Scheila Gonzalez is an amazing musician with endless talent. She plays tenor saxophone, flute, keyboards, and sings, and sometimes she does all of these things in one song while performing with Zappa Plays Zappa. She has been performing with them since their inception. This band is a tribute to the great Frank Zappa, led by his son, Dweezil Zappa. The band lineup includes Dweezil (band leader, guitar), Scheila (keyboards, saxophone, flute, vocals), Joe Travers (drums), Pete Griffin (bass), Billy Hulting ( percussion), Jamie Kime (guitar) and Ben Thomas (lead vocals/trumpet).
I recently had an opportunity to talk with Scheila about her career, which was a true delight. She is an extraordinary person whom many musicians can learn from, and if you aren’t a musician, you can learn from the exemplary ways that she lives her life.
While growing up, music was always a large part of her life. Her earliest musical influences include Same Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Temptations and The Four Tops. As she got older, she listened to a lot of Top 40 music for leisure. However, she told me that R&B, funk and soul music have always been a part of her life.
At the age of 4, Scheila began taking classical piano lessons; however, she found her true passion when she picked up a saxophone when she was only 12. Says Scheila, “I’ve always loved music and there was never a question that I would do anything else.”
This talented woman is also a part of The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, an ensemble of 15 extremely talented and versatile musicians, who are all women. The late Stanley K, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich founded this group. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band in which drummer Sherrie Maricle was in. He immediately picked up on her talent and began to wonder if there were other women musicians who could perform at the same level. He began his search, and the group came together in 1992, and Scheila first got involved with it in 2000.
Scheila played in an R&B, pop cover band for many years before she landed the Zappa Plays Zappa gig. In 2005, she auditioned for the band, and when she first went into it, she didn’t know much about Frank Zappa’s vast musical catalogue. I asked her how she landed the gig in Zappa Plays Zappa. “It’s all about networking, making connections and keeping in touch with those connections,” she told me. Because of her networking, her name was forwarded to an agent and she was contacted for an audition. Of the audition itself, Scheila told me that it was a very intense audition, and she auditioned with only Joe Travers on drums. She was asked to perform “Inca Roads” and “Peaches en Regalia.” She was called back for a second round and auditioned again with Joe on drums and then bass player Bryan Beller.
Scheila and I spoke at length about Frank Zappa’s music. At first look at Frank’s music, you see humor in his lyrics; however, if you look past the lyrics, you will see that he was an amazingly talented musician and composer. His work drew inspiration from many different musical genres. There is no one who has ever been like him, and there will never be another like him. Frank’s music involves many different music types that are extremely difficult to play. “Peaches in Regalia” is one of Scheila’s favorite songs of Frank’s to perform because “it is so beautiful and it’s a perfect piece of music.”
When asked about her most memorable moments, there are many. I do have to mention that Scheila just got married a few weeks ago, so when I spoke to her, I could feel her pure happiness for where she is in her life. She told me, “My career in music has been breathtaking.” Two moments in her career really stand out for her. First, she performed with The DIVA Jazz Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Of the experience, she said, “There is so much history there, and to know how many jazz artists where on that same stage before me was humbling.” Secondly, the moment that Zappa Plays Zappa won a Grammy in 2009 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the groups recording of “Peaches en Regalia.” She told me that it was amazing to be recognized, and to be recognized by their industry made her proud to know that they worked so hard and perform with integrity.
Scheila is such a versatile and exceptional performer, and that makes her a perfect fit with Zappa Plays Zappa. As we ended our conversation, she told me, “Music unites everyone no matter race, ethnicity or age. It keeps you young at heart.”
Zappa Plays Zappa will be opening for Return to Forever tomorrow night, August 27th. For ticket information: http://www.denverparamount.com/
For more information about Zappa Plays Zappa and The DIVA Jazz Orchestra: http://www.zappaplayszappa.com/ and http://www.divajazz.com/