Frank Zappa estate acquired by Universal

    The corporation will market both old and unissued music by the man who said 'Jazz is not dead . . . it just smells funny'

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    Frank Zappa as depicted on the cover of the album Apostrophe. Courtesy Universal

    The Universal Music Group (UMG) has agreed with Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva Zappa (the Zappa Trust) to acquire the estate of musical pioneer, composer, bandleader and guitarist Frank Zappa. The deal includes Zappa’s recordings, his publishing catalogue of songs, his film archive and the complete contents of The Vault, the storage facility that houses Zappa’s life’s work.

    Commenting on the acquisition by Universal, The Zappa Trust said: “Ten years ago, Gail Zappa partnered with UMe [Universal Music Enterprises] to bring Frank Zappa’s music into the digital era and help expand the Frank Zappa business around the world, setting in motion a fruitful partnership that has resulted in exponential growth.

    “Together over the last decade we made Frank’s vast catalog of music available for streaming and download, reissued many of his pivotal albums on vinyl, created a slew of exciting archival releases and expansive box sets, including a series celebrating FZ’s legendary Halloween concerts, and were nominated for a Grammy for the 200 Motels (The Suites) orchestral album.

    “UMG have more than proven their passion for Frank’s art and so the entire Zappa family – Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva – is thrilled to pass the baton to the new forever stewards for all things Frank Zappa. Old and new fans will get more of what they want – more Frank Zappa music for years to come.”

    UMe President & CEO Bruce Resnikoff said: “It has been a privilege to work with the Zappa family to release Frank Zappa’s music around the world, grow his audience, and protect his legacy for the past decade. Zappa was a pioneering, visionary artist who created an incredible body of work and we are incredibly proud that Gail, and now his children, have entrusted us with his important legacy. We will continue to develop innovative ways to celebrate his vast and influential catalog for both longtime fans and those just discovering his genius.

    “As a prolific artist well ahead of his time, Frank Zappa was constantly creating and recording and he left behind a treasure trove of extraordinary still-unreleased music and video in his Vault that will help us usher in the next era of Frank Zappa fans.”

    So far there have been 122 official Zappa releases, but, say UMG, that represents a fraction of the recordings in Zappa’s Vault. Zappa recorded nearly every session, rehearsal, live performance and even casual jam in a variety of audio and video formats. UMG says it plans to draw from The Vault for new archival projects far into the future. It says that in addition it will use Zappa’s name and likeness to produce merchandise, feature films, interactive experiences, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and other next-generation Web3 projects.

    Although Zappa satirised jazz, observing on his 1974 album Roxy And Elsewhere that “jazz is not dead . . . it just smells funny” and releasing in 1986 the album Jazz From Hell, he is recognised for his considerable contribution to what may loosely be called jazz-rock, exemplified by albums such as the 1969 Hot Rats. Over the years he employed several notable jazz players, including George Duke, Jean-Luc Ponty, the Brecker Brothers, Ronnie Cuber, Don Sugarcane Harris, Walt Fowler and Max Bennett. Geoff Wills, author of Zappa And Jazz: Did It Really Smell Funny, Frank?, examined Zappa’s uneasy but enduring relationship with jazz in an article for Jazz Journal in 2019 – Frank Zappa: making a jazz noise.

    As well as being a groundbreaking musician, Zappa, who died of prostate cancer in 1993 at the age of 52, campaigned for artists’ rights and against censorship. In 1990, Vaclav Havel named him Czechoslovakia’s Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism.