Frank Zappa's musical language
Frank Zappa's musical language
A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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Wazoo When hiring the players for the "Waka/Jawaka" and the "Grand wazoo" sessions they were informed that it was Zappa's intention to do a small tour afterwards. It proved to be difficult to find a suitable time schedule for everybody taking part. All players were session musicians who had to take their other contractual obligations into consideration as well. The only possibility for a big band tour proved to be eight venues in Europe and the U.S. in September 1972. Twenty musicians took part of it (to the right part of the inner sleeve photo from "Wazoo". The ZFT released the final Boston concert with this group in 2007 as a double CD, called "Wazoo". Just for its sound and composition of the band it's unique. Zappa writes in the "Wazoo" booklet: "To begin with, the Wazoo bears little resemblance to any previous form of rock and roll band. There are twenty musicians in it who mostly sit down and read music from an array of charming little fiber-boards stands. Nobody sings, nobody dances. They just play music." At the time the audience got presented with music mostly unknown to them ("The grand wazoo" album was still upcoming). The majority of the material has become known in other versions afterwards. Today there are no unreleased compositions in the setlist of "Wazoo". It's the different arrangements and settings that make it an interesting show. Following hereupon Zappa did a second series of shows in 1972 with a smaller selection from this group, referred to as the "Petit Wazoo" band. This band played a couple of titles only included in three ZFT releases.


Greggery Peccary mvt. I, interlude - mvt. III, guitar solo

In the case of "Greggery peccary", the music got played in four movements of modern music. Most rock band parts, to be found on "Studio tan" (1978), aren't included here, though the booklet accompanying the CD makes clear that the story of "Greggery Peccary" was completely existent in 1972. See the Studio tan section for the correspondence between these two "Greggery Peccary" versions. The fact that the version here lasts 32 minutes, a lot longer than the "Studio tan" track, depends upon the two-third component with improvisations. These improvisations are taking place in prearranged environments. Zappa himself describes the second half of the first movement as an interlude with 16th notes. It's made up of variations upon a theme given by Zappa, strictly in 4/4 and indeed with 16th notes. It starts softly with just two instruments playing around the theme and ends with the whole band all doing their own variations. The example below is taken from somewhere in the middle, starting at 3:46. In the 4th printed edition of this study I identified this episode as E Dorian. By itself it can be called that way, but after relistening to it in a wider context, I think it can better be seen as in D. There's a descending bass line G-F#-E-D and at various point the accent lies on D.

Greggery Peccary mvt. I, interlude, fragment (midi file).

Greggery Peccary mvt. I, interlude, fragment (transcription).

In the second movement the climate for the improvisations is determined by an accelerated bolero type vamp, to be followed by a tango vamp. In the third movement the improvisations start off with something that gets called circular breathing: everybody playing slowly in the same key, thus forming coincidental harmonies, that keep shifting. Gradually a minor second movement moves in as a vamp, best known from the James Bond theme. Next this movement itself gets varied upon on guitar.

Greggery Peccary mvt. III, guitar solo, section (midi file).

Greggery Peccary mvt. III, guitar solo, section (transcription).

At 8:53 this piece turns into a more regular pedal note guitar solo, in E minor in this case. The example above is played slowly between 9:29 and 9:50, stable in this key. As this solo is evolving more and more chromatic notes are getting involved. At some points even a bit cacophonous, with Zappa citing the "New brown clouds" theme rather fast and the others freely improvising. See the next track below for "The new brown clouds".

Greggery Peccary mvt. IV - The new brown clouds

The fourth movement of "Greggery Peccary" is also known as "The new brown clouds" because of the lyrics it has on the 1978 "Studio tan" album version. Globally this composition knows three blocks:
A. Exposition of the main theme and accompanying vamp (diatonic).
B. Medley of a number of sections (E-J), where the prescribed melodies are chromatic/atonal. Only the occasionally returning vamp relates this block to the opening block.
C. Re-exposition of the main theme, variations upon it and a coda.
Block B is an example of what George Duke referred to as "organized chaos" (undoubtedly in a positive manner). Here Zappa is deliberately irregular, both regarding rhythm and melodies. Blocks A and C, on the other hand, are the opposite. They are about the art of variation, quite "classical".

- 0:00 Four bars with a two-bar vamp, that accompanies several sections.
- 0:08 Bars 5-8. First theme. In many compositions you can encounter an ambiguity what key a piece is in. The vamp suggests G, while the melody follows G Mixolydian. This first theme is a slower version of the "Billy is a mountain" line from the "Just another band from L.A." album, as also indicated by Zappa in the Wazoo booklet.
Section A.
- 0:16 Bars 9-13. A variation upon the first theme. All through his career Zappa liked to experiment. About always he did this within the normal range of what instruments can do and with the material at hand. Some modern composers rather come up with ideas like letting an ensemble play under water as being truly innovating, along with fantastic musical theories to explain the genius of it, but Zappa kept being "traditional". In this case he lets the trombones/tubas play harmony notes in their lowest registers. The sounding effect is a low cluster, not bright enough for me to get it on paper with any degree of certainty. Maybe it also includes Earl Dumler (citing the Wazoo booklet):

Five wind players from the 20-member Wazoo band, with Earl as:

- 0:26 Bars 14-16. Another experimental element: a couple of pattern breaking bars with a group of notes pulsing in an irregular rhythm. The notes form a dissonant chord, A-Bb-C-D-(G), next to the sustained low brass notes, that I can't identify with certainty. The Bb clarinet part from below has to be transposed so that it plays along with trombone III. At this point, however, the Bb clarinet would be playing a B natural, making these bars even more dissonant (these two bars are chromatic). But this note got skipped during the live performance.
- 0:32 Bars 17-20. Drum solo. While Zappa had written out the drum part in detail, the 1972 live performance only roughly follows this drum part. Specifically during bars 14-16 the drummer beats steady eighth ticks instead of following the complex rhythm of the lead melody. It's easier to perform these bars when someone is drumming the meter in a standard way, I would guess. During bars 17-20 it becomes an improvised drum solo, only following the prescribed rhythm.
Section B.
- 0:39 Bars 21-27. Main theme. This main theme is also present as the "New brown clouds (1978)" example from this study, where it has lyrics ("Who is making these new brown clouds ..."). In 1978 the vamp from the opening is used all through this main theme, which applies less to the 1972 version. Only in bars 24-26 it's clearly present some more. This vamp is responsible for the 6/8 meter. The main theme has its own meter, lasting 10/8 for its first phrase, repeated two times. Zappa didn't notate 10/8 over 6/8, but his notation of the accents makes it perfectly clear how it should be played (grouped as 2+2+4+2 eighth notes). The second phrase of the main theme lasts 14/8, grouped as 2+3+2+2+3+2 eighth notes. The main theme is played via parallel thirds and fourths, though the Bb clarinet part would extend these chords to triads. I'm not hearing the clarinet on the CD, but one could very well include it. It's just one of many examples where the recorded version goes a bit differently from the score.
Section C.
- 0:53 Bars 28-35. With the vamp no longer being used, the meter becomes 3/8. It's just an A pedal with keyboard improvisation, modulating to A Dorian.
- 0:59 Bars 36-62. Violin solo over a series of four pedal notes/chords. It begins with 8 bars continuing in A Dorian (or minor, the F/F# isn't present). Next the pedal note becomes F and the key F Lydian. At this point the transcription from below stops. I'm continuing with the general outlines, at first based upon the trombone III part, pages 2-3, as shown below.

The new brown clouds, opening (midi file).

The new brown clouds, opening (transcription).

The new brown clouds

- 1:20 Bars 63-67. Phrase two from the main theme returns, now with its accents following the 3/8 meter.
Section D.
- 1:23 Bars 68-79. Variations upon the main theme in 3/4.
Section E.
- 1:52 Bars 80-85. Rhythmically accentuated figures.
- 2:08 Bar 86. This bar has a pause of indefinite length. What sounds as an electronically mutated clarinet is playing a little solo.
- 2:27 Bar 87. A sustained chord.
- 2:30 Bar 88. A brief melodic line with a pretty complicated rhythm in 4/4.
Section F.
2:34 Bars 89-96. Soloing over the returning vamp in 6/8.
Section G.
- 2:48 Bars 97-100. Short melody followed by two bars more with the vamp.
- 2:55 Bars 101-102. Another short melody, notated as two times (7+5)/16.
- 2:58 Bars 103-108. Some more soloing over the vamp in 6/8.
Section H.
- 3:09 Bars 109-114. A longer melody using 6/8 and (7+5)/16.
- 3:20 Bars 115-118. The vamp returns.
Section I.
- 3:27 Bars 119-126. A sequence, characterized by interval jumps going up and down while enlarging, as was also happening in bars 109-110.
- 3:42 Bars 127-130. A shorter melody with fast note strings.
Section J.
- 3:50 Bars 131-146. A larger melodic section in 3/4.
- 4:24 Bar 147. A pause of indefinite length with the participants saying "Ah".
Remaining sections.
- 4:28 The main theme returns, accompanied by the opening vamp. At this point I don't have any more samples from the score at hand (page 4 as it seems, on the backside of page 3), nor did I transcribe anything from this block.
- 4:46 Variations upon the main theme.
- 6:05 The compositions ends. Applause with Zappa thanking the audience for coming to the concert.
- 7:32 "One, two, three", leading to the encores.
- 7:34 End of the track.

Variant I processional march

The piece presented as "Variant I processional march" is an earlier version of "Regyption strut" from "Sleep dirt". This one begins with some 20 seconds of march music. Other than "The little march" from "Run home, slow", this march is a parody. It's in strict 4/4 with a stereotype accompanying figure. This figure implies that the key is C# or C# minor. No other part is playing in this key, or in any key, consistently. So you're getting some sort of a cacophony, that, as a short prelude, proves to be funny.

Variant I processional march, opening (midi file).

Variant I processional march, opening (transcription).

The march wasn't a separate piece added as an intro to the main melody. It was literally composed this way, as the original trombone and guitar parts show, that I encountered on internet (samples are added to the transcription). The "Regyption strut" melody, as we know it from "Sleep dirt", starts in bar 9. More about "Regyption strut" in the Sleep dirt section.


Imaginary diseases

Imaginary diseases For the remainder of the fall of 1972 Zappa continued with a small tour with a selection of ten persons from the previous "Wazoo" band, visiting a dozen cities in Canada and the U.S. He selected and mixed the recorded material between 1972 and 1977. These pieces by what has become known as the "Petit Wazoo" band only first got released by the Zappa Family Trust in 2006 as "Imaginary diseases", filling in a conspicuous gap in the Zappa history (CD cover to the right). Listening to it, it becomes peculiar why Zappa himself has released nothing of it. It was all new compositions at the time in 1972-1973, and partly still is today. There would have been enough on the tapes for editing a single album, and why not a single part of it got included in the YCDTOSA series from the eighties is even more inexplicable. Next are two sections from "Imaginary diseases", consisting of a two-minute theme for brass players and rhythm section followed by a five minute guitar solo before the theme gets repeated.

Imaginary diseases, section #1 (midi file).
Imaginary diseases, section #2 (midi file).

Imaginary diseases, section #1 (transcription).
Imaginary diseases, section #2 (transcription).

The first example contains the first two themes in A Mixolydian. The second example begins with a variation upon the first theme with the band playing it in full. It's followed by a gentle bass theme, that serves as a bridge between the opening block and the ensuing guitar solo. In bar 11 the band modulates to B Dorian. In bar 13-14 the bass plays just B pedal, for the remainder of the solo it follows the vamp from bar 15.


The now earliest available version of Rollo is also present on "Imaginary diseases". This composition had to wait for "YCDTOSA Vol. I" for its first release. By then it was already in its fifth shape. These are subsequently available on the following releases:
1) Imaginary diseases/Little dots (recording year 1972).
Already known before to the bootleg collectors, the Rollo track on "Imaginary diseases" album is a shortened version. It started with a sung section, followed by "Rollo interior" (see 2) and a solo by Tony Duran. Only then the album version starts. This sung section did get officially released on the 2016 "Little dots" CD by the ZFT.
2) St. Alphonso's pancake breakfast (1973).
The second instrumental half of this piece is known as "Rollo interior", composed separately (see the next section for a block from this piece). It can be played as an independent song or in combination with "Rollo". The bootleg versions of 1) explain the word interior: it was intended to be played between the sung part and the instrumental block.
3) Quaudiophiliac & One shot deal (1975).
The opening below shows how "Rollo interior" relates to "Rollo". The first motif of "Rollo interior" is a variation upon the opening bars 1-3 of "Rollo". The second motif from "Rollo" (bar 5) returns slightly different at the end of "Rollo interior". The corresponding lyrics on "St. Alphonso" are "saint al-phon-so". "Rollo interior" can be considered a large through-composed character variation upon the first motif, an ongoing string of 16th notes in 4/8 or 8th notes in 4/4, depending upon how you're notating things. "Rollo interior" itself isn't present on this version. This one has an opening block with Zappa playing a solo. It begins with a theme in Bb Lydian (bars 1-4 and 13-16). Bars 5-12 are in a different scale without a clear key note. The lead melody in staff 1 plays the progression D-Em-Em-G, while the others do D-C, thus playing against it and enlarging the total harmony. The solo is in E Dorian.

Rollo (Quaudiophiliac), opening (midi file).

Rollo (Quaudiophiliac), opening (transcription).

4) Saturday night live (1978).
A TV appearance by Zappa's band. This is the only version that contains "Rollo interior" and "Rollo" combined.
5) YCDTOSA Vol. I (1979).
Here "Rollo", without "Rollo interior" and a solo, is used as the finale of the so called Yellow Snow suite (tracks 1-4 from "Apostrophe (')"). It has lyrics added to the earlier material.

"Rollo" is one of many pieces, where Zappa is mingling diatonic with chromatic/atonal material. On the "Imaginary diseases" version of this title you can hear the following:
- 0:00 The figure from bars 5-12 from above, in this case played as a downwards sequence.
- 0:13 Ab pedal. It begins with the just a sustained extended chord F-Ab-Bb-Eb chord (Fm7 add 4). Next the melody begins following notes from Ab major for bars 1-4 and 9-13 in the example below (without using the C), interrupted by Ab minor (with the augmented 7th) for bars 5-7 and 14. That is if you want to explain it diatonically. One might also call it octatonic, using Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-Fb-F-G.

Rollo (Imaginary diseases), 0:18-0:48 (midi file).

Rollo (Imaginary diseases), 0:18-0:48 (transcription).

- 0:41 Chord progression following Ab Lydian (bars 15-18 from the example above). Notable are the dotted quarter notes, causing a rhythmic divergence between the parts.
- 0:51 The bass pedal switches to Eb. The chords follow Eb major. The F chord at 1:00 prepares a modulation to Bb major.
- 1:01 Bb pedal with chords from Bb major.
- 1:12 The music is gradually becoming chromatic.
- 1:32 Repetition of 0:13-0:17.
- 1:36 Becoming chromatic some more.

Rollo (Imaginary diseases), 1:52-2:11 (midi file).

Rollo (Imaginary diseases), 1:52-2:11 (transcription).

