July 24, 2021

Why did Frank Zappa cover Maurice Ravel’s ‘Bolero’?

Although the name of Frank Zappa is unknown to most recent generations of rock fans – and not so recent -, there is unanimity in considering him one of the most unusual creators of popular music. Against the tide since it began in the early 1960s, the creativity of the American always shone on the scene underground.

For this reason, it would soon be enormously surprising to find him splitting sonorous pears with Maurice Ravel: when Zappa was born in Baltimore in late December 1940, the French composer had died three years earlier; Faced with his global classical training, Zappa approached classical music from a sensitivity cooked in the rock & roll, blues and the doo-wop.

But the influence of the French musician must have been intense as reflected in the fact that he mentioned it in his debut album, Freak out (1966),in a section entitled “These people have contributed materially in many ways in making our music what it is. Please don’t hold it against him ”.

An interest that lived with him practically forever. In his autobiography you can read: “By not having any kind of musical trainingIt made no difference to me if I listened to Lightnin ‘Slim, to a vocal group called The Jewels, or to Webern, Varèse or Stravinsky ”.

In a radio program he was asked for a list of the ten albums that he would take to a desert island, and he did not hesitate to include the Piano Concerto in G major Ravelian. And I had a predilection for him Bolero , which he played often. He came to include it in the album The best band you never heard in your life , which included his last tour in 1988 (a tour that ended on May 17, 1988 Barcelona, and whose filming by TVE has become historical, Bolero included).

Frank Zappa

The vanguard

Zappa explained his weakness for the piece: “I’ve always liked the Bolero. I think that it’s one of the best melodies ever written. Most of the public has heard it in one form or another, so if you are going to conduct an experiment in arrangement technique and this is a reggae version of Bolero, it’s nice to fix a topic that people are already familiar with ”.