"The audience there is the best I ever played for," proclaims renowned saxophonist Ed Palermo of The Falcon in Marlboro. "We get no guarantee. We only get the money from the club's donation box, and we do better than any place that gives a guarantee. The Hudson Valley is definitely Zappa country."
Given the immense popularity of such Frank-related acts as Project Object and Dweezil's Zappa Plays Zappa, it should come as no surprise about how well received Palermo and his Big Band's long-running tribute to the music of the guitar legend has been since establishing his current residency at The Falcon. The Ed Palermo Big Band had been playing regularly at the New York City jazz club Iridium for about 10 years after its prior home, the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, shuttered in 2004. That is, of course, until Falcon owner Tony Falco made the full court press to get him to make the move up to Marlboro.
"Tony Falco is a big Zappa fan. I had never met him, but out of the blue several years ago he called me up and said he had heard about my band and listened to some of our recordings," explains Palermo. "He told me how much he wanted us to play his club, and then told us about the donation box, and I initially turned him down considering the far drive up there. But he didn't give up, and after talking to the guys in the band, we all agreed, 'You know, this looks like a great, great club. Let's just do it.' So we did, and it was love at first sight. It was such a match made in heaven that Tony, who told me back then he had a once-a-year policy with booking bands, was like, 'Man, I want you here every other month.'"
Given this regularity at The Falcon, Palermo—who shares Zappa's love for the funny as well—began conspiring themes for his concerts, all with a decidedly Zappa bent, like the beach party he threw over the summer, a mash-up of Frank and Todd Rundgren he called "Zodd Zundgren" and the recent Halloween show that was part Zappa, part Sweeney Todd: "Zweeney Zodd: The Demon Barber of Marlboro."
"The Halloween show was the first time we had an actual storyline," he admits. "It had a story wherein Bruce McDaniel, my guitarist, wanted to take over the band so he could do his own arrangements of Zappa's music. We were able to tie in "That Evil Prince" from Thing-Fish, "The Torture Never Stops" from Zoot Allures and a lot of other diabolically themed tunes within that context."
For the Big Band's upcoming Christmas show on December 20, Palermo is working up some ideas he is keeping in his stocking until the show, but admits to his love for both the Johnny Mathis Christmas Album and the Beach Boys' holiday tunes. Problem solving how to tie in all this yuletide cheer within the context of Zappa's universe, however, has proven to be quite the challenge.
"Well, the show is going to still be mainly Zappa, but yes, there's going to be a lot of Christmas tunes in there, too," Palermo says. "I've already started the process of choosing the tunes. The main challenge is how to tie everything together into the story line I'm creating. Zappa really has no Christmas-themed songs, so we are going to have to be really creative. He does quote 'White Christmas' on 'Uncle Bernie's Farm' from Absolutely Free, so we are going to be doing that. Needless to say, it will be most interesting."
The Ed Palermo Big Band's latest album, Oh No!! Not Jazz!!, is a double LP featuring one disc of original material and one disc of such Zappa faves as "Inca Roads," "Chunga's Revenge," and "Lumpy Gravy" is out now on Cuneiform Records.
The Ed Palermo Big Band will perform at The Falcon in Marlboro on December 20 at 7pm. (845) 236-7970; Liveatthefalcon.com.