- 1:52 A melody over descending pedal notes, with chromatic and fragmented diatonic material:
Over Bb-G-C the melody plays:
bar 1: Eb-Fb-G (chromatic), followed by D-Ab-F (fragment from Bb Mixolydian).
  interval pattern: +1+3-5-6-3 (number of minor seconds in a jump, up- or downwards).
bar 2: B-C-F-Db-Gb-Eb (chromatic).
  interval pattern: +1+5-4-7-3.
bar 3: D-G-C-F (stacked fourths, fragment from Bb major type), followed by Db-Gb (chromatic).
  interval pattern: +5+5+5-4-7.
bar 4: Eb-D (fragment from Bb major/Mixolydian), followed by E-A-G#-C# (chromatic).
  interval pattern: -1-10+5-1+5.
Next the bass pedal descends with minor seconds:
bar 5: Over A-B the melody plays F#-B-C#-G# (fragment from A major/Lydian).
  interval pattern, figure #1: +5-10-5.
bar 6: Over G#(Ab)-A#(Bb) the melody plays G-D-F-C# (chromatic).
  interval pattern, figure #2: -5-9+8.
bar 7: Over G-A the melody plays E-A-B-F# (fragment from G major/Lydian).
  interval pattern, figure #1: +5-10-5.
bar 8: Over F#-G# the melody plays F-C-D#-B (chromatic).
  interval pattern, figure #2: -5-9+8.
bar 9: Over F-G the melody plays D-G-A-E (fragment from F major/Lydian).
  interval pattern, figure #1: +5-10-5.
Etc. While the meter, rhythm and bass line offer stability, the melody is highly irregular for its use of scales. Regarding intervals and melodic directions some patterns can be discerned. Bars 1-2 have similar movements, while bars 5-8 show two figures that get transposed. The "Rollo interior" interlude does something similar in a faster tempo.
- 2:22 C# pedal with a chromatic figure, played in a downwards sequence.
- 2:36 Chord progression. First the Esus2 chord, played over a descending bass line, F#-E-D-C#-C (on the last C adding an A). Next this piece ends with the F# chord.
- 3:20 End.


Dweezil and his band performing Rollo, Buffaloo 2018

On "Quaudiophiliac" it goes as:
- 0:00 Opening as described above.
- 0:21 Guitar solo in E Dorian. After this solo the song continues as on "Imaginary diseases".
- 3:27 The figure from bars 5-12 from the first example above, like on "Imaginary diseases" played as a downwards sequence.

Rollo (Quaudiophiliac), 3:42-3:57 (midi file).

Rollo (Quaudiophiliac), 3:42-3:57 (transcription).

- 3:37 Ab pedal. Other than above at "Imaginary diseases" the melody over it isn't composed but improvised. This time in Ab Mixolydian.
- 3:58 Continuing as from 0:41 onwards on "Imaginary diseases".
- 5:59 End.

Been to Kansas City in A minor


The most typical of blues is its chord scheme: I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I. Several variants are possible. The one-chord takes up 8 of the 12 bars and can be said to be decisive for a blues piece being in minor/Dorian or major/Mixolydian. Another characteristic of blues is that there's some amount of freedom for the IV and V chords to be major or minor triads. They can deviate from the key the I chord is following, causing some ambiguity about the scale the piece is in. Other elements that you can call blues-like are:
- The presence of pentatonic passages.
- The presence of the blues-scale (the pentatonic scale with an additional chromatic note).
"Been to Kansas City in A minor" is in A Dorian/minor with both F# and F natural being used. The following scales are involved:
- A Dorian: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G.
- A minor: A-B-C-D-E-F-G.
- A minor pentatonic: A-C-D-E-G.
- A minor blues-scale: A-C-D-D#-E-G.
The example below contains the first 12-bar-blues-cycle of this piece:
- Bars 1-4 with the I-chord following A Dorian. The accompaniment is consistently playing triplets, so this example might just as well have been notated in 12/8.
- Bars 5-6 with the IV-chord being a minor triad (Dm with an F natural), so switching to A minor.
- Bars 7-8 with the I-chord in Dorian again.
- Bar 9 with the bass being on step V, while the chords alternate V and II. Other than Brett Clement says below, the V chord harmony is a minor triad. The trumpet only plays a G. If the guitar would play a G#, the dissonance would be audible. It does happen in Zappa's blues music that he is using a major triad upon step V in a piece that is otherwise in minor/Dorian (e.g. "Tiger roach"), but not in this example. It remains in Dorian.
- Bar 10 with the bass being on step IV. Now you are getting at a dissonant situation with the guitar chord being G augm. instead of D or Dm. The presence of the D# in the guitar chord, next to the melodic D natural, is something that can happen following the A minor blues-scale. But this bar does more than that.
- Bars 11-12. Return to I with Dorian and minor being mingled. The guitar chord in bar 11 uses the F natural from A minor, while the bass in bar 12 follows Dorian with an F#.

Been to Kansas City in A minor, 0:00-0:38 (midi file).

Been to Kansas City in A minor, 0:00-0:38 (transcription).

