In April of 1972, Frank Zappa recorded two albums that ventured further into jazz than any that had preceded them or would ever follow: “The Grand Wazoo” by the Mothers and “Waka/Jawaka” by Frank Zappa.
At the time they were recorded, Frank Zappa was on the mend from a couple of incidents. The first occurred on December 4, 1971, at the Montreux Casino where a fire consumed the Montreux Casino as Zappa’s band was performing. It’s memorialized in Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”:
We all came out to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile – We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa & the Mothers were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground
Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky…
Fortunately, no one was killed. And the tour by Frank Zappa continued with a performance six days later at The Rainbow Theatre in London. The band was using rented instruments as all of their equipment had been destroyed in the Montreux Casino fire. As dire as the fire was, the worst was yet to come.
While Zappa and his band were performing their second encore of the evening, a rather tongue-in-cheek version of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, a crazed fan stormed the stage and pushed Zappa off of it. Zappa fell to the bottom of a concrete orchestra pit many feet below.
Having survived the fall which could have easily been fatal, Zappa wrote and recorded the music for both albums while still recovering in a wheelchair.
We won’t ponder whether or not these albums would have existed had there been no fall. Whatever the circumstances, the music is exceptionally good, even for Frank Zappa. And what you’ll be hearing are tracks from my original vinyl LP copies that I purchased as a college freshman in 1972.
Featured musicians include George Duke, Ernie Watts, Sal Marquez, Aynsley Dunbar, Bill Byers, and Don Preston.
Rather than sounding like curiosities from 1972, “The Grand Wazoo” and “Waka/Jawaka” have aged very well. Just like much of Frank Zappa’s best musical compositions, they tend to transcend the time or era they were created.
Join your Night Beat host Doug Crane on Wednesday, December 7 at 8 pm for The Grand Wazoo and Waka/Jawaka only on KUVO, the Oasis in the City.
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