51 Minitudes For Piano

Nicolas Slonimsky (1972-76)

FZ album(s) in which song has appeared

Tour(s) on which song is known to have been performed (main source: FZShows, v. 7.1)


Nicolas Slonimsky, Perfect Pitch (1988) (quoted from ARF: Notes & Comments):

Zappa invited me to try out his Bosendorfer. I sat down at the keyboard and played the coronation scene from BORIS GUDUNOV which required deep bass sounds. Zappa was impressed by these Russian harmonies. He asked me to play some of my own compositions, and I launched into the last piece in my MINITUDES, based on an interplay of mutually exclusive triads and covering the entire piano keyboard. "Why don't you play this piece at my next concert?" Zappa asked. "When will that be?" I inquired. "Tomorrow. We can rehearse in the afternoon." I was somewhat taken aback by the sudden offer, but after all, I had nothing to lose. So I decided to take my chance as a soloist at a rock concert.

The next day I arrived at the large Coliseum in Santa Monica where Zappa's concert was to take place. A huge, towering man led me to Zappa's room. "Mr. Zappa is expecting you," he said, satisfied with my identity. He was Zappa's bodyguard, hired after Zappa had been attacked during a concert by a besotted admirer and hurt his back.

On stage I sat at the electric piano and played my piece. For better effect, I added sixteen bars to the coda, ending in repeated alternation of C major and F-sharp major chords in the highest treble and lowest bass registers. Zappa dictated to his players the principal tonalities of my piece, and they picked up the modulations with extraordinary assurance. I had never played the electric piano before, but I adjusted to it without much trouble.

The hall began to fill rapidly. Zappa's bodyguard gave me ear plugs, for, when Zappa's band went into action, the decibels were extremely high. Zappa sang and danced while conducting, with a professional verve that astounded me. A soprano soloist came out and sang a ballad about being a hooker, using a variety of obscenities. Then came my turn. Balancing a cigarette between his lips, Zappa introduced me to the audience as "our national treasure." I pulled out the ear plugs, and sat down at the electric piano. With demoniac energy Zappa launched us into my piece. To my surprise I sensed a growing consanguinity with my youthful audience as I played. My fortissimo ending brought out screams and whistles the like of which I had never imagined possible. Dancing Zappa, wild audience, and befuddled me—I felt like an intruder in a mad scene from ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I had entered my Age of Absurdity.

Nicolas Slonimsky, quoted in Zappa!, 1992, p. 7

Frank Zappa called me because he knew my book, Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. You see, this book is sort of a best-seller. Jazz players pick it up. It's a fifty-dollar book, so not everyone can afford it. Frank said he knew about this book, but he didn't realize I was in Los Angeles, and he wanted to meet me. And so we became friends. That was eight or nine years ago.

Frank immediately engaged me to play the Synclavier with him. He said, "Would you play with me, be my soloist?" I said, "When is your concert?" He said, "Tomorrow." I said, "What do we do?" And so we rehearsed, and I said to myself, "What can I lose?" Nowadays I will accept anything. If someone says, "Do you want to appear in a group of elephants?" I will say, "It's all right, I'll play with the elephants." I always ask myself, "What can I lose?"

The concert was a great success. Usually I have just a hundred or two hundred people, but this was a huge audience, and they shouted and everything! Afterwards, I maintained a friendship with Frank, and I went to his house several times. I tried out his equipment, and I was very impressed. I played his big piano with the extra octave—the Bösendorfer.



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