In his Response to me Brett Clement writes:
- Regarding my labeling this piece as A Dorian: "not even close; melody is minor pentatonic, chords are from the minor blues: i-iv-i-V-iv-i; the only Dorian element is the harmonic embellishment of the i chord".
- Regarding blues in general:
"Blues aspects in Zappa range from full-on 12-bar blues based music (ex. Road Ladies) to blues-styled solos over static one-chord vamps (ex. The Gumbo Variations). Almost without fail, Sloots analyzes these situations as Dorian or Mixolydian. In certain cases, he is simply wrong (ex. Lost in a Whirlpool/Been to Kansas; basically, there is no way that the 12-bar blues can be labeled as strictly Dorian). In others, there is a possibility that the term "Dorian" could be used to describe the music, but with an important qualification:
2. The minor-pentatonic scale.
As is well known, blues music is based around the minor-pentatonic scale (ex. C-Eb-F-G-Bb). In the traditional 12-bar blues, the chords are usually major (I, IV, V) or Mm7, while the melody tends to use notes of the minor-pentatonic scale. In Zappa, blues elements most commonly occur in his guitar solos over static minor-key tonic vamps (many times, these solos are taken from songs that are explicitly blues based (ex. The Illinois Enema Bandit)). Zappa tends to use notes of the minor-pentatonic in these solos. However, you will find him occasionally adding one or two pitches, and these are usually scale degrees of the Dorian scale. The characteristic Dorian addition would be, therefore, the "raised" scale degree six. This is also sometimes present in the accompaniment in the form of an embellishing major IV chord (the "D/M" progression is discuss). One might conceptualize this addition as a remnant of the major IV chord of the 12-bar blues progression."
- And: "However, it is also necessary to recognize the differences between "pure" Dorian and minor-1 pentatonic in a blues context. For example, compare the purely Dorian solos of "Drowning Witch," "Zoot Allures" (ca. 1976), and "The Mammy Anthem" with the minor-1 pentatonic solos "Advance Romance," "I’m the Slime," and "Trouble Every Day," etc.. To my ear, these solos sound quite different. The former are based on diatonic structures, the latter on pentatonic melody. Therefore, there needs to be a separate classification for these examples. Simply labeling them all as Dorian, as does Sloots, is misleading. (However, I will admit that the line between pure Dorian and minor-1 pentatonic is not clear in all examples)."

This topic is also coming by in my Burnt weeny sandwich section, where the pentatonic scale is being addressed to in general, also outside a blues-like context. The discussion Brett is trying to raise can be understood, but is essentially non-existent. He suggests that for a number of songs/solos one has to choose between something being pentatonic OR diatonic (minor/Dorian or major/Mixolydian), while the reality is that it is BOTH. Pentatonic passages happen frequently in Zappa's music, but they are about always embedded in a diatonic environment. Not just as occasional additional notes, but systematically. Pure Dorian is as a term rather useless. It is true that "Been to Kansas City in A minor" isn't 100% following the Dorian scale or the minor scale, but it is far away from purely minor pentatonic. As it comes to pure, none of the preludes & fugues from the Well-tempered clavier by Bach are 100% in one major or minor key. Altering notes is standard rather than exceptional.

Been to Kansas City in A minor (diatonic-pentatonic).

In this last example I've taken most of the I-chord bars separate. I've encircled the notes/chords that extend the pentatonic scale to the Dorian/minor scale in red (F/F# and B). Chromatic passing notes are encircled in green.

The neutral way to describe this is diatonic with pentatonic passages. If you like you can call it a subcategory of a diatonic scale, in most cases Dorian.

