who wrote it, that it is Frank Zappa. It's especially in the way
his melodies are built; they are very, very personal and typical
of him. You don't have to make a distinction between him as a
guitar improviser and as a composer, it's still Frank Zappa! You
can hear it. That's astonishing, because the styles are so
Conductor Peter Rundel makes the important point that the listener can hear a continuity across FZ's widely-styled music, but there is no one piece in the estimated catalogue of 1200 FZ compositions that embodies all of his compositional traits
(and I do not propose to analyse them one by one). I choose 'The Black Page' as an example - 'A Token of His Extreme' (2). This is a typically eclectic piece, and a useful starting point from from which to draw other musical examples from the Zappa
library, in an attempt to gain insight into this composers unique sound world.
The Black Page was designed as a challenge to the virtuosity of the young drummer Terry Bozzio. Bozzio entered FZ's ever-changing touring ensemble by audition in 1975, at the age of 23, and typically, FZ exploited his flamboyant personality and talents, incorporating them into his band folklore and repertoire. The Black Page was written for him in 1977, to expose his particular talents as a kit player.
On listening to the FZ albums on which Terry Bozzio is most prominently featured (3), it becomes clear how Zappa's musical language adapted then incorporated Bozzio's unique approach to playing the drumset, and how Bozzio's style would serve as part of the inspiration to write The Black Page in its drum solo version.
Zappa was initially impressed by Bozzio's approach to playing the drumset, both as accompanist and soloist, because it was sympathetic to his own preoccupation with rhythmical ideas:
"It's hard to explain to guys just coming into the band, the rhythmic concept I have about playing, because it's based on ideas of metrical balance, long, sustained events versus
groupettoes that are happening with a lot of notes on one beat. This is sort of against the grain of rock 'n' roll, which likes to have everything in exactly duple or triple, straight up and
down, so you can constantly tap your foot to it. But I prefer to have the rhythm section be aware of where the basic pulse of the time is and create a foundation that won't move, so I
can flow over the top of it...I've always had a really good rhythmical rapport with Terry Bozzio. He has a tendency to frenzy out a little bit, but I figure that's because he's from San
Francisco...I like to find players who have unique abilities that haven't been challenged on other types of music...[For example] Terry Bozzio's idea of constructions for drum solos was
in a whole musical realm that nobody had touched before." (4)
Terry was very adept at executing complicated polyrhythmic passages, and by the time he auditioned for the Zappa band, this was a firm feature of his playing, and formed the basis for his drum solo work and much of his support playing. Example
One overleaf is a transcription of an extract from one of Bozzio's drum solos (they became a prominent feature of the late 70's Zappa touring groups) (5). Example two on the same page is an extract from the opening of an earlier track, 'The Torture
Never Stops' (6). Bozzio's construction of cross rhythms can be read, and certainly heard in these recordings. The frenetic solo consists of extrapolated implied rhythms over a fixed mock cock-rock shuffle. The cliched 'big rock drum solo groove' is given a subtle sophistication by Terry's precise syncopation and sphincter-tightening flams. This stylistic trait is displayed also in example two. The fixed rhythm becomes obviously more apparent alongside the rest of the rhythm section, almost alienating Terry's approach. No other drummer would construct such an odd (albeit apt (7)) fill against this simple swung rhythm.
Example number three is the opening of the Black Page drum score. There are obvious links between Zappa's original incarnation of this piece as a written score and the transcriptions of Bozzio's kit improvisations. The implied constant rhythm of Zappa's piece coupled with the sophisticated post-Varäsian complexities of the melody creates a tension that is the same backbone of the Bozzio drum solo. The
importance here is the question of where in The Black Page Zappa ends and Bozzio begins, and vice-versa. It would be fair to assume that Zappa was indeed impressed by Bozzio's playing style, because he said so, and also paid him a salary
for it. The connection between Bozzio's and Zappa's rhythmical approaches in examples 1,2 and 3 lies in the use of cross rhythms against a fixed backing, to create rhythmical tension.
Zappa's ideas on rhythm, quoted from an interview he gave for Guitar Player Magazine:
"...It's like this: in the realm of mathematics, there is something beyond adding and subtracting, it goes all the way out. And it's the same in music. The type of music that people
are taught in schools, especially from the rhythmic standpoint, never gets beyond addition and multiplication. There's no algebra out there. There's certainly no physics, and there's no
calculus or trigonometry. There's nothing interesting in musical rhythm that they teach you in school. Most academic situations tend to ignore this type of rhythmical approach - not just
mine, but anybody's that's polyrhythmic." (8)
This is further exemplified in the chapter 'All About Music', from The Real Frank Zappa Book:
'...Polyrhythms are interesting only in reference to a steady, metronomic beat (implied or actual)-otherwise you're wallowing in rubato.' (9)
The rapid syncopated lines divided between Bozzio's snare and kick drum in examples two and three suggest the same polyrhytmic theme. The semiquaver triplet fills in bar three of example two and bar two of example three build phrases
that suggest rhythm flying in all directions, against and beyond the basic pulse carried on the hi-hat. This seems to imply polyrhythm, but never delivers a fixed pattern. The physical anomalies of playing these lines on the drumset draw the
examples together also; Bozzio is basically flying around the kit, developing the melodies in a style (only slightly) more familiar to a Jazz drummer.
