Jean-Luc Ponty - Wikipedia
Frank Zappa: "People thought the Beatles were god! .. Because of their open relationship, outbreaks of crabs were common, as was getting the clap. .. Violinist Jean Luc Ponty plays on It Must Be A Camel, and a young. Few noticed, at first, but over time, as Zappa's relationship to the rock world . the jazz world such as Jean-Luc Ponty and George Duke played in Zappa's band. .. So, for example, on "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" (Broadway the Hard Way). This should be a year for honoring the legacy of Frank Zappa, who died in The roots of the squabble lie in the children's relationship with Gail – the . “So many people have reached out and said, 'God, I'm going.
The barbarians clamor at the gates, armed with guitars, and not one of them has ever played a C major scale with correct fingering. Mass media levelled the barriers between art music and folk music.
By the time discs by Enrico Caruso and Louis Armstrong started selling side by side, the war was already over. Ever since then, the old guard, the keepers of the flickering flame, have been ducking and weaving, growing long sideburns, conducting concertos for orchestra and rock band, composing noisy masses based on equal parts Ralestrina and Presley.
Most of the time, they weren't fooling anybody. Their time was up, and all their desperate choreography was only a tap dance to Gotterdammerung. Irreverence has been the most effective catalyst in the democratization of music. Those who understood the old ways well enough to ridicule them were tradition's most dangerous foes. Erik Satie was the first; by composing a beat piece for piano and directing that it be repeated times over a hour period, he reduced the profundities of composition to the idiocy of babble.
Decades later, John Cage made the point through silent pieces, which elevated random sound — a cough in the audience, an airplane flying by — above music itself in the hierarchy of performance. Frank Zappa is third and final totem in this pole. Purely on the technical level, his accomplishments astonish. He started playing drums at the age of 12, and switched to guitar at Two years later, inhe scored a B flick, The World's Greatest Sinnera follow-up soundtrack, to Run Home Slow inhelped him set up his own recording studio in Cucamonga.
Their debut album, Freak Out! Even in those early days, Zappa stalked the orchestral format. His first solo album, Lumpy Gravyfeatured a piece ensemble that included 19 string players.
More and more, however, "serious" orchestral composition became a central part of Zappa's output. Zubin Mehta and the L. Philharmonic premiered his score to Motels in More ambitious large-scale pieces were featured in his concert film Baby Snakes in The London Philharmonic performed a program of his music in Zappa himself began making guest conductor appearances in the '80s, and gave the keynote address at the American Society of University Composers convention in He assembled a massive Synclavier system and used it to write works of bedeviling complexity.
His most recent release, a nearly posthumous concert document titled The Yellow Sharkdeposits him square on the pedestal of respectability. Aside from an occasional trombone fart or politico-slapstick libretto, this could be mistaken for contemporary art music at its finest. As the next century looms, the danger grows that a critical aspect of Zappa's work will be misunderstood — namely, that while textbook education may lose relevance in the postmodern era, hard work is as essential as ever.
Aside from one six-month theory class at Chaffey College in Alta Loma, California, Zappa had no old-fashioned music training. Yet according to those who knew and worked with him, few people have ever put so much effort into mastering a discipline. In a world teeming with fraudulent "conceptual artists," Zappa was an anomaly — an exhaustive perfectionist, an obsessive grind, driven, perhaps, by intimations of his own mortality to demand the maximum from himself and his associates.
The Zappa story has been thoroughly documented, and will be reviewed in detail in Absolutely Frank, a collection of interviews and relevant material culled from the pages of Guitar Player and Keyboard ; publication is scheduled for March Until then, we may ponder his legacy through the recollections of assorted keyboardists whose own impressive careers were launched through association with this singular and significant artist.
Ian Underwood with Zappa —73 I had graduated from the master's program in composition from the University of California at Berkeley. Then I was in New York, unemployed. I happened to drop by the Mothers performance at the Garrick Theater. I had never heard of the Mothers; this was the first time I had any exposure to them at all. But they were doing just the kind of thing I was interested in.
