Don Preston

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Don Preston
Don Preston performing with Frank Zappa tribute band Project/Object in 2009.
Don Preston performing with Frank Zappa tribute band Project/Object in 2009.
Background information
Birth nameDonald Ward Preston
Born (1932-09-21) September 21, 1932 (age 90)
Flint, Michigan, U.S.
GenresRock, jazz, electronic, experimental
Years active1950–present

Donald Ward Preston (born September 21, 1932) is an American jazz and rock keyboardist. He is known for working with Frank Zappa from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s.


Preston was born into a family of musicians in Detroit[1] and began studying music at an early age. His father played saxophone and trumpet, and had been offered the lead trumpet chair in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.[2] Upon moving the family to Detroit, Don's father became the staff arranger for NBC, and was the composer-in-residence for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Don took sporadic lessons on the piano from the age of about five.

In 1950 Preston began a stint in the Army, serving in Trieste, Italy and playing in the Army band (initially piano, bass drum and glockenspiel) alongside Herbie Mann. In Trieste he shared a barracks with fellow recruit Buzz Gardner, who introduced him to contemporary classical composers such as Béla Bartók, Anton Webern, Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg. Preston took up the bass while in the 98th Army band.

Upon his return to Detroit in 1953, Preston started playing bass with pianist Tommy Flanagan. He also sat in with Elvin Jones and others at the city's West End Cafe where Yusef Lateef conducted twice-a-week jam sessions with Milt Jackson's brother, bassist Alvin Jackson.[3] Moving to Los Angeles in 1957, Preston played with the Hal McIntyre Orchestra and toured Canada backing Nat King Cole. Between 1958 and 1965 Preston played with a number of jazz artists, including Shorty Rogers, Charlie Haden, Paul Bley, Emil Richards and Paul Beaver.

Don Preston (back row, right) with Frank Zappa & The Mothers (1968)

in 1966 Preston began a long collaboration with Frank Zappa as the keyboardist of the original Mothers of Invention. Preston performed and recorded with Zappa until 1974. During that time he was music director for Meredith Monk[4] (with whom he had previously shared a house) and started recording and performing electronic music.

He is a co-founder of the Grandmothers and is still active with the band, completing an extensive tour in 2000 and later tours through 2016.

Don Preston 2009

Preston also appeared on-stage as a guest keyboardist with the Zappa tribute band Project/Object (featuring Zappa alumni Ike Willis and Napoleon Murphy Brock) for several shows in 2001, 2002 and 2016

From his Cryptogramophone Records biography: "Often compared to Cecil Taylor for his style of attacking the keys with intense passion, Preston’s solos also reflect intellect, technical skills and a storyteller's way with a line. His playing, like his compositions, ranges across panoramas of mood and emotion, all colored with the freedom that comes from possessing remarkable facility.

Preston has played and recorded with the likes of John Lennon, Peter Erskine and Robby Krieger of The Doors. He has also scored more than 20 feature films and 14 plays. He's the winner of numerous awards, and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and London Philharmonic. Known to jazz and keyboard aficionados for his pioneering contributions in the use of synthesizers, legendary clarinetist and composer John Carter dubbed Don Preston the "father of modern synthesis."[5]

Don has performed with many other artists, including: Lou Rawls, Al Jarreau, Billy Daniels, Johnnie Ray, Vaughn Monroe, Connie Francis, Art Davis, Carla Bley, Joe Beck, Leo Sayer, Charles Lloyd, Nelson Riddle, J.R. Monterose, Flo & Eddie (Howard Kaylan & Mark Volman of The Turtles), Don Ellis, Bobby Bradford, Michael Mantler and Yoko Ono.

Don Preston is no relation to the Don Preston who played lead guitar for Joe Cocker and Leon Russell in the 1970s. However, the former has admitted to accidentally receiving and unwittingly cashing a royalty check intended for the latter some years ago.[6]

In 2002, Don Preston joined forces with Frank Zappa alumni Roy Estrada and Napoleon Murphy Brock, along with guitarist Ken Rosser, and drummer/percussionist Christopher Garcia to form the Grande Mothers Re:Invented.