Similarities between Bozzio's playing and Zappa's writing are further displayed by their mutual love of fast notes. All three examples contain clusters of rapid passages forming complex patterns. The resulting sound from the demisemiquaver phrase in bar four of example three creates a texture that is difficult to penetrate; the 'smack' of the kick drum and the 'crack' of the snare become blurred into an apparent frenzy, far removed from a calculated line. This is true also of example one; Bozzio's deft
manipulation of hi-hat tones, alongside his syncopated kick and snare touches creates an exciting overall timbre, with a definite sense of speed and propulsion, still able to throw the listener. There is the suggestion of 'rock' attitude here; the drum set
is seen as a 'rock tool', and Bozzio is happiest playing with in an aggressive style, but the complexities of the score and the accuracy with which it is executed contradict the rock concert performance context and instrumentation. Zappa's music
transcends stylistic boundaries once more.
In the tradition of Varäse's 'Density 21.5' (10), Zappa constructed the drum solo to utilise and highlight specific player talent. The aim of this exercise is usually to expand on the capabilities of the player and use their specific techniques to their full advantage. Neither Density 21.5 or The Black Page would exist had the composers of the works not met Barrere and Bozzio respectively. It is important to note however, that aside from this obvious consideration, stylistically, The Black Page sits
comfortably in the Zappa genre...
(1) Peter Rundel, Conductor of the Ensemble Modern, speaking about Zappa's Music. The quote is taken from the sleeve notes of Zappa's last release before his death in 1993, The Yellow Shark. (See Discography).
(2) The Song 'A Token Of My Extreme' can be found on the album Joe's Garage. (See Discography). It is the simplest and best autobiography regarding Zappa's views on his own
(3) The Albums Bongo Fury, Zoot Allures, Zappa in New York, Sheik Yerbouti and Joe's Garage. (See Discography).
(4) Guitar Player magazine, January 1977, 'One size Fits All'. Interview with Frank Zappa by Steve Rosen.
(5) Taken from the album You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. III. (See Discography), Disk Two, Track 2; 'Hands with a Hammer'.
(6) Taken from the album Zoot Allures. (See Discography), track number 3.
(7) Although difficult to ascertain without prior knowledge of Zappa's music, Bozzio's playing obviously contains the kind of rhythmical themes that Zappa enjoyed:
JOHN DALTON: [In your guitar solos] You use groups of fives and sevens on beats.
FZ: Yeah, and across bars and stuff like that. 'Sheik Yerbouti Tango' is kinda interesting. Here there are groups of septuplets but they're accented in five, culminating in this little chingus here which has ten in the space of a dotted quarter, with ornaments inside the ten.
Quoted by John Dalton, 'Frank Zappa:Shut Up and Play Your Guitar', Guitar magazine, May 1979, p.22. ('The Sheik Yerbouti Tango' can be found on the album Sheik Yerbouti, track 11 -
see discography). The Passage in question can be found overleaf (Example 4), copied from a transcription by Richard Emmet that is included in The Frank Zappa Guitar Book (See Bibliography).
(8) Frank Zappa, 'Non-Foods:Coming to Grips with Polyrhythm', Guitar Player magazine, reprinted in Society Pages (Zappa Fanzine), No.16, June 1983, p.29. The author uses this
quote from p.416 of The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play.(See Bib.)
(9) Quote taken from The Real Frank Zappa Book (See Bib), Chapter Eight, 'All About Music'. Frank is speaking of how a musicians approach to rhythm must be fine-tuned in order to be
an effective member of the rhythm section of his band.
(10) Edgard Varese wrote the piece in January 1936, at the request of Georges Barräre for the inauguration of his platinum flute. Varese studied Barrere's playing and techniques, and
the physical properties of the instrument. It highlighted Barrere's talents as a player and makes specific use of the tonal characteristics of the platinum flute that was crafted for him.
21.5 is the physical density of platinum.
Ex.One: Appears on the album You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol III (see discography), C.D one, track two, 00.00 - 00.11 min/sec.
Ex.Two: Appears on the album Zoot Allures (see discography), C.D track three, 00.05-00.14 min/sec.
Ex.Three: Appears on the album Zappa in New York (see discography), C.D two, track four, 00.00 - 00.16 min/sec.
Ex.Four: Appears on the Album Sheik Yerbouti (see discography), track eleven, 01.24 - 01.30 min/sec.