It wasn't just classical, it wasn't just jazz.
And there was a lot of humor. In those days, [singer] Ray Collins and Motorhead Jim Sherwoodsaxophonist] were doing a lot of interplay. They had their own routines, which were mostly made up at the time.
I hadn't really hit on any work at that point, so I simply went up after the show, told Frank that I liked it very much, and wondered if I could play with them. Frank said he was interested. He asked me to come up to the recording studio, which was in midtown on the west side. I did, and Frank hired me because I could play keyboards and woodwinds, and I could read.
At that point, nobody in the band was an accomplished reader, although [saxophonist] Bunk Gardner could read. But I was able to let Frank hear the notes he wanted to hear.
Plus I had a background in jazz, so I could improvise. So I fit in. My main interest was Frank's music. I was really drawn to it, it was so involving. We never did shows that duplicated records or other gigs. Originally it was almost free-form; you never knew what was going to come up. Then, just after I joined and we started touring Europe, we began getting larger audiences. This meant that they couldn't be as close to us, so the kinds of off-the-wall things that would be easy to get into at the Garrick Theater really wouldn't work anymore.
You couldn't do something free-form that might not work when you've got a lot of people who have paid money to listen to you. So, more and more, a balance was struck in favor of being more organized, based on doing things that were more likely to work consistently well.
Then, if other free things came along in the middle of those pieces, that would be okay too. This didn't drastically change the way we worked, but we did start having more music to rehearse. Sometimes there would be different arrangements of tunes that the Mothers had done earlier. Then there were new, classically-oriented pieces that Frank would bring in. They were pretty complicated, but they weren't different in kind from what we had done before.
There was more of a difference in scale and amount, because Frank always loved to write this way. I didn't have any keyboards of my own when I joined the band.
Don Preston was playing Rhodes and Minimoog, so we would spell each other on those. I think we also got a Kalamazoo organ, which I played onstage and on the recordings. During the last period of time when I was with him, I was actually playing woodwinds more than anything else, but before that I played a lot on Hammond organ and ARP We never really used the synthesizer that extensively, though.
It was either just for solos or to play a given line that could have been done on clarinet or something else, so whatever sound we used on it wasn't a big issue. In fact, I never thought about keyboard sounds at all.
Frank worked a lot on the road. He never liked to hang out at all, because his mind was always busy thinking about something. He was constantly writing music, busy with this or that.
Some people are always amazed to hear that he didn't indulge in drugs, but he didn't, except for cigarettes and coffee. I don't think that playing with Frank helped me in any specific professional way. It didn't improve my technique. What happened, what happens to everybody in an interesting and challenging situation, is that I grew. When I joined the band, I knew nothing about '50s music.
But because I had a classical background, I was already aware of all the other things that Frank was doing. I was working with Jean-Luc at a club in L. He didn't know Frank at that time, so he wanted somebody from his camp to be there. So I did the date, Frank liked me, and it went from there.
After that, Frank asked me to join the band. I couldn't understand why he wanted me, because I was such a straight-laced jazz player. But he liked me because I was crazy. I would do anything on the piano. The music we did with Jean-Luc Ponty on that record, and the stuff we did with Zubin Mehta, was advanced for the time; it's probably still advanced for now. But when I joined the Mothers, the first stuff we did was that kind of rock and roll where you do those doo-wop triplets.
I was like, "Oh, God! I can't do this! Rehearsals were grueling, very tough. You would go into the studio at noon or one o'clock and be there until seven or eight o'clock in the morning. The whole band would be sitting around, and I'd be there with my keyboards. When he needed me, he called me in.
When he didn't need me, I'd go out and watch television. Or Ian Underwood and I would script out who was gonna do what sound, who had the time to do this funny lick Frank wanted and then get back around the keyboard to change the patch and make the next move. See, we're not talking about synthesizers that had presets. You had to change each patch. And if you didn't get it, Frank would know it. He would look around at you and make you do it again. It was almost like a Broadway show.
He would make us go over one lick until there was no way we could forget it. It's amazing to me to go back and listen to the tapes of what we were doing onstage.
