Student musicians to honor Frank Zappa

Marjorie McWilliams, Staff Writer

Walking past Southwick Music Hall in the late afternoon, a passerby may have heard the sound of a band at work. When practice is over, students hum to themselves as they leave, carrying instrument cases and sheet music.

ZappaFest will be held for the first time in 10 years at 7:30 p.m. April 20 in the Grand Maple Ballroom.

UVM musicians, as well as guests Ed Palermo and Napoleon Murphy Brock, will recreate some of experimental rock artist Frank Zappa’s most well-known music.

Alexander Stewart, professor of music, said ZappaFest celebrates the life and music of Zappa, an unconventional American musician who experimented with the fusion of rock, jazz and classical.

Stewart said it’s an honor to have Brock join the band, because he worked on several albums with Zappa in the ’70s, including “One Size Fits All,” “Bongo Fury” and “Apostrophe.”

Palermo is a saxophonist from New York City, where he found success recreating Zappa’s work and adapting it for jazz ensembles. He has been performing it ever since, finding the audience’s response to be consistently overwhelming, Stewart said.

Stewart believes Zappa should be remembered for his true and incomparable originality.

“One of the things I think is amazing and unique about his music is he doesn’t blend genres together so that they are fused into this homogenous style, but can hear all the threads at once,” he said.

Zappa also defies categorization because he was openly anti-substance use, a distinguishing factor between him and most musicians in the psychedelic rock era, Stewart said.

“Though it’s ironic the concert will take place on 4/20, it is in no way affiliated with the holiday,” Stewart said.  

Members of the University Jazz Ensemble auditioned to participate in ZappaFest. The group now rehearses for the show twice a week.

Junior Sam Atelier, a trumpetist in jazz studies, said he is excited that the band is playing rock and roll.

“I’ve played with a lot of these guys for several years, and it’s really incredible to hear the way our sound changes in a different musical context,” he said.

Senior Jake Landry said he is looking forward to the event and encourages students to show up.

“It’s going to be a pretty kick-ass time,” he said.  

Tickets are free for students and $15 for the public.