Ed Palermo: We're Only In It For The Music
AAJ: Life's too short?
EP: Yeah, exactly, life's too short [laughs].
AAJ: You've enjoyed the collaborations of quite a few of Zappa's ex- sidemen; what has been their reaction to your ongoing Zappa project?
EP: Oh, very positive, very positive. Napoleon (Murphy Brock) in particular. He's a big Stan Kenton fan, and the very first time he sang with us he thought that this is what he wanted to do because he grew up with the music of Stan Kenton, though truth be told I'm not at all influenced by Stan Kenton.
AAJ: I don't know anybody who is. What does Napoleon love about Stan Kenton?
EP: I don't really know but with Napoleon I think it's just that he loved the sound of a big band. You know when a singer comes up and he has a big band behind him that's a big rush. It's a really great feeling to have all those horns supporting you.
Ike Willis sang with us on several occasions, Mike Keneally always has a blast singing and playing guitar with us. They have very positive things to say about playing with us.
AAJ: And what about their memories of playing with Zappa?
EP: Believe it or not I don't really talk to them that much about Frank. I do ask them about how he rehearsed a particular song and things like that but I never ask the personal questions about the groupies and stuff like that because I figure there are certain things they might just want to keep quiet. I think that they all love and cherish the time they had with Frank. I think all three of those guys would say it was a completely irreplaceable experience.
AAJ: What about the Zappa estate, the Zappa family; are they pleased about what you're doing or are there any legal complications in presenting Zappa's music live? Are they supportive of you?
EP: Right now there's no problem, but are they supportive of me? No. Gail, Frank's wife, doesn't like anybody like me, and another band called Project/Object, doing this because she thinks we're making money off it and in fact that couldn't be further from the truth. I can speak for all of us when I say that this project is costing us money.
The only person who can make money on this is Dweezil (Zappa) because he's the only guy who has that kind of name recognition and could draw they type of audiences that would garner a profit. I do very well now as far as audiences coming out to hear me but I'm not just doing strictly Zappa now. It's mostly Zappa but I'm also doing jazz versions of my other favorite groups like Procol Harum, Todd Rungdren, and I have a whole project where I do Paul Butterfield's music. It is a mixture of stuff. In the past I have got "cease and desist" letters from the Zappa estate, so to answer your question they are not supportive of it and I seriously doubt they ever will be.
AAJ: Something that I'm curious about is the U.S. Army Blues Band, whom you've conducted doing Zappa's music; the U.S. Army and Frank Zappa seems like an odd combination, no?
EP: There's a story to that. On the first Zappa album I did, Ed Palermo Plays the Music of Frank Zappa my lead trumpeter was a woman called Liesl Whitaker, and let me just say she was probably the greatest trumpet player I ever had in my band; she decided she wanted to have a more stable life and she got this offer to be the lead trumpet player for the Army Jazz Big Band
AAJ: What? You don't have to be in the army to play for the army big band?
EP: No, no, she had to join the army; that was the only down side [laughs].
AAJ: Don't tell me she's playing Zappa in Iraq now!
EP: Right, exactly. At the time she was married and wanted to have a baby, and getting insurance would have been impossible for a New York trumpet player, but the army pays for everything so she joined the army. She was immediately offered musical director status and since she and I have always been very close friends she would periodically call me and say: "Hey, let's do a concert of Zappa stuff."
The Army band are incredible musicians, I mean, they nailed this stuff. Their brass section is unreal.
AAJ: Do you send them your arrangements months beforehand? How does it work?
EP: I send them PDFs, before it was mail copies. Then Liesl will give each one of them their music. They'll practice on their own and then have two or three rehearsals and then I'll go and rehearse with them to get everything all ironed out. That's how we do it.
I've done it that way in Europe too, at the festival in Umea, Sweden, in Finland in Helsinki, and in Norway. That's always a fun thing to do. We played at a yearly Zappa festival in Germany, called Zappenale; I took a small version of the band there, we had like six horns and rhythm section and it was the most amazing concert I think I've ever played. There were two thousand people standing up front and going crazy with the music, but when the music got soft you could hear a pin drop. It was unreal.
I haven't been asked to Europe in a while though. I hope that changes with this new CD, but we'll find out. I haven't gone to England with this music yet and that's something I really want to do; England and Italy.