Happy Birthday, Frank!

By Robert L. Doerschuk

Keyboard, February, 1992

3 retrospectives from 3 major players on Zappa's Universe, the special 50th-birthday concert given in New York last fall

"It didn't make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin' Slim, or ... the Jewels ... or Webern, or Varèse, or Stravinsky. To me it was all good music."
Frank Zappa, The Real Frank Zappa Book

Zappa's Universe is a strange place, a surreal neighborhood peopled by pimps, crooked politicians, and Viennese music teachers. Lincoln Center abuts Joe's Garage; teeming streets trod by brown-shoed zeroes thread through a landscape pocked by airhead malls and lead toward Montana's flossy fields. Kill-crazy militarists, totalitarian moralists, housewives raving against free speech, and plain old horny bastards prowl, growl, threaten, and whine in a cacophony that somehow, against all odds, begins to sound musical after a while.

Credit for this goes to Frank Zappa, who first caught our attention a quarter-century ago by leading his Mothers Of Invention through a polystylistic pastiche called Freak Out! Though experimentalism was in the air in those heady days, the pop music world had never encountered anything like this epochal double album. Even now – especially now – its kaleidoscopic mix of dada, doo-wop, and dodecaphony startles the sectarian listener, not so much because of the music itself as because of the assumptions underlying the music.

Those assumptions – that no musical barriers are insurmountable, that even wildly different styles can be blended in coherent new combinations, that there must be intelligent listeners somewhere in the universe – guide Zappa's music to this day. He matched Schoenbergian sprechstimme and street-corner R&B on Freak Out's "Help, I'm a Rock." On numerous projects, including Lumpy Gravy in 1967 and The Perfect Stranger, commissioned by Pierre Boulez and premiered in 1984, he explored large-form orchestral formats. His 1971 film 200 Motels anticipated the video-era synthesis of music and picture. Even his more conventional efforts, such as the early '70s-vintage Live at the Fillmore East and Just Another Band from L.A., and the later instrumental Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar series, backed traditional solos with challenging but extraordinarily tight rhythm arrangements.

This unique catalog, along with the composer's outspokenness on practically every foible of contemporary life, marks Zappa as a singular institution. The point is, of course, that in a society built on foundations of free speech and unfettered inquiry, folks like Zappa should be the norm, not the exception. But in music and in words, from concert stages and before Senate subcommittees, his views on censorship, intolerance, religious bigotry – in sum, the pettiness of small minds – expose how far we've sunk by the viciousness of the opposition he provokes.

One could argue that songs like "Jewish Princess," "Catholic Girls," and "Crew Slut" are premeditated publicity-grabbers. But even if so, the controversies they stir up differ in kind from those provoked by, say, Michael Jackson's crotch. Zappa's lyrics – and, more subtly, his uncompromising music – force us to confront our own complacencies and prejudices. Why are we bothered by the premise of Joe's Garage – that music will someday be banned by a puritanical Central Scrutinizer? Could it be because we wouldn't really mind if someone pulled the plug on 2 Live Crew? Or booted that annoying Dan Schorr off of PBS? Or blew up the masters of the new Jello Biafra album? Or locked up every member of the ACLU?

Life would indeed be easier if we had the right to shut up those who prick our consciences. But once society decides that life is easier with minds closed, what have you got? "Moral majorities," mediocrity, and the current Billboard hit list. That is precisely what makes Zappa so vital.

All of this is what drew legions of fans and a gang of wizard musicians to the Ritz in New York late last year. The three-night event, which ran Nov. 7-9, celebrated Frank Zappa on the eve of his 50th birthday (Dec. 21). Here, an orchestra conducted by Joel Thome performed works by Zappa and his predecessor in battling the musical orthodoxy, Erik Satie. On the Zappa material, the orchestra was joined by a band approved and rehearsed by the composer: guitarists Mike Keneally and Scott Thunes, drummer Morgan Ågren, and a 21-year-old blind Swedish keyboardist named Mats Öberg. Former Zappa sidemen Steve Vai and Dale Bozzio sat in during the first two nights as the combined ensemble tackled familiar titles from Zappa's early years and more recent pieces that had not yet been played in public, including "Nite School."

