Frank Zappa

Big Swifty

Composed by Frank Zappa

Song Review by

Released on the 1972 LP Waka/Jawaka where it occupied all of side one, "Big Swifty" is one of the jazziest tunes Frank Zappa ever wrote. The piece follows a basic structure of head-solos-head with some variations added between solos. Zappa released four recordings of it. They range from two minutes 16 seconds to 17 minutes 24 seconds -- very flexible, one could say. Except for the very short head-only take found on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2 (which serves as a conclusion to a demented rendition of "Montana"), most of the duration of the piece is occupied by solos. On the 1972 studio recording, electric pianist George Duke and trumpeter Sal Marquez both deliver some of their best performances, the latter being overdubbed many times.

While the solos occur over a rather simple jazz vamp that could change from night to night depending on Zappa's feelings, the head is a highly complex and tightly written melody. It includes figures in 3:2 (three against two) and even some 7:2. Maybe that is why it was only performed from 1972 to 1974, mostly by the highly skilled 1973 band, which comprised Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, Tom Fowler, Ruth Underwood, and Chester Thompson (both You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore recordings -- on volumes one and two -- are from that band). Zappa unearthed "Big Swifty" for the 1988 tour, turning it into some kind of circus number, as can be witnessed on Make a Jazz Noise Here.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Waka/Jawaka 1972 Hip-O / Zappa Records 17:25
Threesome, Vol. 2 2002 Rykodisc 17:22