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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When Frank Zappa Discovered A New Talent

Frank Zappa image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blogHere's a repost of something that I posted in 2009 about Frank Zappa. That was in the beginning of my blog and I didn't have too many readers, so I thought you'd might be interested.

Sometime during the 80's when the AES (Audio Engineering Society) conference was still being held at the Waldorf Hotel in New York city, I happened to meet Frank in the one of the hallways between hotel rooms (a lot of the manufacturers showed their gear in hotel rooms rather than in the relatively small banquet hall). He asked me to tag along with him up to the Synclavier room (Frank was a power user), and of course I did.

As we were about to enter the hotel room, a teenaged kid comes up to Frank and asks him to come over into the alcove at the end of the corridor to listen to him play. Frank, being ever so polite as he always was with anyone he did not consider a fool, told him he would be back to listen to him in a few minutes after he finished his business with Synclavier.

Of course it was never just a few minutes with Frank, since everyone there (probably about a hundred people) wanted a chance to talk with him. So after about an hour, the kid came in the Synclavier room and taps Frank on the shoulder. Frank sees the kid and says, "I promise I'll be out in a few minutes."

About 45 more minutes go by and the kid comes back again, taps Frank on the shoulder again, and looks at him with these big doe eyes and says, "Frank, pleeese?" It's hard for anyone to resist a kid pleading like that, so Frank said his goodbyes and headed out into the hallway with the kid, who took him to a quiet corner near the elevators.

The kid had a little battery powered Pignose amp and a Travis Bean guitar (the one with the aluminum neck and long out of business), and began to play for Frank. To everyone's amazement, he wasn't playing with a pick or anything like the usual guitar style that millions of players use - he was cradling the guitar so it's perpendicular to his body and tapping on the frets with both hands.

The kid was scared though, and pretty much fumbled through the song. Frank sensed this, and at the end of the song said, "Hey, that was great! Can you play me something else?"

The kids confidence instantly rose through the ceiling and he proceeded to rip off a song with his unique style that bordered on virtuosity. We were all amazed. Frank gave him his card and told him to call him if he ever got to LA (don't know if he ever did).

The kids name? Stanley Jordan, who eventually went on to a pretty nice career as a jazz guitarist using his unique style.

Frank could be totally brutal with players (or anyone for that matter) with an attitude, and was especially good at cutting them down to size (some good stories there too). But he was also sensitive to players who valued heart above technique and was always open to people showing him what they could do. I'm not sure how much Frank helped Stanley in his career, but at least for one moment on a cold Saturday afternoon in New York, he lifted him towards the sun.


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Dr.Slo said...

Thank you,Bobby! It's very interesting to hear that story from person who has actually been there!

There's an urban legend circling amongst the musicians in Serbia,that Stanley Jordan was playing in the streets after finishing college,and Zappa heard him and instantly took him to record his first album...

Anyway,your story is better and more realistic!

DonD said...

I was in the audience when Zappa and the MoI played "I Am The Slime From The Video" for Saturday Night Live. It was december 1976, the show's second season' and I remember how eagerly the production wanted to make Zappa happy -and how difficult it was to manage what seemed like a hundred musicians and instruments on what is actually a pretty small stage -- a pretty small stage crammed with all the other sets and equipment required for a live broadcast. Still, Zappa was cool throughout the entire process. Never broke a sweat. I'd love to see that clip again.

Jef Knight said...

Zappa is my Elvis

Thanks for the awesome story.


mB said...

Thanks for the story, really nice!! I even made a transtalion for my blog on FZ, if you don't mind (in Hungarian):

One question: didn't it happen in the late seventies? The biography of Stanley Jordan says that he was over 20 at the beginning of the 80-es, already had his first album in 82, but also had a big jazz award in 1976.

Thank you!

Balint, Hungary

Simon George said...

I didn’t really appreciate frank until I got older.however, a friend got me into him and he truly is a great guitarist in his own right. Great post keep up the hard work. Check these out IStillGotMyGuitar.

Unknown said...

Great story from a person who actually met Frank. Thanks! Some Zappa's memorabilia

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this candid piece. It's rare to find someone who can write with the humanity and intelligence to capture a bit of the real Frank.


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