasting entity VPRO has once more been coming out with documentaries about Zappa. The Frank
Scheffer material reached the set in two episodes of an hour each. They were also behind the TV special from 1970 about
the making of 200 Motels, that caused some rumour in Dutch parliament. In the special Zappa demonstrated the use of a vacuum
cleaner for "stimulating pies" and made no secret of his fondness of groupies, while being married.