Of course there's a lot of improvisation going on in Zappa's blues recordings. In the example above the lead melody is played by one of the trumpetists. Most other blues examples in this study are also better described as diatonic with pentatonic passages than as just pentatonic.
- "Lost in a whirlpool", opening bars: here I agree that this song isn't simply Dorian. This piece can't be uniquely attributed to a single scale, it's neither "strictly" Dorian nor "strictly" minor pentatonic.
- "The world's greatest sinner": opening bars with one blues cycle. This one alternates A Mixolydian and Dorian with both C# and C natural turning up. Upon I the music isn't pentatonic but hexatonic.
- "Ronnie sings": section with most of one blues cycle. This isn't strictly B Mixolydian, but it isn't pentatonic at all: Zappa is using a B9 chord and Ronnie Williams is using more notes too.
- "How's your bird": instrumental block from the middle with one blues cycle. This one can be described as minor pentatonic or as hexatonic, with some occasional chromatic notes being included.
- "Dear Jeepers": rather basic blues. Overall Dorian suits much better than minor pentatonic.
- "Surf along": this one has a walking bass, also here Dorian suits better than minor pentatonic, though less stable. Some Mixolydian flavour is present too and the chord upon step V is a major triad. The last is common in blues in minor/Dorian, as also Brett is indicating above.
- "Mr. Clean": the second example is the end of the blues solo from this song. It's in G Mixolydian. Its first bar shows an explicit use of the G7 chord. Just because of that it can't possibly described as major pentatonic. In the Zoot allures section you can read Brett claiming that Zappa doesn't utilize the dominant 7th chord in Mixolydian and that, if you would try to add it yourself, it sounds wrong.
- "Metal man has won his wings": my transcription is a section with IV-I-V-IV-I from the scheme. Here E Mixolydian and Dorian are mingled with G# and G natural being used next to each other, remindful of the major blues scale, but the other two diatonic notes are applied too.
- "Tiger roach": my transcription contains the end with one blues cycle. It's basically E Dorian, though with a major triad upon step V. In this case it can be called (minor) pentatonic to a good deal. Only bar 10 with the major triad isn't (major) pentatonic. The G# in bar 9 might be seen as a passing note.
- "Power trio": while Zappa is following the A minor blues scale, the bass extends this to A minor.
- "Original Mothers at the Broadside": this title starts in G Mixolydian for its first two bars, before it continues in G Dorian. The Dorian part could also be called the minor blues scale, with the E being played as a passing note.
- "Peaches jam". Zappa may be using A minor pentatonic for his own soloing, but the tack piano and bass are using the full Dorian scale. Apart from that Ian Underwoord is following A Mixolydian. The total is far away from minor pentatonic.
- "Lil' Clanton shuffle". Blues beginning in C Mixolydian and continuing in C Dorian with a lot of liberty.
- "Road ladies", guitar solo. Zappa himself may be using D minor pentatonic, but the whole is a mix of Dorian and Mixolydian, rather than pentatonic.
- "What kind of girl do you think we are?" (1971). E major, Mixolydian and Dorian are used next to each other, rather than being pentatonic.
- "All skate", 2nd example. Far away from just pentatonic.
- "Penguin in bondage", blues-like bars and the solo. This is a good example of minor pentatonic. The use of the two additional Dorian notes is marginal.
- "Dickie's such an asshole", 1st example. See this example and my description. Passages are pentatonic, but the other two diatonic notes are present too.
- "200 Years old", opening bars: the minor pentatonic scale is part of both the Aeolian and Dorian scale. By inclusion of his minor pentatonic examples and "blues related things" under his Dorian section, Brett also implicitly admits the Dorian environment. In this little example the E being natural determines the scale being Dorian instead of Aeolian.
- "Big leg Emma": this one goes to some degree as traditional blues as Brett describes above. The E, A and B are major chords, the sung lead melody uses a minor type of scale. It follows E Dorian, rather than being minor pentatonic. The interlude also knows a lot of chromaticism and some mingling of Mixolydian and Dorian.
- "Duck duck goose", section with one blues cycle: the full E Mixolydian scale is deployed.
- "Dong work for Yuda (H.O.)", end with one blues cycle. Major and Mixolydian are alternating. Diatonic scales are normally played.
- "Suicide chump" (11-01-1981), one cycle from Zappa's guitar solo. D Dorian, maybe hexatonic, but not pentatonic.
- "In France", riff: nominally E Mixolydian, but rather mixed, with dissonants making the riff sounding sharp.
- "The white boy troubles": D Mixolydian with step V being a major triad. The full D Mixolydian scale is being deployed, as well as various chromatic notes.
- "Sexual harassment in the workplace", intro with one blues cycle. This one is in minor. I've included the comment by Brett in my Guitar section.
- "Chana in de Bushwop", four bars on step I of C Mixolydian during the instrumental interlude. This is far away from regular Mixolydian and even further away from pentatonic blues.
- "Nig biz", four bars from the soloing. A good example of Zappa himself using minor pentatonic, but the environment isn't.
- "What kind of girl?" (1988), beginning of the blues part with I-IV. This is another one with Mixolydian and Dorian being mingled, this time with A as tonic and again with a full diatonic scale being involved.
See the Bongo fury section at "200 Years old" for some more about blues. The pentatonic-Dorian discussion is also coming by in the following two sections from this study:

The pentatonic scale in general.
His discussion with me.

D.C. boogie

Both "D.C. boogie" and "Montreal" are guitar solos within a preset framework that incorporates the brass section at various points. The construction of the first half of "D.C. boogie" goes as:
0:00-0:23: introductory bars. The solo spreads out an eastern atmosphere by its strong pedal note scent. Both Tony Duran on second guitar and the bass guitar keep plucking on the D note.
0:23-3:43: solo in D Mixolydian.
3:43-4:35: Tony moves over from D pedal to a two-chords alternation. The transcription begins with the last two bars with both the second guitar and the bass playing D pedal. From bar three onwards Tony drops the pedal note and begins playing chords, using D and F#-5 (the overall harmony being D7, including the D-pedal by the bass). This is a sign for the brass to join in gently with a figure (bars 7-9) and to fade out several bars later again. The brass is widening the harmony to D9, while the bass guitar keeps playing D pedal with a lot of 16th notes.

D.C. Boogie, 3:37-4:04 (midi file).

D.C. Boogie, 3:37-4:04 (transcription).

4:35-5:27: The bass goes down an octave with longer notes. The drummer starts beating 16th notes consistently on the bass drum. For the brass this is a sign to come up with their second figure in the background. At 5:06 Zappa turns on a vibrato effect for his guitar for a while. Shortly hereafter the brass draws back.
5:27-6:53: Everybody calms down for the coda. Zappa starts playing around chords. At 5:53 he has reached his final chord. The brass is filling this chord in with various complemental harmonies, thus creating a series of extended chords. At 6:37 the bass and Zappa take the lead again when the brass is playing its final bar. At 6:53 the second half of the song starts, when the audience gets to vote about how to end this song. They go for boogie, but the band must have been prepared for other responses as well.

The Hot Rats scores collection, that was handed over to band members in 1972 (images from the Wazoo booklet). Samples from all titles are present in this study.

Farther O'blivion

In 1972 and much of 1973 the band played a medley of three songs with the title "Farther O'blivion". Zappa introduces it this way on "Imaginary diseases". The difference between pronouncing "Farther O'blivion" and "Father O'blivion" (without an r) is hardly audible. On the Beat the boots CD "Piquantique" it's titled "Father O'blivion" and at first I thought that the addition of the r was something the ZFT had come up with to make a difference with "Father O'blivion" from the "Apostrophe (')" album, an entirely different piece. But in 2013 I encountered a piano part of this piece in Zappa's handwriting with the title "Farther O'blivion" above it. So it was Zappa himself who wrote two different pieces with almost the same title. The medley consisted of three pieces with solos between them:
- The "swifties, such big swifties" part from "Greggery Peccary". The opening part of this section gets presented below.
- Tuba solo.
- "The be-bop tango". See the Roxy and elsewhere section for this piece.
- Trombone and drum solo.
- "Cucamonga". See the Bongo Fury section for this song (including an example taken from the 1972 "Farther O'blivion" version).