But on the last night, the featured performer was Lorin Hollander. For years a respected concert pianist, Hollander had had no previous association with Zappa. Yet here he was on the afternoon before the performance, seated behind a Yamaha CP-80, a Yamaha DX7, and a Kurzweil 250 on the far right of the Ritz stage, poking out weird scratchy noises while vocalist Maureen McNalley intoned the creepy libretto of The Dangerous Kitchen. As she guided us through an ominous obstacle course of "meat things," "bread things," black bananas, and scurrying roaches, Hollander responded with appropriate effects, all improvised to McNalley's recitatif.

The performances on all three nights have been captured on video for release in May or June by PolyGram Classic/Jazz; the double-CD will be out at about the same time on Verve. Three artists who played key roles in the Ritz concerts – conductor Thome, keyboardist Öberg, and soloist Hollander – took time between shows to explain what drew them together in the bizarre but familiar netherworld of Zappa's Universe.


Born in Detroit. Graduated from Eastman School of Music. Pianist, composer, conductor. Chosen by composer Virgil Thomson to conduct a revival of Satie's Socrate in 1977. Arranged Broadway the Hard Way and other Zappa pieces and led the Orchestra of Our Time for Zappa's Universe. Currently preparing for late summer or early fall performances of Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse with the National Opera of Mexico.

How did you first become acquainted with Frank Zappa's music?

Like a lot of people, I got acquainted with it in the '60s. One of the things that struck me immediately was the wonderful originality of his work and the depth of knowledge that was involved with it. Very often he would credit Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and particularly Edgard Varèse, and I felt that a composer who paid this sort of homage to his or her colleagues was a very special person indeed. But in addition to that, I was very taken with the startling originality of his own writing.

When did you first collaborate with him?

That was at the tribute we gave to Varèse at the Palladium in New York on the 90th birthday of the composer's widow, Louise Varèse. I had visited with Frank in L.A. before then, at which time we discussed his music and also the music of Boulez, Varèse, and others. At that point I realized that we shared a lot of common ground, so we struck up what I feel is quite a special friendship.

The program at Zappa's Universe includes not only his works but also Erik Satie's Socrate. What led to this pairing of composers?

I feel that there's a unique connection between their music. I'm not sure that Frank would share that feeling, but as someone coming from a more objective standpoint I think that Satie and Varèse should both be recognized as pillars in Frank's music. There was a very close feeling between the musics of Satie and Varèse, which is important because Frank considers Varèse his mentor.

Did Zappa object to having Satie on the program?

Not really. His feeling was that he didn't know how the audience would react to Satie. But my feeling was that audiences often react to Satie and Varèse in identical ways, which would be something in the neighborhood of the reaction at the premiere of [Stravinsky's] Le Sacre du Printemps. In any event, I felt that the audience reaction would just be a part of the totality of the theatre that occurs. In fact, I would have liked to have had the Socrate moving during the Zappa pieces.

Simultaneous performances?

Sure. If you took Zappa's Universe and superimposed the Satie Socrate on it, that would be a very special moment. In a way, that's what happened, regardless of who listened and who didn't listen to the Socrate, because the piece made a very powerful impact.

So the audience at the Ritz has been pretty vociferous?

Yeah, because with Frank's music they're used to shouting out the text and singing along and all of that. But at the same time, there is that part of the audience that has come to hear the Socrate and see the Calder sets. [Artist Alexander Calder designed the hanging sets at the Ritz in 1934, based on the sets used at the premiere of Socrate in 1918.] In the last two concerts, after doing the video and CD recording, we had to be very careful about overtime, so we had to limit the performances of the Socrate on those nights to just the second movement. I remember that when Dweezil [Zappa, guitarist and son of Frank] announced that we were going to do only the second movement on the second night, one rocker stood up and shouted, "But what about all three movements?" That was really wonderful because it shows that a crossover exists.

Unlike Satie's work, much of Zappa's orchestral music can hardly be called simple. He seems to pursue a harmonic complexity that is more characteristic of the Schoenberg school than of what Satie was doing.

Those are surface characteristics. When you get in touch with the similarities of their work, in dynamics, in texture, even in text, that overcomes the dissimilarities.

Perhaps there are similarities in their piano pieces, but these parallels become more obscure in their works for larger ensembles.

That's right, which is why I sought to make these connections apparent as I orchestrated and arranged Zappa's works for Zappa's Universe. I worked very hard to bring these elements out, be they twelve-tone rows, textural things, Varèse connections, or whatever. When I arranged "Nite School" for orchestra and rock group, I was thinking very much about the way he used attack and decay forms, and of the way blocks of sound happened in Varèse. I wanted to preserve the integrity and originality of Frank's sound in that piece.

How far did your arrangements get into the specifics of keyboard sounds?

I was very concerned about that in "Nite School" because it had emerged from the Synclavier, so I wanted to preserve the electronics. In "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" I wanted to bring out some of Frank's atonal stuff, but I also wanted to continue the electronics very thoroughly. The same was true of "Waka Jawaka." There were areas in that piece where I wanted to continue free improvisation, and there were other areas where there were strict rhythmically proportional things. I wanted to juxtapose all of that while keeping the richness of the electronics.

Neither Zappa nor Satie was extensively trained as a musician. Where Schoenberg, for instance, created his alternative approach from a foundation of thorough grounding in classical tradition, they weren't run so thoroughly through the conservatory mill. Is there a certain naïvete in their work that provides a freshness that more trained musicians might not so easily attain?

I would describe Frank as less restricted by academic boundaries. Schoenberg was totally familiar with the traditions, yet he had to overcome them for his music to emerge in its full-blown way.

What about Zappa's frequent scatology and theatrical irreverence? Will these pre-occupations diminish his standing in musical history?

I don't think so. What comes immediately to mind is a piece of his that I arranged, called "Oh, No." I wanted to bring out Frank's sense of the music of Webern in this arrangement, so I treated the first part of "Oh, No" somewhat like Webern's Op. 21, the Chamber Symphony, in a very pointillistic way. I made a crab canon in three groups, all working pointillistically.

What is a crab canon?

That's what Webern uses in Op. 21. It's a technique of turning the music inside out: One idea goes in one direction, another in a different direction, and so on, often from the middle out. So I made three pointillistic canons. Then I took the piano part and did it in reverse. Then I put in an organ part at slow motion. That's how the first 16 measures work.

Then the tenor, Doug Perry, started a measure later. When it got to the bridge section, I brought in the rock group, and the mezzo-soprano, Maureen McNalley, who recorded [Schoenberg's] Pierrot Lunaire with me, entered where the text begins, "Oh, my love, will it heal the world?" The piece ends with the words, "Oh, no, I don't believe it." I had both Doug and Maureen sing in an almost Mahleresque way, so I was able to bring out many sides of Frank. But I also kept the scatological aspects of the text in their pure form. Not only did those texts not work against the compositional idea; they were a part of its totality. I love that juxtaposition.

But how will such pieces as "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth" be received by music historians of the future?

That particular piece is one of my favorites. It's an extraordinarily beautiful work. Steve Vai played it on the first evening at the Ritz – an unbelievable performance. I much prefer the title "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth" to, say, Sonata for Guitar. That's part of what makes Frank the composer that he is.


 Born 21 years ago in Sweden. Sightless since birth. Played keyboards with house rock band in Zappa's Universe. Currently working on duo album with drummer Morgan Agren.

How did you and the rest of the Zappa's Universe band prepare to play with the orchestra at the Ritz concerts?

When Morgan, Scott Thunes, Mike Keneally, and I rehearsed for seven days at Joe's Garage in L.A., I thought, "This is gonna be great. I'm comfortable now." But when you play with the orchestra and get to know how the arrangements sound, you go, "Oh, now I have to change the sounds because the horns are playing this part that I was playing." I'm mostly a background keyboard player with this band. I don't do many lead things – maybe some themes. On "Nite School," a Synclavier piece, I play the melody along with Mike Keneally. I also have a piano and vocal duet with Maureen McNalley.

Do you do any solos?

I do one on "Inca Roads." It starts off with a piano solo on the [Yamaha] electric grand, then it builds up and gets a bit more exciting, and after a few bars of that I change to the Moog Sonic 6.

Did you begin rehearsals just a few days before the concerts?

Yeah, with orchestra, just four days before the first show. On some songs we didn't have time to rehearse with the orchestra, so it was a big surprise when we played the show. Unfortunately, you can't hear exactly what the orchestra is doing onstage, so sometimes it's a bit confusing, like we're in two different worlds.

Being sightless, how do you deal with following Joel Thome's conducting?

I just listen. Before the first show, I discussed some of the cues with Joel and told him how I wanted it to be. That's all.

When did you begin playing?

When I was two or three. My mother is a piano player, and my father is a baritone sax player. I played some classical things when I was about nine or ten – Bartok pieces, things like that. Apart from that, I never played classical music. I don't play with classical technique. I play with flat fingers. My piano teachers over the years always criticized me for that.

