Frank Zappa and the clarinet (MoeN Herbs Vacation)

Frank Zappa was a very popular name back in the 60s and with some even now. He composed and compiled a large array of Music, which for a clarinetist is sometimes difficult to fathom. Here are mr Zappas comments on some of the music of his recording of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1983, conducted by none other than Kent Nagano, now the conductor of the Montreal Orchestra.

“Rock journalists(especially the Britich ones)who have complained about the “coldness”, “the attempts of perfection”, and missing “human elements” in JAZZ FROM HELL should find LSO volume II a real treat. It is infested with wrong notes and out-of-tune passages. I postponed its release for several years, hoping that a digital technologist somewhere might develop a piece of machinery powerful enough to conceal the evils lurking on the master tapes. Since 1983 there have been a few advances , but nothing sophisticated enough to remove the “human elements” like the out-of-tune trumpets in STRICTLY GENTEEL or the lack of rhythmic coordination elsewhere.” F.Z.

It is not very difficult to adjudicate the music to which you refer, at least for me. I have been playing the instrument for more than a half century, have had many works written for me, and spent many years studying prior to becoming a clarinetist. The music of Frank Zappa follows no particular form, nor style, nor does it exhibit any characteristic that might make it accessible for any clarinetist, or orchestra for that matter.
The recording in question by the London Symphony Orchestra is what Zappa himself calls it, but not for the reasons of the orchestra nor the conductor . It is not acceptable and really is not anything but the case of a person who got the resources together to get the record made, having absolutely nothing else to contribute.
So, I would not advise any student or clarinetist to get anywhere near it. I don’t count it as music. It is more of a cynical joke having no musical worth whatsoever.

sincerely, Sherman

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Thank you for replying to my question about Zappa’s work “Mo ‘n Herb’s Vacation” on your website. At the time I asked, though, I did not refer to what your thoughts might be about the clarinet playing on the LSO recording; I was actually referring to the music itself, which you didn’t comment. Since you despise Ocker’s sound, though, I suppose there is not much you could say without recurring to the original score (which is, as a matter of fact, quite un-accessible). I for one would like to hear performed by other clarinetists, but apparently most of them – the ones I talked to anyway – don’t even know it exists.

I understand you hated Ocker’s playing on that record (I am no big fan of it either) – but is that how you feel about the music as well? If so, maybe that would explain why the few clarinetists who do know the piece won’t even consider trying it.

Thanks again for your patience and insightful thoughts (by the way, I’m no clarinetist – just a composer who happens to love the instrument).

All the best,


Of the work for solo clarinet and orchestra, called “MOE n Herbs Vacation” and played by David Ocker, solo clarinet, I can only say that is is the worst sounding clarinet playing I have ever witnessed, not being able to say “heard”.

So, to the young person who wrote and asked me what I think, I can only reply “very sadly”.



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