Frank Zappa was an American musician, activist and filmmaker. His work was characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. He has been described as one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse rock musicians of his generation.
As a self-taught composer and performer, Zappa’s diverse musical influences led him to create music that was sometimes difficult to categorize. While in his teens, he acquired a taste for 20th-century classical composers such as Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, along with 1950s rhythm and blues and doo-wop music. He began writing classical music in high school, while at the same time playing drums in rhythm and blues bands; later switching to electric guitar. His 1966 debut album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, combined songs in conventional rock and roll format with collective improvisations and studio-generated sound collages. He continued this eclectic and experimental approach, irrespective of whether the fundamental format was rock, jazz or classical.
The music of Frank Zappa will be performed during the New Music Festival Marathon
The Black Page No. 1 (1977), by Frank Zappa
Tabla arrangement by Shawn Mativetsky (2017)
The Black Page No. 1 is probably Frank Zappa’s most well-known composition. Originally written for drum set and melodic percussion, it was later rearranged and exists in numerous versions, including the so-called “disco” and “new-age” versions, amongst others. The version that you will hear today is probably the first to include tabla.
Originally written for famed drummer Terry Bozzio as a sort of musical challenge, a response to studio musicians in LA fearing arriving at a session and being faced with a ‘black page’, full of notes. Zappa’s Black Page involves numerous complex subdivisions of the beat and polyrhythms, making it both challenging and enjoyable for percussionists to perform, as they tend to enjoy this sort of rhythmic language. By today’s standards, the piece is no longer perceived as being as complex as it once was, but nevertheless, it still holds an important place in the evolution of the drum set repertoire, and is a brilliant gem in Zappa’s oeuvre.