How did you get into electronic keyboards?

I first tried a synthesizer when I was eight. My parents rented me a Korg eight-preset monophonic synthesizer. It had flute, oboe, some very thin string sounds, things like that. The first one I bought was when I was nine: a two-preset Crumar polyphonic synthesizer with one string patch and one brass patch. You could change the intensity of the filtering and make the brass go mee-OWW! That was very exciting. But after a year I sold it to a Polish dance band that was playing in Sweden. Then I bought a Korg MS-20, which I liked very much. It was a great synthesizer, but it was too hard for me to work with onstage because it had cable inputs. So I sold that and I bought a Micromoog and a [Yamaha] DX7.

Was the DX7 hard to program?

I didn't program it so much. I bought a cartridge with four banks of very good sounds, and I used that. Also, I marked the numbers with tape and Braille.

Do you read Braille music?

I tried to when I was in the Academy of Music in Sweden, but it's not too helpful because you can't read and play at the same time.

Wouldn't it be helpful in learning something as complicated as a Zappa score?

Yeah, but I can learn it just as easily by ear.

Were you born with perfect pitch?

I think so. I've always known notes, even before knowing what to call them.

When did you start getting interested in Zappa?

When I was about eight. Somebody lent me an album called Sheik Yerbouti, which I liked very much from the first time I heard it. The year after that, I bought all 31 of the Zappa albums that were out then. Then Maury [drummer Morgan Agren] and I were in a band called Zappsteetoot, beginning in '84 and going up to 1990. We did only Frank Zappa music.

Which of Zappa's keyboard players affected your approach to playing his music?

Well, Tommy Mars was maybe the creator of Frank's sound in the late '70s and early '80s. And the first time I heard Eddie Jobson's solo on "I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth," I cried. I was nine, and sitting in a library; in those days you could listen to records in libraries in Sweden. I was playing the Zappa in New York album, and when that solo came on I began to cry.

How did you and Zappa meet?

My uncle called his road manager in Scandinavia and told him that there were these two musicians from Sweden who had been playing Zappa music for a long time, and that they'd like to meet him. We did that before his show at Stockholm in '88. We told him a little bit about ourselves and gave him a tape that included a song of his called "T'mershi Duween," which was not released on any record – just on bootleg. It's now on two albums: Make a Jazz Noise Here and You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore: The Helsinki Concert.

What did he think of the tape?

He never played it. That was the funniest thing. He just said [lapses into baritone pseudo-Zappa voice], "You play that song? That's amazing. We play a song tonight called 'Big Swifty.' Maybe we could bring you up onstage in the middle of the song and you can jam along with us." That's what happened. We went up onstage and jammed with four members of the band.

Have you played much with Zappa since then?

No. We played with him at one of the rehearsals for Zappa's Universe in L.A. He came to two of the rehearsals, and suddenly at one of them he picked up Dweezil's guitar and started to play on two songs.

Like Miles Davis, Zappa has led a lot of bands that feature talented young players who later make it on their own. Is there a predominant lesson that these sidemen derive from Zappa?

They learn to try new ideas. Before George Duke was in Frank's band, he didn't sing at all. Frank was the one who made him start to sing. He didn't even play synthesizer either. His career after being with Zappa would have been less successful if Frank hadn't told him to sing and play synthesizer.

What's the most metrically complex Zappa piece on the band's list?

We play "The Black Page." Morgan and I played it for five or six years, especially Part One.

The drum part on "The Black Page" is extremely complicated. What does the keyboard part involve?

It has to play along with the drums on Part One. All the rhythmic patterns on the drums are the same as on the keyboard. That song was originally a drum solo that Frank afterwards turned into a theme.

How do you learn these sorts of pieces? Do you listen while seated at a keyboard?

Yeah, mostly.

Is it a different sort of process from learning one of Zappa's simpler doo-wop tunes?

I don't think about that too much. It's harder to play "The Black Page" than "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body," that's for sure.

Are you using a wide mix of sampler and synth sounds in Zappa's Universe?

Not really. I don't use a sampler here.

You do have a Kurzweil K1000 onstage.

I use it to play piano samples. It's my favorite for piano sounds, although recently I tried the new Ensoniq, and I think maybe it has the best piano sound I've ever heard.

You're also using a Yamaha electric grand at the Ritz.

