Tunes on Tuesday: America Drinks and Goes Home

Why this tune?

Today (May 16) is the birthday of the late Woody Herman, one of the major bandleaders of the swing era and one of a small number to keep his band going into the 1970s and 1980s. In his honor, I played a Tune by Frank Zappa, “America Drinks and Goes Home.” What’s the connection?

Herman recorded that Zappa song on his 1974 album “Thundering Herd,” which was on my turntable frequently when I was a teenager. Herman was always open to including contemporary music and styles in his band’s repertoire, which included big band arrangements of many rock and pop songs besides the Zappa number (not all of them successful). Herman also kept the jazz tradition going with his band. That album was also my first exposure to two Coltrane tunes, “Naima” and “Lazy Bird.”

Zappa released “America Drinks and Goes Home” with the Mothers of Invention in 1967. He wrote it as a savage parody of lounge bands and lounge music, pairing a clichéd lyric with a “satire” of a jazz tune. It’s ironic and a tribute to Zappa’s musical skills that his jazz satire turned into a perfectly respectable straight jazz tune in the hands of Herman and arranger Alan Broadbent.

There are a number of other recordings of Zappa’s tune, some of them straight, others more satirical in Zappa’s image. I played it straight for my version.

Tunes On Tuesday Reel

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Published by Oren Levine

Jazz pianist and composer from Washington, DC. Also a digital product and technology consultant currently working with nonprofit cllients

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