UH Hilo Jazz Orchestra Meets Dweezil Zappa
December 8 & 9
UH Hilo Performing Arts Center
Trever Veilleux is a professor at the University of Hawai’i’s Hilo campus. He’s also a hardcore Frank Zappa fanatic who got turned onto the guitar icon’s album Joe’s Garage back in 1979.
When the University hired Veilleux as Music Director, he tested the waters by working in the occasional Zappa song at various live shows. This eventually led to a course in playing Zappa’s complex compositions. In 2013, Veilleux convinced the school he could pull off a Zappa tribute concert. It sold-out, and he’s been doing two-night performances every year since then.
In 2015, I heard about these shows while working as a DJ at Hawi’s KNKR, and caught their third tribute. The following year I approached Professor Veilleux about doing a documentary and released Zappa U, an 80-minute film that captured the students’ journey from classroom to concert hall.
The Big Island might seem like a tiny dot out in the Pacific to some, but it’s now become sort of a phenomenon in the Zappa universe. So much so that Frank Zappa’s guitar playing son Dweezil contacted Veilleux about doing a show in 2017. “He heard about what we were doing, I believe as a combination of Steve Roby’s documentary film and also some fans and band members… mentioned what we were doing in Hilo,” Veilleux told a local paper.
Dweezil Zappa (above) graciously added Hilo as a concert stop on this year’s tour, and while here he managed to coach the band on some of his father’s techniques, as well as lead an afternoon guitar clinic for local players.
“There’s an odd similarity that has to do with islands,” Dweezil told the Saturday night crowd. “This island has accepted the music of Frank Zappa in a facility that offers higher eduction. I think that’s an amazing idea, but it doesn’t work anywhere else. Most universities say ‘Ah, no, no thanks. That sounds too dangerous for our taste,’ but not here in Hilo. The only other island that accepted my dad for everything he did, was the small island off the coast of Italy called Sicily.* So, there’s something about the island culture that makes this Zappa thing work.”
On night two, fans were also treated to a guest appearance by former Zappa lead singer Ike Willis, a regular member of Zappa’s studio and touring bands from 1978 until the last tour in 1988. His rendition of “Outside Now” gave many in the crowd “chicken skin,” Hawai’ian pidgin for goose bumps.
One of this year’s standout concert moments, and there were many, came in the second act. It was a fierce instrument dual between electric violinist Elizabeth Sekona (above) and guitarist Dweezil Zappa. Sekona seemed a little reserved on night one, but came out bow blazing in the face-to-face stand-off, even invoking a bit of Jimi Hendrix’s famous instrument contortions, playing her violin behind her head.
Guitarist Sean Luscombe, a Hilo Jazz Orchestra alumni got to trade licks with Dweezil, and there was also a four-way guitar circle where Veilleux, and his students Roger Winter and Dustin Kneidi, did musical trade-offs with Dweezil.
The crowd gave a cheering standing ovation as the band left the stage, then quickly returned for a three-song encore which included a blistering rendition of the Allman Brother’s classic “Whippin’ Post” with Lilinoe Kauahikaua on lead vocal.
Future Zappa tribute shows at UH Hilo are uncertain right now. In October, Veilleux was notified that due to budgetary issues, his Jazz Orchestra course would be cut. Students protested, wrote letters, got public petitions signed, and managed to salvage the class for spring semester.
Veilleux (above) is a talented musician and composer, and it’d be a shame if 2017 is the last Zappa tribute the Big Island will experience.
*Frank Zappa’s father was an immigrant from Partinico, Sicily.
Update. In the December 15 issue of the Hawaii Tribune- Herald, a concertgoer of one of the UH Hilo Jazz Orchestra’s Zappa tribute shows was “shocked” at the lyrics he’d heard in the song “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” – a tune written decades ago about TV evangelists. “To my shock, one of the early songs in the concert was a public mockery of Christians and the Bible,” wrote Jonathan Cook of Kona in his letter to the editor.
This was followed by a response from another reader the following day: “That’s the thing about our rights, Mr. Cook: They apply to everyone, at all times. Especially at institutions of higher learning, where open-mindedness and acceptance are paramount. And especially at jazz concerts.”
Set One: You Are What You Is | The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing | Valley Girl | Black Napkins | Zomby Woof | Medley: Joe’s Garage/Why Does It When I Pee | Outside Now | Watermelon In Easter Hay
Set Two: I’m The Slime | A Pound For Brown | Sofa | Peaches en Regalia | Florentine Pogen | Andy
Encore: Montana | Willie The Pimp | Whippin’ Post
The UH Hilo Jazz Orchestra:
Noam Akiba-Hajim Tenor Sax, Clarinet, Vocals
Joshua Benevides Alto Saxophone
Bridge Hartman Vocals
Adrian Jones Baritone Saxophone
Joshua Kalima Vocals
Katherine Kolesar Keyboards, Mallets
Dustin Kneidl Guitar, Harmonica
Mayumi Long Vocals, Lead Gong
Payton Meyer Tenor Saxophone, Vocals
Madalyn Munoz Keyboards, Percussion
Lindsey Rohlf Bass
Nick Rosenberg Marimba, Vibraphone, Glockenspiel
Iris Seaton Keyboards, Mallets
Elizabeth Sekona Electric Violin
Heather Sexton Alto Saxophone
Josh Timmons Vocals, Trumpet, Clonemeister, Vocal
Director Zachary Var Drums
Katie Van Dyk Flute
Uluwehi Winchester-Sye Percussion, Vocals
Roger Winter Guitar
Amy Young Trumpet
Trever Veilleux Guitar, Director
Sean Luscombe Guitar
Jackie Johnson Mrs. Borg
Lilinoe Kauahikaua Vocals
Isaac Pang Bass
Ka’ikena Scanlan Vocals
Ike Willis Vocals
Dweezil Zappa Guitar