Actually, it was Frank's idea to use it, and I thought it was a good idea. He had ordered one for our rehearsals at Joe's Garage. I got used to it and asked him to order the same kind of piano for New York. It's one of my favorite instruments. There's a big difference between playing it and playing a digital piano because you can feel the strings' vibrations on the electric grand. That makes it more alive.

You have another piece of vintage gear at the Ritz as well – a Moog Sonic 6.

I've had that for two years. I got it for free from a keyboard player in Turkey when Morgan and I were playing there. It's my favorite solo instrument.

Do you use it for bass lines?

Not with this band, but when Morgan and I play our keyboard and drum duo, I do play bass lines on it.

The old Moog is neither MIDIed nor touch-sensitive. Is that a problem?

No. If I want it to sound touch-sensitive, I can use the filter.

Is there any sequencing in the show?

No. Frank uses sequencers a lot because of the Synclavier, but I don't want to do sequencing for this music. I haven't got enough time to program them. And it's not necessary either, because we can play the music ourselves. Besides, when you're working with a big band or, like we are now, with a symphony orchestra, maybe they won't hear the sequencer and they'll start playing two beats ahead.

You're also using a Roland Super JX-10 and a Korg T3 on this gig. What roles do they play?

I use the Korg for simple sounds – organ patches that Frank wanted me to play on some songs, some acoustic piano things, some traditional lead synth things. I play very fat sounds on the JX, and I play a lead synth sound on it for "Nite School."

So you use all your keyboards for lead sounds at one time or another.


Are you MIDIing anything onstage?

No. That's what I prefer. Of course, it depends on which sounds you put together and how the levels are set, but sometimes when you use MIDI it sounds like too much, especially when you play with a symphony orchestra.

You're doing tunes from a huge span of time, from the early Mothers Of Invention albums to the present. When you do the older material, are you trying to recreate the older sounds, or are you making everything sound contemporary?

Both. The oldest one that we play is "Hungry Freaks, Daddy," which came out on Freak Out in '66. It has no keyboards at all, except for maybe some very soft acoustic piano mixed into the background. On that one, I use a Korg T3 Rhodes patch, which is not on the album. On "Uncle Meat" I play the Kurzweil, which wasn't invented yet when the album Uncle Meat was recorded, for a kind of combination between acoustic piano and Rhodes.

When you're interpreting Zappa's music, do you approach the music purely from a musical standpoint, or is your performance affected by whatever social or political message he is trying to convey on a particular piece?

Both, but mostly I work as a musician because I'm more interested in music than in politics.

Would you vote for Zappa for president?

Of course.


Famous classical pianist. Made Carnegie Hall debut at age 11. Youngest pianist ever invited to play on State Department tour. Surprised lots of stuffed shirts by playing recital at the Fillmore East in 1969 – on an electric piano! Played on soundtrack to Sophie's Choice. Former adviser to Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the World Congress on the Gifted, and the Commission on Presidential Scholars.

What is your assessment of Zappa as a composer?

Having known Frank for 24 of his 26 performing years, and having heard a fair amount of his music, I feel that you can love his music, you can be indifferent to it, you can have difficulty with it, but you have to recognize that he is a deeply creative person. The sheer visionary aspects of his music are apparent. It's Lenny Brucian in its humor, the way that he sees and experiences what others feel. He sees the truth. He understands the areas of life that touch us all. The most interesting aspect of working on "Little House I Used to Live In" comes from the fact that Frank has often spoken about the impact that Varèse has had on him. My first feeling in working on this piece is that it was somehow like working on an early Webern or Berg piece, with some elements of Varèse or Stockhausen. In the course of the two or three weeks that I've had the music, I discovered that I was giving it the same type of care that I give all the great works. I was following the bass lines, I was finding the illuminated structure, I was noticing the emotional content, I was finding parallels in the voices. I found myself making notes about the relationships between three-and four-note motifs. The fact that this music excited the highest element of my interpretive consciousness speaks for its intrinsic value.

There are certain details in "Little House" that pop the bubble of reverence through which you see this music.

There are two sounds at the end which can be interpreted as his poking fun at his own seriousness, which is an almost Sartrian attitude. At one point you move your buttocks on the piano stool so that you make the stool creak. The other sound is to cough into the piano. But those two sounds prepare the way for this animal house that he used to live in, as described in "The Dangerous Kitchen," rather than degrade anything that came beforehand in the music.

You don't think that these effects subvert the serious intent of ''Little House"?

