Frank Zappa – Jonestown (Reblog)

Source: Frank Zappa – Jonestown (Zappa)

Happy Belated 75th Birthday Frank Zappa!

Your music drifted in and out of my life. I first heard you whe a friend of my brother’s brought over a copy of Absolutely Free in 1967 (when I was 12). It amazed me and I kept listening to it through high school. It shaped my thinking about school spirit and team sports and cheerleaders. Look, he wrote this when America was coming out of the 1950’s teeny-bopper Greaser mentality and America was confronting its darker aspects with men dying in a stupid war in Vietnam and race riots raged.

Zappa went on to skewer just about every social convention and conceit. He once said that he had a rock band so that he could finance his work as a “serious composer.” He was a devote of Varese and Stravinsky, and the latter is quoted in the middle of that previous song. Near the end of his life he was getting recognition, mostly in Europe, for his work as a composer. Pierre Boulez conducted his work, and one of the last performances of his work was in Berlin by the Ensemble Moderne. This was recorded and put out on a posthumous album entitle “Yellow Shark.” It contains another of my favorites by him: “G-Spot Tornado.”

The dance was choreographed and performed by Louise Cavalier.

Hard to believe he passed away in 1993. So many excellent musicians passed through his bands over the years–Ruth and Ian Underwood, Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, Captain Beefheart, Adrian Belew, and Steve Vai are just the tip of the iceberg.

We have no iconoclastic genius like this in our midst these days.

Frank Zappa: G-Spot Tornado

This is day 26 and the last day of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempted (and succeeded) to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. Though there are 30 days in April, when you remove Sundays, it comes out to 26.  The goal was to blog on a subject using the letters of the alphabet sequentially.  During this month, I curated a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least) going from A to Z.  I’m choosing to end this series with a piece today by Frank Zappa (1840 – 1993).

Zappa caught my attention in 1967. My older brother Bob had a friend named Tim Labuda, who wore a beret and a goatee, being influenced by the Beat poets.  At the end of their senior year of college, Tim came over to our house all in excitement.  He had a new album by a guy name Frank Zappa that he wanted Bob to listen to.  Bob had built his own vacuum tube stereo amplifier, and Tim took the vinyl album out and set the needle down.  What came out blew us both away.  Later when I became enamored of Stravinsky’s “Petrushka,” I realized that Zappa had quoted pieced of it on an instrumental interlude in the track called, “Status Back Baby.”  That’s when I learned that Zappa really wanted to be taken as a serious composer and said that he played rock music to finance his serious composing.

I followed Zappa’s work for the next 20+ years.  When I lived in Algeria in 1980, my room mate had copies of Zappa’s albums, Roxy and Elsewhere and Bongo Fury, dating from 1974 and 1975.  These became my favorites as the musicianship was superb and the lyrics were insanely funny.  I saw Zappa in concert around 1988, and realized that his live shows were a kind of rock Cabaret show with humor and political satire mixed in with great music.

In 1992 it came out that he had terminal prostate cancer.  His last album was called “Yellow Shark” and it was a recording of a concert by the  group, Ensemble Moderne, of Berlin.  Here were serious musicians performing his works.  And not his rock ones, but his serious compositions.  The track G-Spot tornado fascinated me, and that’s why I chose it.  There is another version of the  tornado I found on Youtube, which has a man and a woman performing a modern dance accompanied by the Ensemble.

Zappa died at the age of 53 in 1993.

There’s no one around like him and I miss his craftsmanship and humor.

Edgard Varèse: Ionisations

This is day 22 of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is Edgard Edgard Varèse (born 1883-1965).

Varèse was born in Paris, but his parents sent him to live with maternal relatives in Burgundy when he was just a few weeks old. When he was around 8 or 9, his parents reclaimed him and they moved to Turin, Italy. There he studied and excelled at music, writing an opera when he was just 12. His father discouraged him from music and forced him to study engineering and mathematics. However, he managed to make his way to Paris, where he studied at the with Cesar Franck and then at Conservatory with Albert Roussel. He moved to Berlin for a while, got married and divorced and returned to Paris before WWI. During these years he became friends with Debussy, Satie, Busoni and Richard Strauss. His compositions were very avant-garde and caused scandals when performed. In 1915 he moved to the United States where in New York, he became a conductor and developed a fascination with the nascent field of electronic music and especially the Theremin, invented by Léon Theremin. In New York, he contributed works to Dadaist magazines and palled around with Francis Picabia. He married Louise McCutcheon, who was the editor of another Dadaist magazine.

With others in 1921, he founded the International Composers Guild, which published a manifesto with this dictum:

“The present day composers refuse to die. They have realised the necessity of banding together and fighting for the right of each individual to secure a fair and free presentation of his work”.

I only know of Varèse because one of my rock heroes, Frank Zappa, was a life long devotee of the composer.  Zappa became obsessed with Varèse’s music after hearing Ionisations and on his 15th birthday, convinced his parents to let him call Edgard Varèse in Paris.  Zappa went on to pay tribute to Varèse throughout his life and in his works.

And I must confess, I didn’t ever listen to Varèse until writing this post.  I shied away from avant-garde music I considered noise.  The interesting thing is that Varèse was synesthetic, that is, he could see music as shaped and forms.  He also said his great realization that the only difference between noise and music was that someone had organized the noise according to accepted rules of rhythm, meter, harmony, etc.  And this piece shows admirably I think that noise, too, has a lot to offer if we expand our horizons.

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