Zappa Story #1
(Written by "Walter"; submitted by Poodle)
You asked for an interesting Zappa story... Here goes...
I caught Frank -&- the Band in Boston for the 88 Broadway the Hard Way Tour... on the Second Night. During the set break, while everybody else wandered out into the lobby to register to vote, I (wearing a Confederate Flag tied "bib" style around my neck) wandered towards the stage - having been a registered voter for 10 years or so...
I saw Ike Willis off at stage left noodling with something on his guitar, and I started calling his name. I took off the Rebel Flag Bandanna and started waving it to get his attention... He looked over at me, pointed to the bandanna, and said "Is that for me?" I said "You Bet!" and got him to sign my ticket for the show.
Ike then tied the bandana around his neck (the same way I had been wearing it), and wore it for the rest of the night...I got to shake his hand too! A very cool experience all around, with one of my all-time favorite Frank Zappa Sidemen (Flo -&- Eddie being the other two.)
I still have his autograph on the ticket around here somewhere...
Zappa Story #2
(Written by "MDB"; submitted by Poodle)
Jeffrey Burns - "Ruth Is Sleeping", CD single (1992, Pool 76013); the performance runs for a whopping 10 minutes...
On September 30, 1998, I wrote an e-mail to Jeffrey Burns (yes, he's a real person with an e-mail address (email@example.com). It went like this:
"Dear Mr. Burns, In search of interpretations of the music of Frank Zappa, I came across your Home Page (http://www.snafu.de/~jeff) and I was wondering if the above mentioned single is still available for ordering from you, or some record company..."
The following morning he replied:
"Thanks for your interest in my recording. It should be available on order in any European record shop. The distributor is Pool Music Produktion, Berlin. If you have further problems, write me again and I'll get you the exact address. Yours, Jeffrey Burns."
On the biography part of Mr. Burns' web pages it says: "In recent years Jeffrey Burns has experimented with other modern art genres, as well. His interest in jazz led to the world premiere of the piano composition 'Ruth is Sleeping' by Frank Zappa." It made me wonder... and, yes, a couple of days later (October 7) I decided to write another e-mail:
"Dear Mr. Burns, I don't want to take too much of your time, but ... is there any chance that you could elaborate on the recording session (or your appreciation of the piece), so I could share this information with the Zappa community out there? I, or better: 'we', would much appreciate it. Thanks in advance."
A week later (October 14) when I was no longer expecting an answer, he wrote:
In answer to your request, I'll be glad to give you an account of how I met Zappa, etc. Please wait until next week, however, as I am presently on tour. By the way, to what 'community' are you planning to make this info available? Regards, JB."
So, I gave him a basic idea of all the Freaks, Motherfu*#@%! and musicians out there - with or without a cheesy little home made web page - that are trying to keep FZ alive in their hearts and minds... Another week later (October 22), Jeffrey Burns replied:
"The info about the 'FZ community' sounds good. Here's a short account about how I came to play 'Ruth is Sleeping': In 1991, the Akademie der Kuenste in Berlin was planning to invite Frank Zappa to come to Europe for what later became the 'Yellow Shark' tour. I had been active for years at the Akademie, performing world premieres of contemporary piano music. As I had always been interested in Zappa's music, the Akademie sent me to Los Angeles (my hometown) to talk to him about the project.
My plane arrived in the late afternoon, and I planned to drive immediately to Zappa's house. But, his secretary told me I would have to come later. (I remembered from Zappa's autobiography that he usually woke up in the evening and slept during the day.) Some hours later, I got in my rental car and looked for his house (which was situated in Laurel Canyon, a rather high-class mountain area in the north of Hollywood). Unlike the neighboring abodes, his looked run-down from the outside - certainly an eyesore to the bourgeois neighbors? An assistant showed me inside, where the interior made a quite different impression. There was a gigantic recording studio, filled with the most modern digital equipment. I was led into the "family" room, the walls of which were filled with bookcases containing countless master tapes, as well as with concert memorabilia (such as the original "Black Page").
Zappa was interested in hearing what I play, and listened for hours to my piano recordings. I remember telling him about my theories on music and dialectics, which I was developing at the time. He was quite focused, although I could tell that he was in pain from his prostate sickness (which turned fatal a few years later). He also played me his recordings. Some - like those conducted by Pierre Boulez - proved how badly 'serious' musicians performed his compositions. Others were of music that he had written directly on the computer - using the Synclavier - that interested him greatly. He said it was often impossible to notate these compositions, and to get musicians to play them as precisely as he had intended.
I recognized that, although he had musical ideas that were immensely more advanced than those of other jazz and rock musicians, he lacked the classical training that would have enabled him to make his notations understandable to musicians outside of his "group" (that he conducted himself). I chose not to get involved in his conflicts with musicians (which were the subject of numerous rumors in Los Angeles; such as his turning down the mics on players whose performance he didn't like, and letting the concert audience only hear a pre-fabricated computer simulation. The musicians were well paid to keep quiet about this).
Although he wanted me to sit down at the Synclavier and improvise the basis for a composition that he would then write, I told him I was too tired to stay any longer (it was about three in the morning, and I was totally jet-lagged). I asked him if he had any finished composition for piano that I could perform. He pulled 'Ruth is Sleeping' out of a drawer and told me it had been written a year before, but pianists had told him it was too difficult to perform.
I said I would have no problem with it. Not believing me, he rearranged the piece for two pianos and scheduled it for the coming 'Yellow Shark' tour in Germany. I scheduled the world premiere of the original solo-piano version for a concert in the Berlin Akademie der Kuenste on February 21, 1992, the time of his planned arrival in Berlin.
A few days before the concert, he called me from Frankfurt. He was too sick to accompany the 'Yellow Shark' troupe to Berlin. He had heard my recording of 'Ruth is Sleeping' and approved of it highly - he had even told the pianists for the two-piano version to try to imitate my interpretation. Having his consent, I was able to release a CD of the piece on the POOL label on the evening of the world premiere.
"See also 'Neue Musikzeitung', Regensburg, April/May 1992."