The Case Of The Zappa Family Trust

Paul Carr has written an excellent paper on the clash between the ZFT and tribute bands. Looking at both conflicting points of view in depth, he comes to this conclusion:

How would Zappa himself have learnt his trade if his heroes Varèse and Stravinsky had asked him to stop appropriating their music into the popular music canon? How can musical ability and indeed our culture grow if we are not allowed to experience from the inside what the great masters have already achieved? Zappa was outspoken about this very process, as typified by the Central Scrutinizer character in Joe’s Garage. This album features the voice of Ike Willis as the voice of ‘Joe’, in a rock opera about the dangers of political systems that are ironically and alarmingly similar to those adopted by the ZFT. According to Miles, Zappa’s coverage of the suppression of freedom of speech in music was inspired in part by the Islamic revolution that had made music illegal within its jurisdiction at the time and this is something he continued in his much publicized confrontation with the Parents Music Resource Centre. It seems that the ZFT are attempting to implement precisely the type of restrictions that Zappa despised, and in doing so conflicting with his legacy. As discussed at the start of this paper, Zappa himself liberally incorporated the music of his heroes such as Ives, Stravinsky and Varèse in particular into his creative idiolect, and to restrict musicians and the public’s access to music goes against the impetus of the post modern culture we live in.

Note: I’m not posting this as flame bait — I just think it’s a really well thought through essay. Give it a read and decide for yourself.

23 Responses to “The Case Of The Zappa Family Trust”

  1. Graffiti On The Wall says:

    I’d like to think that reading the entire paper and giving a detailed critical analysis on this paper is deserved but when anyone starts out such as this the ignoramus radiation levels immediately hit the red.

    Where it is stated “How would Zappa himself have learnt his trade if his heroes Varèse and Stravinsky had asked him to stop appropriating their music into the popular music canon?”

    This is from am a paper now,
    lernt, oh well never mind,

    it is no sooner followed up with

    “It seems that the ZFT are attempting to implement precisely the type of restrictions that Zappa despised, and in doing so conflicting with his legacy.”

    “As discussed at the start of this paper, Zappa himself liberally incorporated the music of his heroes such as Ives, Stravinsky and Varèse in particular into his creative idiolect, and to restrict musicians and the public’s access to music goes against the impetus of the post modern culture we live in.”

    What is see so blatantly infested in the huge brown cloud category
    is minimally as follows.

    Frank Zappa did not parade huge portions of inferior or fold spindled and mutilated representations of any given composers canon around for a decades. Yes AT TIMES he Zappatized SMALL PORTIONS of other composers works but teh ballance wsa always Zappa being Zappa.

    At this point there is no reason to name a given cover band names that has been on the bar circuit for well over a decade but the differences in what the paper in this respect is getting at is an entirely different universe as Frank Zappa’s and what may be some reason as of litigation.

    If and when bands go out and preform large portions of Zappa’s work
    guidelines should be adhered to far beyond some interpretation of an ASCAP standard.

    In no way am I representing the ZFTs legal issues here but minimally
    in regards to what the entire Frank Zappa show represented on any given evening or what was released on his official records the comparisons to Stravinsky & Varese fictitiously halting minor inclusions of a very small portion of their work is not worth of comparison to fit the need of a cover band war against the ZFT.

  2. Clark Gwent says:

    The entire waffle can be conceptually reduced to that Don Preston quote….(tribute bands is as tribute bands does, ZFT have no case.)
    Zappa may well have approved certain bands, may well have disapproved certain others. Who gives a fuck?
    Not dear old FZ,wherever he isn’t!
    He himself said as much…..you knows it!

  3. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    Forgot to mention there’s a follow-up.

  4. Graffiti On The Wall says:

    A quote from Clark Gwent:

    Don Preston quote….
    (tribute bands is as tribute bands does, ZFT have no case.)

    I don’t know what conntext Don Preston made that quote
    but in regards to how any composer or copyrighted material
    is performed I don’t think Don’s 70 year old brain would be working this way if it were not for a pay day.

    So let’s start a tribute band “The Constipated Elephants”.
    We don’t even need a group of realy fine musicians
    a decent Hurdi Gurdi player a monkey and a heard of constpated elephants will do.

