jeffrey burns
random notes

     From: Marc De Bruyn (

On the biography part of Mr. Burns' web pages it says: "In recent years Jeffrey Burns has experimented with other modern art genres, as well. His interest in jazz led to the world premiere of the piano composition 'Ruth is Sleeping' by Frank Zappa." It made me wonder... and, yes, a couple of days later (October 7) I decided to write another e-mail: "Dear Mr. Burns, I don't want to take too much of your time, but ... is there any chance that you could elaborate on the recording session (or your appreciation of the piece), so I could share this information with the Zappa community out there? I, or better: 'we', would much appreciate it. Thanks in advance."

A week later (October 14) when I was no longer expecting an answer, he wrote: "In answer to your request, I'll be glad to give you an account of how I met Zappa, etc. Please wait until next week, however, as I am presently on tour. By the way, what 'community' are you planning to make this info available to? Regards, JB." So, I gave him a basic idea of all the

Freaks, Motherfu*#@%! and musicians out there - with or without a cheesy little home made web page - that are trying to keep FZ alive in their hearts and minds... Another week later (October 22), Jeffrey Burns replied:

"Dear Marc,
The info about the 'FZ community' sounds good. Here's a short account about how I came to play 'Ruth is Sleeping': In 1991, the Akademie der Kuenste in Berlin was planning to invite Frank Zappa to come to Europe for what later became the 'Yellow Shark' tour. I had been active for years at the Akademie, performing world premieres of contemporary piano music, and, as I had always been interested in Zappa's music, the Akademie sent me to Los Angeles, my home town, to talk to him about the project. My plane arrived in the late afternoon, and I was planning on driving immediately to Zappa's house. But his secretary told me I would have to come later than expected. (I remembered from Zappa's autobiography that he usually woke up in the evening and slept during the day.) Some hours later, I got in my rental car and looked for his house, which was situated in Laurel Canyon, a rather high-class mountain area in the north of Hollywood. Unlike the neighboring abodes, his looked run-down but from the outside, certainly an eyesore to the bourgeois neighbors. An assistant showed me inside, where the interiors made a quite different impression. There were gigantic recording studios, filled with the most modern digital equipment. I was led into the living room, whose walls were filled with bookcases containing countless master tapes, as well as with concert memorabilia, such as the original 'black page'.

Zappa was interested in hearing what I play and listened for hours to my piano recordings. I remember telling him about my theories on music and dialectics, which I was developing at the time. He was quite concentrated, although I could tell that he was in pain from his prostate sickness, which became fatal a few years later. He also played me his recordings. Some - like those conducted by Pierre Boulez - proved how badly 'serious' musicians performed his compositions. Others were of music which he wrote directly on the computer, often using the Synclavier, which interested him greatly. He said, it was often impossible to notate these compositions and to get musicians to play them as precisely as he had intended. I recognized that, although he had musical ideas that were immensely more advanced than those of other jazz and rock musicians, he lacked the classical training which would have enabled him to make his notation understandable to musicians outside the groups, such as the 'Mothers of Invention', that he conducted himself. I chose not to get involved in his conflicts with musicians (which were the subject of numerous rumors in Los Angeles, such as that of his turning down the mikes on players whose performance he didn't like and letting the concert audience only hear a pre-fabricated computer simulation - the musicians were well paid to keep quiet about this).

Although he wanted me to sit down at the Synclavier and improvise the basis for a composition that he would then write, I told him I was too tired to stay any longer (it was about three in the morning, and I was totally jet-lagged). I asked him if he had any finished composition for piano which I could perform. He pulled 'Ruth is Sleeping' out of a drawer and told me it had been written a year before, but pianists had told him it was to difficult to perform. I said I would have no problem with it.

Not believing me, he rearranged the piece for two pianos and scheduled it for the coming 'Yellow Shark' tour in Germany. I scheduled the world premiere of the original solo-piano version for a concert in the Berlin Akademie der Kuenste on February 21, 1992, the time of his planned arrival in Berlin. A few days before the concert, he called me from Frankfurt. He was too sick to accompany the 'Yellow Shark' troupe to Berlin. He had heard my recording of 'Ruth is Sleeping' and approved of it highly - he had even told the pianists for the two-piano version to try to imitate my interpretation. Having his consent, I was able to release a CD of the piece on the POOL label on the evening of the world premiere.

Jeffrey Burns

See also 'Neue Musikzeitung', Regensburg, April/May 1992."