Since then they have performed at numerous concerts and festivals throughout America, Canada and Europe, including Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, Norway and Switzerland. (In 2005, guitarist, Miroslav Tadic replaced Ken Rosser in the lineup.) Guitarist/bassist Robbie "Seahag" Mangano has filled in for Miroslav Tadic on Grande Mothers tours in 2009 and 2010, and Tom Fowler is scheduled to replace Roy Estrada on bass. Recently Preston has lectured at Cornell, Harvard and Yale Universities, Sarah Lawrence College, U of A and Queen’s University Belfast.

In 2010 Preston, together with his lifelong friend Bunk Gardner, started a collaboration with guitar player/composer Jon Larsen and Zonic Entertainment. The first recordings were an audio-autobiographical production, The Don Preston Story, followed by the electronic music, contemporary space drama Colliding Galaxies. Preston released his own book entitled "Listen". At this time Preston and Bunk Gardner began touring as the Don & Bunk Show and have two tours under their belt in the eastern part of the US. They are now touring as a trio with Chris Garcia as The Grandmothers Of Invention. Preston is now writing the music for the film Dancing With Were-wolves, which will be released in July 2016.


  • 1992: Dom De Wilde Speaks
  • 1993: Vile Foamy Ectoplasm
  • 1997: Hear Me Out
  • 2001: Io Landscapes
  • 2001: Corpus Transfixum
  • 2001: Music from Blood Diner & Other Films
  • 2002: Transcendence
  • 2004: Aysymetrical Construct with Bobby Bradford and Elliot Levine
  • 2007: Vile Foamy Ectoplasm (expanded from 1993)
  • 2009: 26 Pieces for Piano & Violin with Harry Scorzo
  • 2010: Colliding Galaxys (Zonic Entertainment)
  • 2011: Escape from 2012 with percussionist Andrea Centazzo
  • 2012: The Don Preston Story with Jon Larsen, interview
  • 2012: Filters, Oscillators & Envelopes 1967–1982

As Don Preston Trio (with Joel Hamilton and Alex Cline)

As Don Preston's Akashic Ensemble

  • 2003: Inner Realities of Evolution
  • 2005: Tetragrammaton

As The Don & Bunk Show (with Bunk Gardner)

  • 2000: Necessity Is...
  • 2002: Joined at the Hip
  • 2014: The Don and Bunk Show

With Frank Zappa/The Mothers of Invention/The Mothers

With The Grandmothers

  • 1981: The Grandmothers
  • 1982: Looking Up Granny's Dress
  • 1983: Fan Club Talk LP
  • 1994: Who Could Imagine
  • 2001: Eating the Astoria
  • 2001: 20 Year Anthology of the Grandmothers
  • 2001: The Eternal Question
  • 2003: A Grandmothers Night at The Gewandhaus
  • 2014: Live in Bremen
  • 2018: Free Energy

As a guest[edit]

With Ant-Bee

With John Carter

  • 1987: Dance of the Love Ghost
  • 1988: Shadows on a Wall
  • 1989: Comin' On
  • 1990: Fields

With Eugene Chadbourne

With Robby Krieger

With Michael Mantler

  • 1985: Alien
  • 1987: Live
  • 1996: The School of Understanding

With Sandro Oliva

  • 1995: Who the Fuck Is Sandro Oliva
  • 2004: Heavy Lightning

With Sixstep

  • 2013: "I'm Not an Atheist (Yet)" (single)
  • 2013: "Hear No Evil"

With others

Film scores[edit]


  1. ^ "Don Preston 15-April-2007 interview". Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  2. ^ Billy james, Necessity Is..: The Early Years of Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, 2001, p. 30.
  3. ^ "2007 interview on Outsight Radio Hours". Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  4. ^ Slaven, Neil (2003). Electric Don Quixote : the definitive story of Frank Zappa (New ed.). London: Omnibus. ISBN 9780711994362. Don Preston went to New Your to work with Meredeth Monk's multi-media musical theater.
  5. ^ "Cryptogramophone bio of Don Preston". Cryptogramophone. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  6. ^ "Don Preston". United Mutations. Retrieved July 3, 2007.