God, the amount of music you had to play the same each night! That was some of the most difficult music I've ever played, partly because he composed a lot of it from the guitar.
But once I was in the band for four years or whatever, it came to a point where he didn't have to write anything out for me. I knew what Frank was looking for, and I could easily come up with parts I knew he would like. If he wanted something special, he'd just say, "We need something weird here.
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We used to spend hours and hours in the studio doing that stuff. Frank's music was like organized chaos. That's exactly what it was. Once we got to the level we were at on The Roxy and Elsewherethere was almost nothing we couldn't do. If he wanted to move into contemporary orchestral or classical music, we could do that. If it was back to the '50s or forward into weird stuff, we could do that too. We were like a rubber-band band: He would do certain moves with his hands, and we absolutely knew what he wanted.
The only thing that made me want to retreat back to the jazz world was Motels. I was still really straight then. I didn't have a big sense of humor. Even now, Motels is the weirdest thing I've ever done in my life. It was so strange, I almost can't explain it. It was just very weird to be a straight-laced, thin-black-tie-wearing cat, with all these grungy hippies, for lack of a better word.
But I loved it, because I knew I had something to learn, and these guys were incredible musicians. And Frank did bring out my sense of humor. By the time I started playing with Billy Cobham in '76, I was crazy.
I had all these crazy statues and heads around the keyboards. That was a holdover from Frank, because I felt that this fusion music was too serious. It needed some comedy. So Frank's attitude seriously affected me. The injuries he suffered kept him laid up for the next year, and, as a result of his larynx being crushed in the fall, Zappa returned with a changed voice: In his autobiography, Zappa dryly notes that his assailant received only a short jail sentence.
Perhaps Zappa was unconscious when Don Preston saw another punishment being meted out: As for the Mothers, Preston says, "He never did call anybody to tell them that there was no band anymore. He just got a new band. I wasn't surprised by it. I just accepted it, because that was the way Zappa was.
This issue became muddled in the original Mothers, because Zappa's skills were not yet equal to the music he was conceiving.
Preston claims that when he first joined the Mothers, "Zappa was a mediocre guitar player. He used to hire other guitar players to play lead guitar because he couldn't. He also couldn't read music at all. Sometimes, however, this seemed to his employees as if Zappa were claiming to have written their improvised solos. To many fans and critics, Zappa's hired hands over the years were never as compatible with his vision as the original Mothers.
Instead, Zappa's increasingly difficult songwriting required musicians skilled enough to execute the music to his exact specifications, and for the humility and dedication this required, Zappa began to use younger musicians. Unlike Don Preston, who before joining Zappa played in a band with Elvin Jones and once gave musical advice to John Coltrane, the musicians Zappa employed in the s never saw their boss as an equal.
As a result, they were much more sympathetic to Zappa's compositional method. He really knew what buttons to push emotionally and musically. He was a remarkable referee. He knew how to synthesize people's personalities and talents. That's a very rare gift.
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He wasn't just a conductor standing there waving his arms; he was playing us as people! I became a perfectionist, I suppose I had to be. When Don Preston joined up again for a tour inhe noticed the change. He even stayed in different hotels; he didn't want to be with the band. Of course, Zappa knew that stored away were countless hours of unrealized band tapes. Hopefully, comparisons to recordings by the later ensembles will put an end to that particular misconception.
Throughout the '70s, Zappa fell into a cycle of releasing records and touring. His band worked the circuit of twenty-thousand-seat venues filled each night with kids just waiting for the long guitar solo so they could furiously flick their Bics.
Not only was Zappa back in sync with the tastes of rock audiences, jazz aficionados too were beginning to notice his work. Still, jazz critics have been slow to recognize Zappa. Among the albums listed, however, Gioia mistakenly includes Jazz from Hell, the collection of mostly Synclavier compositions from that won Zappa his sole Grammy.
