Lesson: Vinnie Colaiuta On Frank Zappa’s ‘Keep It Greasy’


There are certain benchmarks that have been laid out by the masters over the years. A few notable ones would be “The Drum Also Waltzes” by Max Roach, Terry Bozzio’s playing on the Brecker Brothers’ “Heavy Metal Be Bop,” and David Garabaldi’s “The Oakland Stroke.” These are moments in drumming history where someone is setting a new standard. When it comes to odd meter drumming I think one of those benchmarks must be Vinnie Colaiuta’s playing on “Keep It Greasy Time Signature,” from Frank Zappa’s album Joe’s Garage.

There are not many tunes in the meter of 19/16 (please let me know of any others). To explore Colaiuta’s playing on this cut is an adventure all drummers should embark upon—it is a real journey into a new world. And most importantly, you will enhance your ability to play intricate sixteenth-note patterns, regardless of the time signature. This is drumming on an almost molecular level.

In this lesson we take the most basic approach to comprehend this masterpiece. The verses can essentially be broken down into 4/4 +3/16 (Ex. 1). There is a backbeat on 2 and 4, but the rub is the last three sixteenth-notes must be played precisely.

keep it greasy time signature

Ex. 1

By the end of the tune the band is jamming in 19/16, which can be fragmented into 7/16 + 5/16 + 7/16 (Ex. 2). These three fragments can be counted on the eighth-note as 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3. If you stick to this you, have a good chance of hanging on and getting somewhere. This pattern can be orchestrated as follows:

keep it greasy time signature ex 2

Ex. 2

From here you can develop your own patterns, such as one I like to use in Ex. 3.

keep it greasy time signature ex 3

Ex. 3

In the end, this is merely a great way to deepen your pocket and your ability to place notes properly within a groove. Or, if you are hoping to get into a Zappa cover band, here is your launching pad. Have fun!


Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.