The best Frank Zappa story of all time was offered up by his wife Gail, on the little booklet that comes with the CD release Everything Is Healing Nicely, companion piece to his final pre-humous work, The Yellow Shark. The story encapsulates what the overall meaning this final work held, especially if you’ve ever read a word about Zappa’s previous disastrous attempts to have orchestras play his music. She wrote:
Part of Frankâ€™s overall plan was to compose on the Synclavier for the Ensemble Modern so the first order of business was to see how well this plan would work. On the night before the first day of rehearsals, he asked me reorchestrate his Synclavier composition entitled â€œIgorâ€ and arrange it for the Ensemble Modern, preparing printed parts and a conductorâ€™s score. Frank replace the title with â€œThis Is A Testâ€ right before printing out the parts for the next morning, just so that the musicians would know the purpose of this short piece. As so often happens, the title stuck.
This recording is a first take performance by musicians who were sight-reading music just handed to them. It illustrates not only the technical skill of this orchestra but the fact that they managed to be expressive and impart a style into what they played, even while struggling to accurately render something they had never seen before.
Itâ€™s interesting to note that one of these tests was â€œG-Spot Tornado.â€ After about an hour of rehearsing, Frank deemed it a failed experiment and put it aside. The members of the ensemble however were determined to master it and continued to practice it on their own. By the time that the Yellow Shark concerts took place, â€œG-Spot Tornadoâ€ served as the finale and the encore.
I love that story; that story sometimes brings me to tears. Frank Zappa had spent maybe millions of dollars and countless fruitless months and years trying to hear an orchestra make sense of those funny little dots on paper, and now, finally, nearly moments before he was to discorporate permanently, the band of musicians plucky enough, dedicated enough, and good enough to play Frank Zappa’s music came together and played it. That is the meaning of this project, and it is the story Gail tells you with her decision to let us all hear how Yellow Shark came to pass.
Gail Zappa got a lot of flak from fans for allegedly being over-litigious, for clamping down hard on the music, and for maybe not treating the original band so well, but I can tell you, friends, once I got my hot little hands on EIHN, I was a Gail fan for life. In it, she gave us one of the best information sources available for those interested in grokking the life and music of the man. I adore her for letting me have it, and I always will.
Gail Zappa today stopped refusing to die. She was 70. We will probably be talking about her a great deal during Zappadan.