This nitpicking is meant to underline the fact that even the few jazz critics who are sympathetic to Zappa's music have not really paid it enough serious attention. It will be some time before the impact and influence of Frank Zappa on the jazz world is fairly assessed. When that happens, in addition to his fusion, Zappa should receive credit for the studio editing techniques he developed and for his work on the Synclavier.
On Zappa's end, despite obvious affinities, he viewed jazz as "the music of unemployment," and he never showed an inclination to moonlight in the jazz community the way he did the classical music culture. Zappa didn't think or write like a jazz musician. As for his guitar playing, it ultimately owed little to jazz or to rock. Even Zappa's sharpest critics—and he has many—usually make an exception for his extraordinary guitar work. Nonetheless, that Zappa should emerge from the Mothers of Invention a guitar superstar was hardly a forgone conclusion.
Remember that Don Preston noted how little skill Zappa had on the instrument in the early days of the Mothers of Invention; it was only a few years before recording Freak Out! Zappa never learned to sing and play at the same time and had little patience for playing rhythm. His guitar playing had one purpose: It was only through dedication, a singular work ethic and awesome will power that Zappa was able to develop the skill and dexterity to perform his compositions on guitar.
Zappa let other guitar players show off their technique by playing at lightning speeds.
His solos were models of careful development combined with incredible melodic inventiveness. Zappa knew that there was no audience for difficult experimental music and only a slim audience for instrumental music. About the only time audiences wanted music without vocals was during concert guitar solos.
So, while his records from the '70s contain mostly rock songs, Zappa made sure that they were flexible enough to sustain a variety of rhythms. As he toured—the tape running—Zappa perfected solos on songs like "Stinkfoot" and "Inca Roads" that could exist independent of the original.
It allowed him to thrill the stadium fans and record instrumental compositions without renting expensive studio time. Making the guitar the primary outlet for his compositions was pragmatic: It allowed him to compose music and pay the bills. In the early s, when he began working with the Synclavier, he had no problem setting the guitar aside for almost four years.
Zappa may have found a way to make peace with rock fans, but the music industry proved to be another matter.
It was a grand display of Zappa's approaches to music; it contained live tracks, studio recordings, experimental edits and instrumentals. After the label refused to release it, Zappa went on a radio show and encouraged listeners to get a tape. The experience left him determined to work outside of label control in the future.
The scattershot approach resulted in records that made little sense and didn't reach the perfectionist standards Zappa fans expected. During this time, though less visible to the public, Zappa's interest in classical music was not dormant. By the time Adrian Belew started playing for Zappa at the end of the '70s, there was no question about Zappa's ability to read music.
He would pull out one of his manuscripts from a briefcase and sit there putting dots of pen on paper. Time after time, Zappa looked for an orchestra as dedicated to his music as the musicians in his band. Instead, the classical world treated Zappa with pure cynicism: They had no sympathy with his approach to music and open hostility at being expected to practice it.
In The Real Frank Zappa, a humorous spin is placed on the experience, but there is no covering up the hurt and pain Zappa felt. Belew holds out hope for the future, "I think as orchestras advance and need more challenges—as players sometimes do—they will catch on that Frank's music is really there. The arrival of punk at the end of the '70s left Frank Zappa on the wrong side of rock history.
Critics now craved the simplicity of the Ramones and the aggressiveness of the Clash. Zappa's desire to be seen as a composer and his penchant for long instrumentals and concept albums left him looking, to the punks, like all the other bloated rock dinosaurs. Now, however, Bangs saw Zappa as "a despicable wretch morons actually call a 'composer' instead of a 'rip-off artist. None of this changed the fact that in the last dozen years of his life Zappa's influence gradually vanished from the rock world.
By now, however, Zappa had earned a cult audience large enough to support him, no matter what direction his muse led.
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The result would be the most exciting, experimental and brilliant music of his career. Valley Girls and Dancin' Fools Because of the dexterity and precision required to play it, Zappa's music became a litmus test for a generation of suburban kids who spent the '70s taking guitar lessons and reading magazines dedicated to the latest gear and transcriptions.
They, of course, hung on every detail when Frank revealed in a Guitar Player interview from —reprinted in The Frank Zappa Companion Schirmer Books, —the minutiae of his string preferences: So, it's medium on the bottom strings, and they're mainly all Ernie Balls. One of these young players was guitar wizard Steve Vai, who first impressed with his ability to transcribe Zappa's solos. Zappa proved a fantastic judge of talent, and over the years alumni from Zappa's band went on to form Little Feet, Missing Persons, Jazz Passengers and many other groups.
These are the musicians most grateful to Zappa and eager to talk about his work. Along with the difficult practices and Zappa's overwhelming demands, every musician who played for Zappa has a vivid story of their audition.
Adrian Belew shared his with me: I was a starving musician and I suddenly got a call from Frank Zappa. He was very nice to me, and he said, "Well, here is a list of songs. All the other musicians he was intending to hire read music, but he still gave me a chance. He gave me a list of songs.
I worked feverishly twelve hours a day to try and figure out these songs. Frank's advice to me was simply figure out how to sing and play these songs anyway you can. He then flew me to his house in Hollywood Hills.
It was very scary for me, because first of all there was a lot of confusion, a lot of things happening, people were rolling equipment, and here is me standing in the middle of a room with Frank Zappa sitting behind a console smoking a cigarette. Frank would say, "Okay, play this," and then I would try to play it, and he would say, "Okay, try this one.
I stayed there at his house for the rest of the day. I watched him audition a lot of great players, including some of the players that I ended up playing with, Tommy Mars and Ed Mann.
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It was tremendously hard material that everyone was being asked to play. The rest of the people came in and sight read. It was interesting to see these great musicians being put through their paces by Frank.
At the end of the day, after everyone had left and I was still there, I said to Frank, "Hey, you know, I don't feel like I did very well, and that's because I really thought that you and I could just sit down somewhere quietly and I could show you that I can play and sing these songs. We sat on the couch together. I had a little tiny practice amp face down on the couch so it wouldn't be very loud and I did the second audition, at the end of which he shook my hand and said, "You've got the job.
He didn't allow you a lot of latitude for creating your own spot in it, but he gave everyone something to do of their own during the course of one concert. A careful observer, Willis explained to me how each musician's role in Zappa's band changed over the years: My first two years in the band, I wasn't allowed to do any solos or any ad libbing, simply because I was a new member of the band.
It was best for me to actually learn Frank's techniques and how his methods worked before trying to branch off and reinterpret any of his arrangements or anything like that. Lying in his hotel room last week, an air of weariness and a brace on his leg the only outward reminders of the Rainbow, he talked with not a little bitterness in his voice of his experiences in the world of rock and roll. Have you decided against having a regular band now?
I think that of all the unreliable phenomena that exists in the 20th century, the musician may come up in first place. Unreliable in what way? We have a tour lined up for the United States and Canada at the end of October. In fact we just had a jam session all night, I guess about a month ago. Jean Luc Ponty happened to be in town and so did George Duke and a number of other west coast jazz men, so we had a jam session in the mix room upstairs in a recording studio in Los Angeles.
It was unusual because the only thing that was being picked up by a microphone was the drums and everything else was being plugged directly into the board through transducers. I may have been doing eleven different things simultaneously at the time the album was made.
After the Rainbow, did you want to keep those Mothers together, or were you going to disband them anyway? But even before that last tour we were getting into some kind of recording contract with Mark and Howard so that they could do their own album, however they chose not to mention the fact that we Zappa and manager Herb Cohen fought to get them out of their previous recording contract so… Really?
And then they put you down in their press interview. I find no mention of that in their press releases. A lot of people automatically assume that because somebody says something like that it must be true, and not once for any article that says something, like that, has any body bothered to call me or the office to corroborate anything that was said.
And that the sole reason for people saying something like that was for publicity purposes, because if you say something that is sensational you wind up getting more press. It seems peculiar that they forget all the things that our office did to make things easier for them. We hoped that we could get him some work in order for him to promote his album, and when he wanted to have his contract back, Herbie just handed it to him.