Few people have had such an indelible mark on music as Frank Zappa and yet, 50 years after his first mainstream releases, he remains a mysterious and misunderstood figure in popular music.
Many people who know Zappa only from his “novelty” hits like Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow or Valley Girl assume that he was a drug crazed madman with no regard for the tradition or history of music when, in fact, he led a mostly drug free lifestyle and obsessed over music down to each individual note.
Part of what makes a Zappa piece amazing art is the depth of the composition and the painstaking care taken to place each beat right where it belongs. His arrangements were challenging and probably the most complicated pieces of rock music ever composed, to this day. Few realize, though, that Zappa was an accomplished composer of orchestral music and eventually (some could argue) gained his most acclaim for his classical compositions which were known for breaking down the barriers of time, rhythm, harmony, style, and genre.
One of the most beautiful of his classical pieces, and a great gateway into his massive catalog, is Strictly Genteel.
Although not labeled as such, Strictly Genteel follows the form of a Chaconne which is typically a piece in 3/4 time with an ever-present repeating theme. If you’d like to hear a more traditional version of the form go check out movement one of the First Suite in E Flat by Gustav Holst.
The theme is taken through many iterations and variations during this seven minute piece and exhibits the fluidity in which Zappa was able to jump from one style to another. Was all of his music like this? No. Not by a long shot but there are just enough gems like this one for someone seeking an introduction into his classical work to have an easy access point.
Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.