Farther O'blivion, opening (midi file).
Farther O'blivion, piano part (midi file).

Farther O'blivion, opening (transcription/score).

This transcription of the opening follows the bar numbering as used in the piano part. Apparently the piano enters at bar 13. This piano part wasn't actually played on "Imaginary diseases", that has no keyboard player on it. It's something that happens quite often when you compare Zappa's written scores to album versions: he was always adapting or changing his material. The opening goes as:
- bars 13-19: 3/4 subdivided into two. The lower bass F alters with Eb, the key being F Dorian. Zappa prescribes the Fm9/11 chord or I 11th from F Dorian for the piano. On album you have VII in staff 2 and IV 7th in staff 1, combined creating VII 11th, if I'm hearing it correctly. Thus Zappa specifically wanted an enlarged chord here to sound through bars. Inclusion of the piano would lead to the whole scale sounding (I 13th).
- bar 20: 3/4 on beat. A couple of melodic notes lead to the central motif.
- bar 21: a 3/4 bar subdivided into two again. It contains the central motif: II-I in F Dorian for staff 1. In staff 2 from the piano part you have the I chord sounding all through this bar, thus Zappa is here mingling I and II. Almost the same happens in staves 2-3 from the album.
- bar 22: the meter changes to 4/4. The I chord keeps being held for most of this bar, while the bass plays a little melodic line.
- bar 23: a series of thirds gets played over the I 7th chord. The rhythm follows triplets.
- bar 24: the rhythm now becomes syncopic. The descant and bass alternate, with the bass using a Gb as an altered note (both the piano part and the album version include this Gb).
- bars 25-26: bars 21-22 return, only slightly different.
- bars 27-28: a series of 5th chords, with the rhythm stated predominantly via triplets. At the beginning of bar 27 the lead melody shortly continues in a lower register. The D alters to Db. There's no clear key note for these two bars. At the end a modulation to E Mixolydian gets prepared.
- bars 29-32: 3/4 again. The bass is playing the upwards movement again with a 7th as interval, as in bar 19, now starting with E. The key has become E Mixolydian. Zappa prescribes the Bm11 chord or V 11th from this scale, the chord you also hear when you combine staves 1 and 3 in the transcription (though not complete). The chord continues being sustained for these four bars, so obviously it gave space for the guitar (or someone else) to solo. Staff 2 represents this guitar line (pitch notation as it sounds).
- bars 33-35: switch to C Mixolydian. Once more you see the bass moving upwards a 7th, now starting with C. The guitar solo from staff 2 simply continues in this key. For the piano part Zappa notated Gm11. Unless I'm missing notes, on album it's more the plain C chord.
- bar 36: the first Fsus4 descant piano chord is not taken over at all by the other instruments on album. So bars 35-36 on album might just as well be notated as 4/4 followed by 2/4 instead of two times 3/4. The bass line from beats 2-3 leads us back to the main motif.
- bar 37: third instance of the main motif, now shortened to only one bar, thus without prolonging the I chord for another bar.
- bars 38-40: large sequence of chords for the lead melody, all in a triplet rhythm. It starts off in F Dorian, but soon becomes chromatic. The lead melody is using minor and major thirds, fourths, and - in the piano part - also fifths as intervals for the upper descant part of the chords, so in every aspect these bars are much irregular for their harmonies. In bar 40 the music lands in what might become F# Dorian.
- bars 41-44: The piano part indeed turns to F# Dorian, starting these bars with a lower F# for the bass staff, followed by an E played via syncopes. For the band version it's the other way round for these two notes. The F# appears only once as a higher starting note. Next the bass turns to a lower E and stays there (bars 41 and 42, beat 1, are included in the transcription). So here it's E pedal and the scale becomes E. Zappa didn't prescribe a lead melody for these bars, so here's another opportunity for the guitar to solo, as represented in staff 1 in the transcription.


Little dots

With "Little dots" the ZFT released a third selection with the jazz band playing live. It's a sequel to "Imaginary diseases" with a whole lot of improvisations around vamps, pedal notes and the blues scheme. The composed parts are "Cosmic debris", "Rollo" and the opening of "Little dots", one page of unreleased music. The CD centers around an episode in Columbia, S.C., when the drummer and a horn player got arrested just before the show for taking drugs. Instead of cancelling the concert, Zappa asked Maury Baker to take the place of the drummer. Maury played with Tim Buckley's band, the opening act for Zappa's "Petit Wazoo" tour. Now more than ever the band had to rely upon the improvisations, coming out pretty well on the "Columbia, S.C." track. Part I of this title was entirely improvised on the spot with only some brief indications by Zappa. Part II is using one of the vamps. It shows how easy Zappa could adapt to circumstances during the first half of his career. Something similar happened during the shooting of "200 Motels" with the bass player leaving. The "200 Motels" section from this study shows that scores could be changed on the spot to facilitate the recording if there wasn't enough rehearsing time. In the eighties this policy changed to almost the opposite. In 1984 the production of "Sinister footwear" had become costly, going way over budget (see the Them or us section). Still Zappa didn't find its recording good enough to put it on CD. Many would find the performance acceptable. Instead of finding a new player and reducing the program, in 1988 a whole leg of a tour was cancelled when the bass player was forced to leave.

