Good thread! I'll be checking those others out later.
Not sure if this has been posted or not but it's a great interview. Gives a nice insight into what Frank's relationship with band members was like later in his life and also has an interesting take on the reason for Frank's stance on drugs.
Here's the audition part:
AR: I read on your homepage that during your vacation you got a call from Zappa for an audition. How did that happen?
AZ: His name was Chase. He was the road manager for Jean Luc Ponty when I first joined Jean Luc Ponty. They had a few managers but he was the first one. I was out of Ponty for eight years and I hadn't seen Chase for maybe six years. And I don't know how he found me, but I was in Arizona, I'd just come back from the Grand Canyon, with my father. My father came to visit me in the US; he said we'd go for a holiday. My girlfriend lived in Phoenix, Arizona. So my father and I went to Phoenix, put our bags down, took the car and went to the Grand Canyon, just the two of us. Then we got back, got into bed, we were tired after three or four days of traveling and the phone rang.
How did this man find me? It's eight o'clock at night and he says: Frank's looking for a keyboard player and I know you're the guy. You're the guy, you're the right person! Get to L.A.! Here's Frank's number. So I called Frank. He gets on the phone right away. He knew who I was because I'd been with Jean Luc Ponty, he'd followed my career. I didn't know that. So he gets to the phone and he says: Can you come now to L.A.?
In those days (it was in '84) the airlines only flew till 7.30, now they fly in each hour. I was an eight hour drive away from L.A. so I said: I can't fly but I have a car, I'm gonna get there for two o'clock, why don't we do it tomorrow? He said: no, no, come now. OK, then.
Nine o'clock I'm on the road with my father, we're driving and about twelve o'clock we're still not there, so I called Frank again and I said : Look, I wanna be good for the audition, I'd be so tired, maybe we'd do it tomorrow. No, come now, you have to come now. Don't worry if you're tired, I understand. So I get into car and I said to my father: Dad, I have to get some sleep, you have to drive. My father had never driven in America. So, he's driving on the freeways of L.A. and I'm sleeping, I got a one hour sleep, which was good.
We got there three o'clock in the morning, Frank was there, the whole band was there because they said this guy must be good, if the boss is stayin', we're gonna stay, we're gonna check this guy out. Some of them knew me anyway. I had my father with me so it looked good, you know, good family upbringing, Frank was a big family man.
And he puts the most impossible music – Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch – can't read it, he was making a joke. I tried. He took the music and said I can see you can read and then he said: we'll play. So we just played a couple of chords. I was playing with everything I've got and he liked that. I could see they were all smiling and he was looking and smiling at his band so I got more confident and then he played and I accompanied him. Then he stops the band and he says: Excuse me, he says, can you hear me? Very rude. He was just testing – can I take his personality, will I fit into his band? He's already made up his mind, but he wanted to test me, checking out my vibe. So I said nicely, yes I can hear you very well. He says you're playing too many notes. So I played beautifully. So now he knew he could give me orders and that I could understand them and that I was strong, so he could rely on me to give him information. He wanted me to give him ideas, too. Frank Zappa was very strong but he always looked for others too around him for ideas. He wanted to bring out the best in everybody and sometimes on the tour I'd play something and he'd say listen to this idea or some other. He would always go for the challenge.
Anyway, so we played and he said: OK, we'd like to have you. The only time in the whole history of Frank Zappa ever did he give the job on the spot right away, except for me and George Duke. Normally he would say we'll call you or we'll let you know. He was looking for something. I know what he was looking for. He needed someone who was classically trained and jazz trained, good rock deal, someone who would be able to be new at something, research it and get it. The keyboarders at Frank Zappa's band were very important, especially me. I had to anchor the band. The strong harmony, pulling it together was very important and you had to be able to accompany. The last keyboard player who played – Tommy Mars – couldn't accompany very well. He was great, he knew all the material but he couldn't accompany very well. Frank used to say when I solo, don't play. But with me, because I was jazz trained – I'd been with Woody Herman, Glen Miller, Maynard Ferguson, Jean Luc Ponty – I studied and taught at Berkley, so I knew my stuff. We'd have a terrific relationship. Nothing bad to say about Tommy, he was a fantastic musician, but they wanted something different this time.
AR: Allan, as you said, Tommy knew the material. You were a new member, how could you know all the material?
AZ: I didn't, but I managed to learn four two-hour shows, like eight hours of music, in a year. Every night on tour I'd go to my hotel room and then next day whatever I'd learned we'd rehearse. We never had a sound check, it was always rehearsal. Sure you tried the instruments, but we rehearsed for two hours every day before the gig. And if I the rehearsal went well, that night it would be on the list. See, every night we'd play a different program, different order and different things. We always had a meeting before the show and he would say: This is what we'll play. So we never knew what we'd gonna play. It was always up to me, whatever I could learn, they would play, it was a lot of pressure.
AR: But sometimes you had even two shows a day.
AZ: Yeah, I'll tell you the truth, it took me a while to get used to the band. Everybody has to get used to it. George [Duke], too. You have to go through a process, where you understand, where you can fit in. It doesn't happen right away, because the music is very difficult. The band I'm playing with now, I fit in right away, because I'm experienced. Once I'd played with Frank Zappa, I could do anything. I was invited to Australia to do a film, big movie score, starring James Coburn. I said: sure. I'd never done it, I wasn't scared or anything after Frank. I went to Australia, had this Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and they wanted a big band, it went very well. I'm not afraid because of Frank, that's what Frank did for us, he gave us confidence.