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UH-Hilo Jazz Orchestra celebrates music of Frank Zappa


Tribune-Herald staff writer

“Jazz isn’t dead. It just smells funny.”

That pithy quote from Frank Zappa and songs by the late musical iconoclast will be celebrated in concert by the University of Hawaii at Hilo Jazz Orchestra. The concert is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center.

Admission is $7 general, $5 seniors, students and children for the open seating show. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. For more information, or to order tickets, contact the UHHPAC box office at 932-7490 or

The program features a range of material drawn from Zappa’s large (60-plus albums) catalog, with an emphasis on the composer’s jazz-rock compositions from the late 1960s and early ’70s. Zappa died Dec. 4, 1993, of prostate cancer, 17 days shy of his 53rd birthday, so the concert comes in the wake of the 20th anniversary of his death.

“Zappa is my hero,” said Trever Veilleux, UH-Hilo Jazz Orchestra director. “I’m just a crazy Zappa fanatic and have been since I was a kid. I heard the album ‘Joe’s Garage’ when I was 12 years old and had just gotten an electric guitar — and I had never heard anything like it. … And I’d never heard anyone play guitar like that.

“‘Joe’s Garage’ has these really long solos which Zappa did on a few albums. He could solo for, like, eight minutes — which is something that someone like John Coltrane would do. And the solos themselves are almost a composition. He doesn’t repeat himself, and somehow, he could keep the guitar solo interesting for eight to 10 minutes. That just blew me away. I never even realized that was a possibility. And having just started learning the guitar, it was a revelation for me.”

Veilleux described Zappa’s music as “complex and technically challenging, yet simultaneously catchy and accessible” and added that it “takes full advantage of the 25-piece jazz orchestra.”

“The enthusiasm that I’ve gotten from the students this semester has been so gratifying,” Veilleux said. “Everyone is taking this so seriously. This material is difficult to play. So I knew, handing out these charts, I thought there might be some resistance just because of the rehearsal time it’s going to require and the practice time that they have to do outside of rehearsals. But this music is not just difficult, it’s very fun to play. I’ve done this for maybe five years, 10 concerts, and this group is the most enthusiastic and dedicated that we’ve had and without a doubt, this is the best sounding band I’ve gotten to work with at UH.”

The jazz orchestra concerts have become an end-of-semester staple at UH-Hilo, and since the Blues Brothers-themed show a year ago, dancers have been added, as well, courtesy of choreographer Dori Yamada. She and Veilleux are collaborating once again, and describes her choreography of Zappa’s music as “atypical.”

“One number, ‘My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama,’ that one is probably a little more straightforward like the stuff that I’ve done before,” she said. “But the other ones are going to be kind of weird, more narrative — for lack of a better word, more musical theater-y. I’ve tried to create a story arc that would play out in some dancing and acting, things like that.”

Added Veilleux: “This isn’t just a concert; it’s a production. If you go on YouTube and check out jazz ensemble concerts from other colleges, it’s pretty much musicians standing still on stage playing music. Don’t get me wrong, the music is good. But I don’t think you’ll see anything like what we do anywhere else, and Dori, the dancers and the jazz orchestra have all worked above and beyond to make that happen.”

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