    So the carnival begins . All of Michale Jacksons favorite songs, a heard of his favorite animal, the Elephant, who all happen to be constipated. Along comes in the guy with the big long armed latex glove, he sticks his hand and arm deep up each elephants ass one at a time until all the shit starts flowing.

    Now is the real shit coming from the elephants ass
    or is it in part the overall production. You know what’s funny
    a good portion of global denizens of the deep realty TV society may actually want to see this stuff.

    Lets find an investor. Do we need a lawyer. Could the dead gloved ones lawyers actually come after us?

    Yeah Don “tribute bands is as tribute bands does”

  5. Clark Gwent says:

    I meant the quote amid the context of the waffle-text (not what I put in brackets= () IE not ” “). So do you, “Graffiti”, think your little flight of fantasy would be
    A. a Good Thing?
    B. a Bad Thing:?
    C. other?
    ?
    And so what of it if Don wants a payday off a deceased libertarian capitalist?

  6. Bob says:

    flame

  7. Graffiti On The Wall says:

    A quote from Clark Gwent:

    I meant the quote amid the context of the waffle-text (not what I put in brackets= () IE not ” “). So do you, “Graffiti”, think your little flight of fantasy would be
    A. a Good Thing?
    B. a Bad Thing:?
    C. other?
    ?
    And so what of it if Don wants a payday off a deceased libertarian capitalist?

    My personal flight of fantasy of a cover band The Constipated Elephants is not whether it is A or B but more so a C.
    In looking at the whole artistic integrity of the composer.
    While I will be the first to admit Michale Jackson’s life integrity would be the first thing that one needs to question surely his art as in Official Catalog is another issue that deserves proper representation of standards of acceptable performance that does not overtly discredit the composers intent.

    Whoever holds rights to that Michael Jackson art have a right to have lawyers uphold that artistic integrity on any level even if includes ensuring the ASCAP minimal agenda. If the people that uphold that allowed me to form a Constipated Elephant Circus Show I would
    gladly go for full steam ahead but it seemed that FZ did not even try to get approval for the Beatle parodies and the serious arrangement of I Am The Walrus so I don’t quite think the Constipated Elephant Tribute Circus is going to fly.

  8. urbangraffito says:

    Excellent essay. Well balanced. Certainly a fine and objective starting point into a much deeper discussion regarding how the works of a dead composer are kept alive, fresh, and relevant long after his passing among those who

    A. Love his music
    B. Perform his music.
    C. Record his music.
    D. Purchase and collect his music

  9. Bongo "Fury" Bob says:

    Graffiti On The Wall – you are a hard read
    urbangraffito – always like your posts even if we don’t always agree

  10. urbangraffito says:

    Just imagine…

    If Frank Zappa were a “one-man-band” there would be no seventy year old alumni receiving a so called “pay day”. And if Frank Zappa were a “one-man-band” I seriously doubt the music would be as entertaining as it is (interesting, yes, akin to FZ playing a bicycle). If Frank Zappa were a “one-man-band” there would be no need for lawyers or cease and desist letters, because instead of tribute bands, there’d be buskers on street corners instead of a festival going on 20 years strong.

    Just remember…

    It may be Zappa’s genius we hear when we listen to FZ’s music, yet so many remarkable and talented musicians played their part in bringing that genius to complete fruition (too many to mention here), and so many talented musicians are presently working for little or no “pay day” (just a love for the music, itself) and keeping that music alive (and performed live) by…as Carr says:

    “prolonging Zappa’s legacy by performing and recording his complex music with great aplomb, and in some cases actually continuing to progressively develop the stylistic potentials of specific works in a way congruent to Zappa himself.”

    When ZPZ “are regarded by the ZFT as the only authentic Zappa band, proudly displaying their pervasive ‘Accept No Substitutes’ logo on concert posters and web site,” this is certainly profoundly ridiculous since Dweezil is, himself (albeit a genetic relation) is not Frank, and the whole idea of an authorized tribute band being “the REAL thing” rings of a kind of corporate hucksterism that FZ despised. Truth be told, it is far more likely that the ‘Accept No Substitutes’ logo has more to do with wishing to gain a monetary edge in the marketplace, plain and simple.

