The great American guitarist and composer Frank Zappa once asked: "Does humor belong in music?" The answer to that question was, according to Zappa, a resounding yes. As someone who primarily focused on rock music, particularly as a form of social/political commentary, he incorporated humor into his music at almost every opportunity. Many of the songs he played with his band The Mothers of Invention are incredibly funny; using humor as a way to catch the audience's attention was a brilliant move on his part since it also had the consequence of people paying more attention to the lyrics and noticing the underlying message.
But does musical humor exist outside of lyrics?
As you guys will find out with the coming blog posts, I am a huge fan of the ECM record label. They release a lot of very high quality European jazz, and their back catalog features some of the greatest recordings of all time (more on those later). Several years ago, I came across a recording by the Italian pianist Stefano Bollani called Stone In the Water, a pretty serious and musically mature work (P.S. Check out who wrote the top rated review on Amazon!). Shortly afterward, I bought a few of his other records... one of which surprised me in how not serious it was (in a good way). And, with one track in particular, how funny it was!
Tico-Tico No Fuba is one of the most famous Brazilian songs of all time, having been covered by artists from across the world. Unfortunately, with so many covers out there, a lot of them tend to sound the same. However, this particular cover, which I first heard on Bollani's album called Carioca, is anything but orthodox. The theme kicks in at 2:07, and Bollani has done something very clever with it. Every couple of measures, he changes the key by half a step. I literally laughed out loud when I first heard it just because of how utterly bizarre it sounded. But, oddly enough, it works. And what's especially ridiculous is that Bollani is able to improvise on the reworked theme, a testament to his incredible musicianship.
So, to return to Zappa's original question, does humor belong in music? Do experiments like Bollani's key-shifting Tico-Tico have musical merit, or are they nothing more than gimmicks? Share your thoughts in the comments below!