Zappa Plays Zappa, Dweezil Zappa’s ongoing homage and performance of his father’s music, is hitting the road again in 2008, after hugely successful tours in 2006 and 2007.
2008 promises material performed that ZPZ have never performed, as well as some of their favorite tunes from previous tours.
Frank Zappa (1940-1993) was an American composer who immersed himself in his craft with equal parts vision and vigor. Over the course of 80 albums—first as the leader of the Mothers Of Invention and then as a solo artist—Zappa raised the bar in a rock world that spent most of its time embracing the ordinary. His music was fearless, imbued with an impeccable sense of technique, but never, ever at the expense of emotion. Although critics marginalized his music (apparently too busy celebrating the “genius” of the Eagles), and radio stations would rarely play it (lest they thought they would lose the ever-important used-car dealership commercials), Zappa’s work continues to defy any calendar thrown at it.
To that end, Dweezil Zappa is becoming more proactive in the continued public display of his father’s music for years to come. Zappa Plays Zappa is a seven-person-strong ensemble dedicated to keeping Frank Zappa’s music (aesthetically eight to 10 years ahead of whatever copyright date was printed on the records in the first place) very much alive. Zappa Plays Zappa is the synergistic result of what happens when a vibrant repertoire of music is learned by a stellar band and worshipped by an audience weary of Pro Tools.
“It seems to me that people my age (38) and younger know the Zappa name a little bit, but they don’t know a lot about the music,” says Dweezil, explaining the original impetus behind the creation of ZPZ in 2004. “They might know some of the songs that accidentally got on the radio, but those songs don't represent the totality of Frank’s output. I feel that Frank’s music needs to be proposed to a new audience. The core fans have always been there, but in the past 13 years, there’s been no outreach program to introduce it to younger fans. Because his music will not suddenly just start being played on the radio 700 hundred times an hour, the only way to effectively reach new people is to play it live. I wanted to seize the opportunity now because I can't stand the notion of his music fading away in my lifetime.”
Dweezil’s commitment to his father’s work began with him listening, in chronological order, to every single one of Frank’s albums to understand its evolution. Then he began learning to play the compositions, starting with “The Black Page #2,” the piece known to strike terror in the hearts (and bowels) of musicians whose sight-reading skills weren’t up to the challenge. After learning that one, one might think the rest of the oeuvre might as well be “Louie Louie,” right? Well, negotiating time signatures that look like graduate-school algebra is one thing, but in order to approximate his father’s complex written music, Dweezil essentially had to relearn how to play guitar. To perform the uniquely difficult material live he ended up adopting a picking technique devised by veteran player Frank Gambale.
After he accomplished the woodshedding needed to realize his goal, Dweezil was faced with the aesthetic considerations of such a large body of work. (Read: Mother, Mary and Joseph! What the hell are we gonna play?) With over 1,000 pieces to choose from, he focused on Frank’s work from the mid- to late-’70s, as well as some personal favorites from his own youth. “It takes a certain snarky delivery of that material and it's difficult to execute it the way Frank did,” reminds Dweezil. “Frank's vocal style is very distinctive and I did not want any of the material we were presenting to seem like a cheap imitation.” He pauses and starts to laugh. “Attitude is everything with this music!”
From the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen in California to the stages of theatres and festivals across the globe, Zappa Plays Zappa is prepared once again to respectfully expose new fans to Frank Zappa's extraordinary acheivements in music.
Live On Stage:
I'd venture to guess a lot of people out their don't know much about Frank Zappa's music. I would definitely suggest going to check these guys out. Frank's music was complex, funny and dynamic and was a big influence on a lot of jambands. Here's a couple live performance to check out. First up is Willie The Pimp...
And here's Joe's Garage...
For more info on Zappa Plays Zappa head on over to their official website.
Saturday, June 7, 2008