Frank Zappa's Big Band Projects of 1972

Frank Zappa spent most of 1972 in a wheelchair, due to injuries sustained in the incident at the Rainbow Theatre, London, on December 10, 1971. During this period, he recorded two studio albums, Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo. After he got out of the wheelchair, but with his leg still in a cast, he went on two concert tours in the last four months of 1972, the Grand Wazoo tour in September and the Petit Wazoo tour in October, November, and December. Over thirty years later, the Zappa Family Trust released two live albums, Wazoo (from the Grand Wazoo tour) and Imaginary Diseases (from the Petit Wazoo tour), as well as Joe's Domage (from rehearsals for the studio albums).

What distinguishes this period in FZ's career is the instrumentation: big bands with lots of horns. The Grand Wazoo touring band featured twenty musicians, including a twelve-piece horn section (six brass and six woodwinds). This was the largest touring entity FZ ever put together.

The most similar performing ensemble in FZ's career--in size, instrumentation, and musical direction--was the 1975 edition of the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra. This orchestra featured 37 musicians (notably adding two violins and viola), and played some of the same repertoire as the Grand Wazoo band ("Low Budget", "Dog Meat", and parts of "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary") and the Petit Wazoo band ("Duke Of Prunes" and part of "Rollo"), but they played only a single run of concerts at UCLA's Royce Hall.

The London Symphony Orchestra, the Ensemble Intercontemporain (Perfect Stranger), and the Ensemble Modern (Yellow Shark)--all of which existed independently of FZ--were much more "classically" oriented than the Grand Wazoo band.

All together, forty musicians performed on the two albums and/or the two tours. The following chart shows the number of musicians (including FZ) in common between each of FZ's four 1972 big-band projects and each of the others. The numbers on the diagonal represent the number of musicians involved in each single project.

Petit Wazoo tourGrand Wazoo tourGrand WazooWaka/Jawaka
Grand Wazoo4824
Grand Wazoo tour920
Petit Wazoo tour10

Only two musicians played on all four projects: Zappa himself and Tony Duran. Duran did not, however, play on every album track; he is missing from "Waka/Jawaka" (the title track), "Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus", and "Eat That Question". Sal Marquez played on every track of the two studio albums, but was not on the Petit Wazoo tour. Erroneous and Aynsley Dunbar played on every track of the two studio albums, but were not on either tour.

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