Thursday | December 14, 2017
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Dweezil Zappa to play with UH-Hilo Jazz Orchestra

Editor’s note: The UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center said at story deadline Monday a limited number of tickets remained for both concerts. It is strongly urged that anyone without tickets who wishes to attend call the box office at 932-7490 between 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today and Friday as the shows might be sold out. Tickets, if available, are reserved seating and priced at $35 general, $30 discount and $15 for UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College students with valid student ID and children 17 and under. If tickets remain at showtime, prices are $5 more.

Four years ago, University of Hawaii at Hilo Jazz Orchestra director Trever Veilleux pitched a Frank Zappa tribute show to Lee Barnette-Dombroski, director of the school’s Performing Arts Center — who took a leap of faith and allowed him to do it, although neither knew if paying customers would actually materialize.

As it turned out, “Jazz Isn’t Dead, It Just Smells Funny” — the title is one of Zappa’s best-known quotes — was the band’s first sold-out concert performance. That concert, on Dec. 12, 2013, set the stage for a Zappa tribute show at the end of each fall semester at UH-Hilo. The shows became as much an event as musical performance, and earlier this year filmmaker Steven Roby released the full-length rockumentary “Zappa U” — which can be seen on YouTube and Vimeo.

At 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the PAC, Veilleux and his charges add another chapter with “UH-Hilo Jazz Orchestra Meets Dweezil Zappa.”

Veilleux told the Tribune-Herald last week he’s “still trying to comprehend the whole thing.”

“Dweezil contacted us,” said Veilleux. “He heard about what we’re doing, I believe, as a combination of Steve Roby’s documentary film and also some of our fans and band members have met him, gone to his concerts, did the meet and greet, and mentioned what we’re doing in Hilo. So Dweezil contacted us and said he’d like to be a part of this year’s show.”

The 48-year-old son of the legendary Frank Zappa, a Grammy winning singer-guitarist who’s been touring the world since 2008 with his band Zappa Plays Zappa, will play a set with the local university’s band both nights.

“I saw him with Zappa Plays Zappa a few times. And that band is incredible,” Veilleux said. “They do note-perfect renditions of Frank’s music. And, at the same time, the improv sections are spot on. He’s an amazing artist in his own right. It’s not just the last name that’s carrying him as an artist. He’s the real deal himself.

“When I was kid, I bought his album ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama.’ The title track is a cover of his dad’s music, but the rest of the album was original. It came out in the ’80s, so it sounded like ’80s but you could still hear a lot of sophistication and Frank Zappa influence, even in that genre. But, following his career as he evolved, more and more of those Frank influences creeped into his music. Like his latest album, ‘Via Zammata’,’ there are very sophisticated compositions, very guitar-based. He’s a technical master on the guitar … with interesting harmonies and multiple time signatures. Really cool stuff.”

Veilleux said the concerts’ fare will “span three decades of Frank Zappa’s diverse catalog.”

“We’ll be playing songs from many of Frank’s best-selling albums like ‘Hot Rats,’ ‘Overnite Sensation,’ ‘Apostrophe’,’ and ’Joe’s Garage’,” Veilleux said. “We are also going to throw in some of our favorite songs from the previous Zappa tribute concerts including ‘Florentine Pogen’ and ‘Sofa.’

“The music will live on forever. It’s such an incredible body of work, it’s just amazing.”

Frank Zappa’s music is technically challenging for even first-rate professional musicians, but Veilleux and the band have been preparing all semester.

“This is such a challenge,” Veilleux said. “Every show we’ve done is a challenge but this one is more so than usual. We’re taking on more material than we have in the past and doing a longer show. We’re also taking on harder material. I want to give a shout out to how hard the kids in the band have worked this semester. I’m honestly blown away with what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

In October, it appeared these shows might be the last stand for the UHH band, as faculty members said they’d received an administration email notifying them of courses on the budgetary chopping block for the spring semester, including the jazz orchestra course.

That led to campus protests by students, including the band, petitions and letters to administrators and key legislators by community members, leading to an announcement the jazz orchestra course would be available this spring.

“The students and the community really rallied and truly saved the band, I think. I know the official word from the university was slightly nuanced, but I think the petitions and the students protesting and the public response might be the only reason we’ll be back in the spring,” Veilleux said.

For Veilleux, a guitarist of note and incurable Zappaholic, the opportunity to trade licks with Dweezil Zappa — who, like his late father, is a guitar god — is a special yuletide stocking stuffer.

“It’s something I never really expected. I never would have contacted him because it seemed so far from any realistic possibility. I never dreamed that this could happen. I’ve been a huge Frank fan all my life and also a huge Dweezil fan, so it’s hard to put into words. It’s surreal.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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