    As Carr’s assumptions demonstrate, especially Dweezil’s “displeasure at the prospect of non ZFT musicians performing his father’s material, it is ironic that he himself has been a regular guest musician on tribute albums ranging from Led Zeppelin (performing Stairway To Heaven),[150] The Beatles (performing ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’),[151] Pink Floyd (Performing ‘Us and Them’),[152] Van Halen (performing ‘Unchained’),[153] and Ozzy Osborne (performing ‘Bat Head Soup’),[154] all of which further confuse the legal position presented by the ZFT” as well less than professional behavior towards certain fellow musicians, some of whom have performed his father’s material, surely inform this poster that he has long way to go to achieve his father’s professionalism, and the professionalism of those musicians who made FZ’s music what it is now.

  11. gene says:

    she lost all credibility when she licensed black napkins to the idiot from kiss, who proceeded to decimate the intent of the composer by adding vocals ¿ to one of the 3 fz songs held to a purer standard than the rest, … gene simmons, guitar hacker, song butcher, accept no substitutes

  12. Matt says:

    “Learnt” is the preferred spelling in British English. Trendy, you are the last person on earth that I would take spelling lessons from.

    Buy a vowel, or buy a clue. Your choice.

  13. Harry Barris says:

    It’s all rather simple for “intelligent” folks: Boycott the ZFT.
    Vote with your wallet–that’s democracy & capitalism in practice–all things that FZ was a proponent of.

  14. paul carr says:

    Thanks for the comments. I thought that I would make clear that I have tried to the best of my ability in the essay to remain as impartial as possible. Having spoken to numerous people connected with Zappa and the music industry at large – I still don’t understand why the ZFT position is being adopted. It seems to fluctuate between

    1) Ensuring that Zappa’s legacy is of a high standard and not taken advantage of (which I can totally understand)
    2) Looking for excuses to both control who plays what and make as much money as possible (I don’t like the 2nd bit and disagree with the first).

    In many ways the ‘making as much money as possible’ is also understandable, as it simply reflects the rest of the major corporations within the record industry. However, the ‘control’ is a separate thing. Basically in a free society anyone should be able to use the material of others as long as it is not inflammatory and the copyright holder is paid accordingly. Although some of Zappa’s music does fall into the ‘Grand Rights’ category outlined in my last post (for eg Thing Fish) – this is not because the performers are ‘tribute bands’. I know that many other artists actually feel privileged (both personally and financially) if tribute artists perform their music. I know Dave Gilmore invited ‘Think Floyd’ to play at his 50th birthday party for example. At the end of the day I think everyone is after one thing – to be able to enjoy and observe the development of this great composers music for many years to come. I hope we can do that.

  15. urbangraffito says:

    Paul Carr, I should say that your essay is probably the most balanced and impartial that I have read on the subject (which far too often, and far too quickly plummets into outright rancor).

    What is obvious, at least to me, is that again and again the ZFT fails to realize that Zappa is part of the larger popular culture (a culture in which we all participate in at some level or other). That popular culture is not a static one, either. As you mentioned in your first point, ensuring “that Zappa’s legacy is of a high standard” is neither the role of the ZFT or the fanbase (including tribute bands), yet a combination of both. While Zappa’s legacy is affected by the actions of both parties, neither actually controls the outcome. Personally, I think Zappa’s legacy is pretty much insured by the composer’s own actions and attitudes made evident during his own lifetime.

    By attempting to control all aspects of the Zappa legacy (which is clearly beyond their purview — legally, economically, and sociologically) all the ZFT have really succeeded in doing is create division where there should be unity.

    Admittedly, the amount of control that the ZFT wishes for is far beyond what thay are legally accessible (no matter how many lawyers and C&D letters they hire and send). Recent legal judgments re: Zappanale (Arf Society) back up this supposition.

    My hope is that the ZFT save their legal fees, and place those dollars into the Zappa legacy they hold so dear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them making money off of what they have a legal right. I, for one, past rancor aside, still support their right to do so:

    A quote from paul carr:

    At the end of the day I think everyone is after one thing – to be able to enjoy and observe the development of this great composer’s music for many years to come. I hope we can do that.

