Zappa’s ’Round Midnight?


    That was a fine piece from Geoff Wills on the jazz elements of Frank Zappa’s music. Succinct but comprehensive.

    I’d like to add only two things to Geoff’s article: a brief mention of Twenty Small Cigars which, alongside King Kong, I have always considered to be one of Zappa’s two best-known jazz waltzes and, in terms of his penetration of the repertoire of jazz groups, one of his “standards” (his ’Round Midnight, dare I say?). An out-take from the Hot Rats sessions, featuring John Guerin and Max Bennett, it was released on his 1970 LP, Chunga’s Revenge.

    Secondly, that the band which recorded (most of) the Roxy & Elsewhere double-LP, the source of his legendary jazz bon mot, came together following the departure from the “tight, funky band” of two of the musicians Geoff mentions, namely Jean-Luc Ponty and Sal Marquez (Ian Underwood also left the band at around the same time).

    It’s perhaps worth recalling – in honour of Zappa’s critical attitudes towards all things, including jazz – that Ponty, alongside film-composer Alan Silvestri, is offered as an example of a talented and creative musician who nevertheless feels that there’s only one way to end a big solo in a large auditorium – with what Zappa calls “The Volcano”.

    In any case, the band which toured and recorded in the wake of Ponty’s departure – featuring George Duke, Ruth Underwood, Bruce Fowler and Napoleon Murphy Brock, alongside two drummers, including Chester Thompson – can be seen on the Zappa At The Roxy film, which was finally released a few years ago.

    Incidentally, Frank’s criticism of some of the dancing by audience members during The Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen’s Church) – preserved on side four of original Roxy album – proves to be spot-on.  Carl and Rick and Jane, for instance, really are “too reserved”, following the pedestrian tango beat rather than – as Zappa has instructed them – “the little quick ones … that George sings”.
    Sean Wilkie