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The Most Difficult Rock Song to Play Live: Frank Zappa The Black Page

Watch my note-for-note transcription of The Black Page accompanying Frank Zappa’s original studio recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQJFNbL8-SA

Zappa Plays Zappa with Steve Vai performs the very complicated and hard-to-play The Black Page Part 2, written by Frank Zappa for drummer Terry Bozzio on drums and percussion with added instrumentation. One of the most difficult rock songs ever to play live, the second half of The Black Page features Dweezil Zappa and virtuoso guest Steve Vai on lead guitars. All melody and percussion parts are written, no improvisation.

Wikipedia: On the double live album Zappa in New York (recorded 12/1976, released 3/1978), Zappa noted the “statistical density” of the piece. The Black Page is written in common time with extensive use of tuplets, including tuplets inside tuplets. At several points there is a crotchet triplet (sixth notes) in which each beat is counted with its own tuplet of 5, 5 and 6; at another is a minim triplet (third notes) in which the second beat is a rubato quintuplet (actually a tuplet of 7), and the third beat is divided into tuplets of 4 and 5. The song ends with a crotchet triplet composed of tuplets of 5, 5, and 6, followed by two tuplets of 11 in the space of one.

Zappa would re-arrange the song into “The Black Page #2” shortly after his band’s mastery of the piece. This second version has a disco beat, but nevertheless retains nearly every metric complexity from #1. One notable difference in this version is that the final set of tuplets feature a rhythmic change and are repeated thrice to conclude the song.

In 2006, “The Black Page” was featured on Zappa Plays Zappa – Tour de Frank, an ambitious effort by Dweezil Zappa to bring Zappa music to the stage again, played by himself and a new band. The 2006 tour also included, as special guests, Zappa alumni singer & woodwind player Napoleon Murphy Brock, drummer Bozzio, and guitarist Steve Vai. In the 2006 shows, “The Black Page” was played first as a drum solo by Bozzio and then a second time as a guitar duet with Steve Vai.

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