In some ways, they obviously do. But it's not like the introduction to Dohnanyi's Variations on a Nursery Rhyme – an overly-Rachmaninoffian, full-blown exhibition of self-importance. I'm the first one to recognize that Frank would dismiss the idea of taking oneself too seriously and thinking that what one does is so significant. But this is one of the great messages: We all take ourselves a little bit too seriously. Interestingly enough, I played this piece last night as an encore at a very serious recital in Iowa. I announced what it was, and the people listened in hushed silence. Then, at the two final sounds, they laughed, some of them uproariously. But they took the piece as a whole as terribly serious.

The strengths of "Little House" are compositional, as opposed to pianistic. It could have been written for orchestra, but Zappa happened to set it for piano.

It's interesting that you mention that. Joel Thome felt that the middle section was Satiean in its timbre, although I found myself abhorring that I was looking for someone to compare it to. It's Frank! But it does have a pulsing quality that is terribly beautiful and touching, and then terribly painful. One follows where it's mezzoforte, then there is a triple forte that's led up to by a crescendo – or is it a subito? [See bars 18-35 in "Little House," page 100]. It's in five beats, sometimes six beats, but the three of the five beats is usually in two, and the two of the five beats is broken into a triple [e.g., in bars 10-12], so you're dealing with a Gunther Schullerian type of rhythmic play. Again, you have to approach this with the same care that you would put into a Webern work.

Along with a grand piano, you've got a Yamaha CP-80 onstage.

Yes, and a Kurzweil 250, which I use for "The Dangerous Kitchen." The lyrics are so wonderfully funny and touching. One recognizes oneself in them absolutely: The milk can be dangerous if you pour it on your cereal before smelling the plastic container. The bread things are scratching. And the sponge in the strainer is less than delightful because it's black and squirty. He just sees it all! Then, when he starts getting paranoid about this stuff getting into your bed and on your complexion and ruining your glands.... To me, it's a very complicated and touching emotion. Ginsberg captures it, Kerouac captured it, Tom Wolfe captures it.

Your vocal and Kurzweil interactions to Maureen McNalley's reading of "The Dangerous Kitchen" very effectively sets these lyrics into a serious context, so that at the end, when you play a simple triad on the piano, that – the only familiar "musical" sound in the piece – becomes the punch line.

That's the thing. Of course, all the keyboard parts are improvised. I do them differently each time. Once I played a simple recitatif harmonic pattern from the St. Matthew Passion and set these chords to it. She would go into "The Dangerous Kitchen," and I would modulate it. Little by little, it got freakier and more involved.

The complete freedom of the keyboard part seems unusual, since Zappa often writes in meticulous detail on his through-composed works.

All you have here is the guitar line, which Steve Vai transcribed from Frank's own performance and divided into sevens, nines, fifteens, and nineteens, trying to capture what Frank does. But you cannot. The best we can do is to capture the emotion through the sounds that we make. So I'm dealing with the score to "Little House" with dedication, commitment, and reverence, and approaching "The Dangerous Kitchen" with an absolute respect for its theatrical freedom.

The vocal part to "The Dangerous Kitchen" has a Schoenbergian sprechstimme quality.

Precisely. To prepare, I listened to three performances of Pierrot Lunaire to see how one could make the music contain the emotions that I pick up at the moment from Maureen. Two seconds before any given moment, there's not the slightest idea of what's going to happen. It's a totally Zen-like musical experience.

Is there any indication in the score about the kinds of sounds you should use in accompanying the vocal?

No. It's basically just a lead sheet. He gives one or two chords in the beginning, and then nothing. In his recording of "The Dangerous Kitchen," one hears a very important bass line, but I'm sure that it was improvised; it was never written down.

Did you have to make significant compromises in the nuance of your piano touch in dealing with the Kurzweil 250 keyboard?

I found that the piano technique I've built up over all these years was simply building up to being able to master the Kurzweil [laughs]! Having a command of the keyboard allows me to go wild with an instrument that's such fun. I would be very careful, for instance, about playing a harpsichord because of the different spacing of the octave, or the clavichord where working the vibration of the string is a technique that I don't have. But it's almost as if all those years of playing the piano were in service for my entering the twenty-first century with a Kurzweil.


Frank Zappa was interviewed in the June '80 and Feb. '87 issues of Keyboard. Interviews with Lorin Hollander were published in July '79 and Apr. '84.

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