Born: July 7, 1932 | Died: November 9, 2007 Primary Instrument: Keyboard
It may be a word overused but there isn't truly a more appropriate way to describe keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul.
Austrian born, Joe Zawinul emigrated to the US in 1959 where he played with Maynard Ferguson and the great Dinah Washington before joining alto saxophonist great Cannonball Adderley in 1961 for nine years. With Adderley, Zawinul wrote several important songs, primarily the slow and funky hit Mercy, Mercy, Mercy which reached the top on the Billboard magazine Pop Charts in 1967.
Zawinul then moved on to a brief but fateful encounter and collaboration with Miles Davis, just at the time Miles was moving into the electric arena. It was Zawinul’s tune In a Silent Way, in fact, which served as the title track of Miles’ first electric foray, and Zawinul had a potent impact on Bitches Brew, as well.
He is one of a bare handful of synthesizer players who actually learned how to play the instrument, to make it an expressive, swinging part of his arsenal. Prior to the invention of the portable synthesizer, Zawinul's example helped bring the Wurlitzer and Fender-Rhodes electric pianos into the jazz mainstream.
After releasing his debut solo album on Atlantic in 1970, Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter put together what was to become the most important jazz group of the ‘70s and beyond, Weather Report. Drawing on the power and theatricality of rock and R&B, while maintaining allegiance to jazz and the pure spirit of improvisation, they tapped into the so-called fusion” movement of that decade while carving out their own unique niche. Bandmembers came and went, including Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius, Victor Bailey, Peter Erskine and Omar Hakim, but the band spirit prevailed over the course of 17 albums, including the ground-breaking album Black Market and the massively popular Heavy Weather, with Zawinul's infectious song Birdland. That song, in versions by Weather Report, Manhattan Transfer and Quincy Jones, won separate Grammy awards in three successive decades, and Weather Report itself won a Grammy for their momentous live album, 8:30.
In 1985, after he and Shorter finally agreed to go in separate musical directions, Zawinul continued to create adventurous new grooves in the group known as Weather Update and then the Zawinul Syndicate, whose albums have included the Grammy-nominated My People in 1996 and the two-CD, Grammy-nominated World Tour in 1998. Other special projects have included an adventurous solo album, Dialects (1986), and work as producer and arranger on Salif Keita’s landmark album, Amen (1991). Meanwhile, as another tributary of his creative life, Zawinul has also pursued classical composition, writing his ambitious Stories of the Danube in 1993 and working with renowned classical pianist Friedrich Gulda. His special solo project, Mauthausen released in Europe in 2000, is a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, and was performed on the site of the Austrian concentration camp it is named after.
Among his prizes and awards, Zawinul has won the best keyboardist in Down Beat 28 times. Weather Report was a perennial winner in the Best Band category in Down Beat, Swing Journal and other magazines around the world. He has honorary doctorates from Berklee School of Music, and is the official Austrian goodwill ambassador to 17 African nations. In January, 2002, Zawinul has received the first International Jazz Award, co-presented by the International Jazz Festival Organization and the International Association of Jazz Educators.
Joe Zawinul is deservedly renowned for his pioneering role in the Jazz world combining the elements of world music rock and jazz. In fact, many of the worldbeat sounds we take for granted today, simply wouldn't exist without his revolutionary compositions and performances with Miles Davis in the late 60s, Weather Report in the '70-'80s, and The Zawinul Syndicate in the '90s evolving into the year 2004.
Joe Zawinul, Brown Street (Heads Up, 2007)
Weather Report, Forecast: Tomorrow (Legacy Recordings, 2006)
Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate, Vienna Nights: Live at Joe Zawinul’s Birdland (Birdjam/BHM, 2005)
Joe Zawinul, Faces and Places (ESC, 2002)
Weather Report, Live and Unreleased (Legacy Recordings, 2002)
Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate, World Tour (Zebra, 1998)
Joe Zawinul, Stories of the Danube (Polygram, 1996)
Trilok Gurtu, Crazy Saints (CMP, 1993)
Salif Keita, Amen (Mango, 1991)
Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate, The Immigrants (Columbia, 1988)
Joe Zawinul, Dialects (Columbia, 1986)
Weather Report, Procession (Columbia, 1983)
Weather Report, Night Passage (Columbia, 1980)
Weather Report, 8:30 (Columbia, 1979)
Weather Report, Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977)
Weather Report, Black Market (Columbia, 1976)
Weather Report, Mysterious Traveler (Columbia, 1974)
Weather Report, Sweetnighter (Columbia, 1973)
Weather Report, I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia, 1972)
Weather Report, Live in Tokyo (Columbia, 1972)
Weather Report, Weather Report (Columbia, 1971)
Joe Zawinul, Zawinul (Atlantic, 1970)
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969)
Miles Davis, In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969)
Cannonball Adderley, Country Preacher: Live at Operation Breadbasket (Capitol, 1969)
Cannonball Adderley, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy: Live at the It Club (Capitol, 1966)
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