STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For 21st Century Media
Alto saxophonist/composer/arranger Ed Palermo must love a challenge. Not only does he choose some of the most difficult music imaginable for his repertoire — that of the iconic late composer Frank Zappa — he has the task of not only arranging the music but managing the logistics for his band – all 17 members.
Palermo, who considers himself “Zappa’s biggest fan,” will bring this ensemble to Sellersville Theater on July 31. The show will feature spirited big band arrangements of some of Zappa’s monstrous catalogue.
Palermo recently celebrated the release of “Oh No! Not Jazz!!” (Cuneiform, 2014), his fourth album and the third for Cuneiform.
The title is more than just a nod to Zappa’s sense of humor; the remark was made by his then prepubescent daughter regarding her dad’s choice of music during a car ride together.
The album is a two CD set. Side one — the Zappa side — opens with a scintillating version of Zappa’s classic “Inca Roads,” with guest vocalist Napoleon Murphy Brock reprising his role from the song’s original recording on the Mothers of Invention album “One Size Fits All” (DiscReet, 1975). The second CD is comprised of Palermo’s original compositions. It is the first time that he has released his original material alongside that of Zappa.
Palermo, who has received glowing reviews since the release of his first album of Zappa material, “The Ed Palermo Big Band Plays the Music of Frank Zappa” (Astor Place Records, 1997), has serious credibility and an impressive resume. Before forming his own band he toured and recorded with many different artists including Aretha Franklin, Tito Puente, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, The Spinners and many others.
Palermo’s passion for the music of Frank Zappa goes all the way back to his teens.
“I’ve been a rabid fan since 1968 – ’69,” said Palermo, who was first introduced to Zappa when his older brother Nick brought home “Absolutely Free” (Verve, 1967), the Mothers of Invention’s second album.
“I was a rabid listener of music… I could listen to my records for hours and sit there and do nothing else,” said Palermo from his New Jersey home. “It’s not like I used it for background music, I would listen to it and I would have no idea what was making me feel so good. It was then I realized that music has got to be the main thing in my life.
“I did notice, even back then, that there was some really beautiful music under all of that silly singing that he does on that album. And when the next album came out — “We’re Only In it for the Money” (Verve, 1968), and he was doing songs like “The Idiot Bastard Son” and “Mom & Dad,” I really noticed how soulful the music was. To my ninth grade ears… it really was touching me. And I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. But it was not until February of 1969 when I saw him live in Philadelphia that it just turned my life around. I thought he was the coolest looking guy, I thought it was the coolest music I ever heard and I just wanted to be him.”
Palermo’s passion for the music of Zappa and other acts including Procul Harum, King Crimson and The Byrds catapulted Palermo from serious listener in high school to serious music student in college. He was a music performance major and he practiced 10 hours a day. That commitment to craft is what enables Palermo to do what he does today.
Clearly this is a labor of love for Palermo. He certainly isn’t raking in the dough.
“I lose money pretty much every time we play,” he says.
The band performs mostly in the New York area at clubs like The Iridium, simply because it is too expensive to take such a large band on the road. This is a rare opportunity to see the band in this area. Palermo says the Sellersville Theater show will be the band’s first performance in Pennsylvania.
The Sellersville show will include more than 90 percent Zappa material, which will make Zappa fanatics very happy. Yet being well-schooled in Zappa’s material is certainly not a prerequisite for enjoying the show. Any jazz lovers and those who are open to something very unique and unusual should take the trip to Sellersville.
“It’s gonna be a blast,” says Palermo. “It’s so much fun. It’s so worth it. It feeds the soul. It’s what makes life worth living.”
For more information check www.palermobigband.com
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Ed Palermo Big Band
WHERE: Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
WHEN: Thursday, July 31, at 8 p.m.
TICKETS: $21.50 – $29.50; $11.50 – $19.50 for theater members. Tickets are available at www.st94.com or by calling (215) 257-5808.