Happy Birthday Frank Zappa: With The Conductor’s Baton

By Andy Kahn Dec 21, 2018 1:03 pm PST

Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore on this date in 1940. A prolonged battle with prostate cancer finally ended with Zappa’s death in 1993, just a few days before what would have been his 53rd birthday. Today, on what would have been the master musician’s 78th birthday, below is a collection of videos capturing Frank in one the many roles he fulfilled in his eclectic career: conductor.

Primarily a rock guitarist, Zappa often incorporated elements of orchestral music at various points of his all-encompassing “Project/Object” lifetime of work. He often exchanged his guitar for a conductor’s baton, presiding over various ensembles of talented musicians in settings around the world. Starting off the series of videos of Frank conducting is a clip from May 1988 of Ravel’s Bolero. Then there’s footage of “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast” with John Belushi (dressed as a samurai) from a 1978 Saturday Night Live appearance.

Zappa’s outside-the-box approach to “conducting” is on display in wild mid-1970s concert footage of “King Kong.” Zappa more traditional conducting approach can be seen as he leads his Ensemble Modern in 1992 on a performance of “G-Spot Tornado” accompanied by a dance routine. The final clip presents Zappa discussing his conducting work and rehearsing with The London Symphony Orchestra in 1983.


St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast

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Ensemble Modern – G-spot Tornado

King Kong


The London Symphony Orchestra – Rehearsal

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