  16. jonnybutter says:

    I don’t mean to be ugly, but the essay needs editing. I understand it’s a draft, so I don’t want to be too critical; but the need is beyond mechanical mistakes (e.g. using an apostrophe to denote plural). For example, I wouldn’t say (referring to the Palermo arrangements): ‘It is also interesting how these pieces include improvisations based on harmonic changes, a protocol Zappa rarely attempted himself..’ You contrast that partially with Zappa’s use of two chord vamps, which most certainly are ‘harmonic changes’. I’d also note that not only did Zappa pretty extensively explore ‘harmonic changes’ more involved than two-chord ones, but it was not, anyway, anything to do with ‘attempting’: he used one or two chord vamps for his *own* improvisations because he liked to do.

    and:

    ‘..close scrutiny of his theatrical characters such as the narrator in Thing Fish [88] reveals not only a similar name to Kingfish from the long running Amos and Andy American sitcom (1928 – 1960), but also an almost identical vocal timbre.’ You don’t actually need a very close scrutiny to reveal this. Zappa himself was very explicit about all this. Extremely obvious to an American over the age of 50, by the way.

    There are others, but, a.) I don’t have time to do more, and b.) I know it’s a draft, and I don’t want to be an asshole. But I would suggest cutting some of the more ‘academic’ diction and circumlocution; it would make your case stronger.

    I’m not sure I do buy your thesis (assuming I have it right). I think there’s a difference between Zappa resynthesizing his own music and that of so many others, on the one hand, and tribute bands re-working just his, on the other. That’s not to say covers of his stuff ought to be suppressed – I don’t think it either can or should be. And I must say, that I do like some of what these groups do; I just heard Omnibus for the first time the other day (thanks to UrbanG), and they are among the closest in spirit to an actual Zappa ensemble I have heard. They get that combination of improvisation and obsessive precision which so often made Zappa’s releases so interesting.

    But the two things aren’t the same. Zappa was ‘organizing’ and translating everything in his sound/thought/dream world, and the Zappa cover artists are…well, covering Zappa, albeit sometimes in inventive ways. I don’t know how the ZFT would react to another composer *quoting* Zappa, or something akin to it. If the were to try to police *that*, then it really would be shameful in the way your essay seems to suggest.

  17. Maroual says:

    A quote from Maroual:

    I don’t know how the ZFT would react to another composer *quoting* Zappa, or something akin to it.

    I guess they wouldn’t object if this is a famous and serious composer… which entirely depends on their judgement.
    For instance, the ZFT “had to ‘post’ a public apology in the newspaper for ‘perverting’ the intent of the composer by FZ’s arrangement”.
    In this case, the artistic judgement was left to Ravel’s gardener and/or housekeeper.
    IMHO delegating such a subjective thing as a composer’s intent to somebody else (even his heirs) sounds more like a legal concept than an ideal of justice.

  18. Paul says:

    I take the point that Zappa quoting his own music is not necessarily related to tribute bands performing his portfolio and realise that his practice was mainly contextual (ie big note, project object, conceptual continuity etc). What I have tried to do is link his use of other composers music with this, and how this creative freedom enabled him to develop his unique style, and how it is imperative that this creative freedom is allowed to continue. Regarding your point on how any American over 50 would recognise the King Fish/Thing Fish link. This is fine if you are an American over 50 (Of which I am neither), but what if you are not? I attended a lecture at Zappanale (in Germany) a couple of weeks ago given by Jim Cohen, who discussed the numerous references in Billy The Mountain’. Many of these references were indeed obvious to many Americans of a certain age in the audience (such as the Tonight Show theme for example), but to many Europeans (the vast majority of the audience) they were not. I therefore think there is no problem in continuing to make these comparisons so people who listen to Zappa’s music in the future understand this practice – regardless of their age or where they live. Your point regarding ‘harmonic progression’ is a fair one and I will try and find a more appropriate way to word this. What I was trying to say is that I am not aware of a single improvised piece where Zappa ‘followed the changes’ like a jazz musician does. His vamps were usually over 2 – 3 chords and in a single key, but I would be interested if there are any exceptions. The Palermo recordings offer a number of opportunities for musicians to do this – that’s all I was saying.

  19. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Regarding your point on how any American over 50 would recognise the King Fish/Thing Fish link

    That was an aside. My point was that Zappa himself explained it precisely for the benefit of people who aren’t American, etc. It was just a niggle, but I think it was fair – there was no need to ferret out this information. It just sounded awkward.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    What I have tried to do is link his use of other composers music with this, and how this creative freedom enabled him to develop his unique style, and how it is imperative that this creative freedom is allowed to continue.

