This Return To Forever IV - Zappa Plays Zappa tour has been a great experience for our band. We grew tighter as an ensemble and a new level of musicality came into focus during this period. We received many kind words from the members of RTF, whom we have a lot of respect for. We've had great on stage collaborations with several members of RTF and many fine backstage story telling sessions as well.
Additionally for me, I've really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with and play with some of my favorite guitarists who've come out of the woodwork on this tour. Allan Holdsworth attended the show in San Diego. We talked about his time visiting my dad at the UMRK studio and the two hand tapping licks he showed me when I was 13. I really admire his playing and at times during the show I would find my mind wandering while I was playing a solo, thinking, "Gee I hope Allan doesn't find this too mundane." He was very enthusiastic after the show and had many kind words for the band and especially for my dad.
In Austin I got to play with Eric Johnson and hear him take a few steps outside his normal playing style. That was a treat for me. I never thought I would be playing on stage with him. In the past it would have made me quite nervous. Because of Zappa Plays Zappa I've grown so much as a musician and now it's just great fun to trade ideas with Eric.
In San Fransisco Frank Gambale joined us on stage. It was great to play with him and trade phrases. His instructional DVDs were integral to making Zappa Plays Zappa a reality. I learned the sweep picking techniques so I could play some of my dad's most impossible melody lines on guitar. I couldn't have done it without Frank Gambale's DVDs. I studied the techniques for almost 2 years. It was like getting a guitar playing lobotomy, changing more than 20 years of learned habits and skills and then replacing them with new ones. Then using the new ones to train for the olympics.
Until this recent tour, our paths had never crossed. I'm grateful we had the opportunity to do some playing. I look forward to more opportunites.
Playing with Jean Luc Ponty has been a treat as well. I've always liked his soloing style and his sound. Fifty Fifty has always stood out to me as a classic. He just sounds so great playing over those changes. Playing with him on that song on this tour has been a highlight. The chords are quite difficult for me to solo over because I did not grow up practicing over a lot of changes. (I intend to incorporate more of that into my practice now!) I think there is an interesting contrast between us when play together. The other day Jean Luc bestowed a nice compliment upon me. He said, "You have really become a great guitar player. You are really inventive." Thanks Jean Luc, I appreciate the kind words.
The most unexpected part of this tour for me has been the many opportunities I've had to play with Chick Corea. If you would have asked me at any time in my life prior to this tour if I would ever be trading phrases with Chick Corea on stage, my answer would have been NO. It would have been too intimidating. What changed? Well, prior to this tour I did my best to study some altered scales and get myself used to stepping outside my comfort zone in case the opportunity to play with Chick would present itself.
Indeed it did present itself. From the first time we played together on King Kong there was a spark of creativity that was a shared experience. His phrasing on keyboards is very different than any guitarist's phrasing. I find it quite fascinating. In order for me to match phrases and try to create a musical conversation with him on stage I had to abandon any comfort zone and firmly dig into some new territory. The funny this is, I started to have a better understanding of my dad's description of what he felt like when he was playing his best live on stage.
He described soloing as making air sculptures. He would envision shapes and try to use his amplifed guitar sound to decorate time with these shapes. When I listened to what Chick was playing I could envison shapes and contours that I wanted to try to respond with. This meant that I would have to be free enough and bold enough to trust that I could use any available note to create the contoured shape I was looking for.
I know Chick knows quite a bit about the harmonic content of his melodies and has a vast knowledge of motific development and super imposed tonalities. Since that is not my background I quite literally just went into random mode.
This is not easy to do or trust in a live situation. Chick's energy out on stage made it possible though. I would disregard what key I was in (E flat - already not guitar friendly) and just let loose. We had at least 6 chances to play on this tour and each time we took it somewhere different. I had so much fun playing with him and learned a whole lot from the experience. Thanks so much Chick! As I said on stage, "It was like Christmas everytime." I hope we get another chance down the road too.
I know Chris Norton got to spend a lot of time with Chick as well and his playing was injected with a flurry of new sonic and harmonic textures. He put them to good use every night on stage. I was happy to see the mentoring that Chick did with Chris. It reminded me of when I first met Edward Van Halen and he showed me some amazing things on guitar. It made a huge difference in my playing. It certainly made a difference for Chris spending time with Chick and our ensemble is better because of that extra spark of inspiration.
Who knows what Seattle will bring all of us tomorrow in the culmination of this tour. Maybe there will be a few surprises and a need to update this blog...