Little dots

The CD has one page from "Little dots" printed on the inner sleeve. It's for trumpet #1, addressed to as section "D". In total it comprises 28 bars, of which the image from above is an outtake with bars 13-20. Here you can see that Zappa is experimenting with the rhythm as a musical parameter. The pitches of the smaller notes, the "little dots", are fixed, but their durations aren't made precise. By looking at their position within a bar, the musicians could approach the rhythm. This idea is similar to "Approximate", where Zappa did the same regarding another musical parameter, namely the pitches (see the YCDTOSA II section for examples). In case of "Approximate" the rhythm was fixed and the pitches could be approximated.

Little dots #1, bars 13-19 (midi file).
Little dots #2, bars 13-19 (midi file).

Little dots #1, bars 13-19 (transcription).
Little dots #2, bars 13-19 (transcription).

This interpretation applies to this sheet music version only however. It's more a rule than exceptional that Zappa's scores differ from their album releases. On the CD this composition appears in two different versions, not only among themselves, but also compared to the score. First at the beginning of part 1 and secondly at the end of part 2. It's partially undoing the rhythm experiment as described above. This is sometimes puzzling, complicating the analysis of Zappa's music. It's not only the conclusion of this study that it's virtually impossible to form theories about Zappa. Even if you would come to an in-depth analysis of only one piece, you have to take into account that this analysis might apply to one specific version only. Some other tapes or scores could turn up, necessitating a differentiation of your analysis. The two CD executions, next to the score example, make it possible to say more about "Little dots". I've limited myself to describing bars 13-19 only.

Common denominators
- All meters in any version are 4/4 with the drummer leading with beating standard 4/4 (and/or possibly Zappa directing).
- The tempo on the CD is fast (the score has no tempo indication). I'd guess as fast as possible, which is the cause of why it sounds erratic in a positive sense. The bars from above last twelve seconds.
- During bars 14 and 17-19 the players are playing prescribed notes (or pausing), though with some freedom, being sustained notes and a 10-tuplet. Zappa also carefully notated the changing dynamics of the sustained notes, something you can hear happening on CD.
- Bars 13 and 15-16 are irregular.
- During the second half of bar 15 most players pause.
- Everything is atonal.

- Apart from the D flat, the written trumpet part is not recognizable on the CD. Neither the pitches nor the durations of the little dots from the score are played like that on album. With only one sheet, it's not possible for me to construct a midi file of the score version of "Little dots".
- Other than the score with its little dots suggests, the players are following the 4/4 meter during bars 13 and 15. Even their rhythm can go synchronous. The notes and rhythms from version #1 and #2 are completely different. It's not possible for me to say to what degree these parts are prescribed.
- In bar 16 you can see all these differences as well, but the rhythm is pretty irregular. The players aren't following 4/4, nor are they playing their rhythms synchronous. It's all just irregularly positioned on top of each other. So here the idea of the little dots, with their durations to be approached, comes out the best.


Montana (1972)

In 2022 the ZFT came out with a 50th anniversarsy issue of "Waka/Jawaka" and "The grand wazoo" in Blu-Ray format, yet again including material from the vault. On it are alternative takes from the final sessions with much soloing that went unused. Also recordings for an upcoming George Duke album with the same band members participating with Zappa on guitar. And the entire final "petite wazoo" concert, held at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, 12-15-1972. The following is an early version of "Montana (1973)" from this 1972 concert, a title that would become part of his succesful 1973 album "Overnite sensation". See the next section for more about this song.

Montana (1972), 3:06-3:46 (midi file).

Montana (1972), 3:06-3:46 (transcription).

The example from above begins with the final bars from the guitar solo. Other than the 1973 version, where this solo is played as a pedal note solo in F# Dorian, this one is using a vamp, being a progression of four bars in F# minor (Aeolian): I-VI-VII followed by I-VI-IV. The rhythmic figure from bars 9-10, that precedes the main theme, is also specific for the 1972 edition. When you're comparing the harmonies of bars 11-14 with those of 1973 you'll also notice some minor differences. For instance in bar 14 the D# altering gets continued, while in 1973 this bar is played as bar 12.

Houtrusthallen concert Left: advertisement by the "Muziek Expres" magazine for Zappa's big band concert at the Houtrusthallen, The Hague, The Netherlands. It's the September 17th venue from 1972, the same concert the ticket stub in the Wazoo booklet stems from. Source: flyer for the Doelenensemble Zappa concert (2011).

Documentation about the Wazoo bands can be found at, collected by Charles Ulrich, who also lobbied for the CD releases. For further reading about Zappa's relationship with jazz music and the jazz world you can look into Zappa and jazz by Geoff Wills, Troubadour Publishing, 2015. This book starts with quotes of Zappa suggesting that he disliked jazz, but this entire book shows the contrary. Geoff suggests it was more jazz establishment than jazz itself that he disliked. It's just one of many inconsistencies in Zappa's utterances.

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