    But there is a difference between quoting disparate music and covering Zappa music, no? You say you do get that difference, but the quote above is as if you don’t. Or something. Whatever. As I mentioned, I’m not trying to be an asshole here. I just think Zappa’s work deserves serious consideration, and I must say I’ve endured many decades’ reading of half-assed writing about Zappa. I guess I’m just touchy.

    I may not buy how you arrive at your conclusion, but I agree with it: you can’t stop people making Zappa’s music their own, and you oughtn’t try. Some of the people doing this are doing great work, and while they have a different relationship to Zappa’s work than Frank himself had, that doesn’t mean they can’t interpret his work. Of course not.

    BTW: There’s lots of Zappa material with more chord changes than one or two (Zappa himself favored one or two, not two or three – makes a big difference, musically). ‘Don’t you Ever Wash That Thing’ has interesting soloing changes: it’s a series (5?) of chromatic steps down ending with an ascending minor third – not too many jazz guys play on those changes (Zappa hated the ll, V, lll, Vl, etc. jazzbo changes, and so do I – he called it ‘cycle of fifths to hell’ or something). ‘Waka Jawaka’ has a lot of changes. ‘Blessed Relief’ is another. The song you mentioned, ’20 Small Cigars’ has lots of changes (which Zappa wrote, not Ed P.). It’s true that, as Ben Watson suggested, Zappa was less interested in ‘going through the changes’ than other jazz influenced people, but it really has more to do with what *kind* of changes he didn’t like – ‘Stella By Starlight’, basically……just sayin’

  20. Chuck says:

    I think some of the most telling examples of FZs opinions on how to use another composers works are the pieces he did that were beyond just quotes. His “arrangements” or covers of Petrushka and Octandre with the mothers are real adaptations with a distinctive change of intent. Petrushka is jokey while Octandre is quite ugly and punishing for the audience. The Bolero as a reggae is also quite a variation.

    I don’t think FZ was taking the piss, he was playing music he loved by composers he respected and using the musical material for his own end.

    I also think such a big Stavinsky fan would have followed and been aware of Starvinsky’s qoute of “A good composer never borrows, a good composer steals”.

    Also during FZ’s life were there any examples of where he was upset by any covers or use of his music. When Yellow Snow was edited as a joke song by a radio station his reaction was to edit himself and release it (and get some money from it) rather than complain the artistic intent was somehow lost.

  21. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    I think some of the most telling examples of FZs opinions on how to use another composers works are the pieces he did that were beyond just quotes. His “arrangements” or covers of Petrushka…

    I’d say he quoted ‘Petrushka’. The whole ballet is 45 minutes long, no? Otherwise, agree with you about his attitude, although I believe he liked to get credit for his own writing (e.g. the John and Yoko deal).

    A little CC tidbit for those of you who hadn’t noticed it before: ‘Status Back Baby’ quotes not only ‘Petrushka’, but also ‘The Girl With the Flaxen Hair’: it’s the main lick (‘I’m losing status at the High School..’)

  22. nikita coltrane says:

    A quote from Graffiti On The Wall:

    when anyone starts out such as this the ignoramus radiation levels immediately hit the red.

    Well said, were you talking about yourself.

  23. TomNY says:

    I know I’m a little late on this thread, but I thought this essay was well written and stated fact in areas that are all too often clouded by personal opinion or emotion. One of the areas I found well covered are the laws regarding compositions and the ways they can and cannot be used. People who have a problem with Zappa repertoire ensembles performing live events mistakenly use the term copyright regularly. As explained, the ZFT gets money from agencies that collect in regard to performances, and as stated by Don Preston and Andre from Project/Object, no laws are being violated by performing Zappa (or anyone else’s) music as long as these fees are paid.
    Maybe someone here knows of an example I’m unaware of, but I can’t remember any ZFT lawsuit concerning live performance and copyright violation. And I don’t mean a simple Cease and Desist letter, a real lawsuit filed in a court of law. Trademark infringement yes (whole different set of laws), but not copyrights because there is no legal basis for one, which makes the idea that one must be “licensed” to play a song in a bar or club laughable.
    And just one question for Graffiti On The Wall. As much as I (and I suspect many on this forum) elevate Frank to a high ranking in the musical realm, what would justify “If and when bands go out and perform large portions of Zappa’s work guidelines should be adhered to far beyond some interpretation of an ASCAP standard (of) his music.”? The law is what it is and why should Zappa’s music be held to standards not prescribed by law as currently written and practiced regarding every other composer?

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