[JPL] By Any Name, Music That Still Finds a Groove

jazzrockworld rick at jazzrockworld.com
Fri Oct 27 17:34:49 EDT 2006

Eagerly looking forward to Mr. Zawinul's appearance at The Kuumbwa Jazz
Center on October 30th. 


I'm pretty certain that there's some credit due Mr. Zawinul for playing a
small 200 seat capacity club, even with the current state of "Jazz" affairs.
I know that, to a certain extent, he plays the Catalina Bar & Grille in Los
Angeles (another very small club) for personal reasons. I've driven the 500
miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles just to see him and it's worth every
minute of the drive and every dollar in gas. 

I've seen the Syndicate several times and Mr. Zawinul is absolutely spot on
about being an audience pleasing show. His musical command transcends
styles, brings out the very best in his band, and the crowds always react
with enthusiasm. I don't think it's possible to watch the Syndicate live,
and not smile. 

Whether what he plays is Jazz or not, I believe that Mr. Zawinul has earned
the privilege to make that call. 

Ignoring or dismissing Zawinul in terms of his Jazz legacy, as anything less
than that given to the Bebop gods, is like saying Elvis was a great guitar
player. Oh, and he also sang and moved his hips. 

Rick Calic


-----Original Message-----
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Sent: Friday, October 27, 2006 1:55 PM
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Subject: [JPL] By Any Name, Music That Still Finds a Groove 


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October 26, 2006
By Any Name, Music That Still Finds a Groove By PETER KEEPNEWS Joe Zawinul’s
music has been called many different things. Joe Zawinul himself prefers to
call it one
thing: jazz.

Still, more than a few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that he
and his heavily amplified, heavily rhythmic band, the Zawinul Syndicate,
would be performing under the auspices of Jazz at Lincoln Center. (The
Syndicate is at the Rose Theater tomorrow and Saturday.) 

After all, Mr. Zawinul is best known as one of the pioneers of the
much-maligned genre known as fusion.
He was an active participant in the albums that marked Miles Davis’s turn to
jazz-rock in the late 1960’s, one of which, “In a Silent Way,” took its
title from a Zawinul composition. And from 1970 to 1985 — a period
documented in a recently released three-CD retrospective from Sony Legacy —
he and the saxophonist Wayne Shorter led Weather Report, a band known for
its influential blend of jazz ideas and harmonies with electric instruments
and rock and funk rhythms.

And Jazz at Lincoln Center is known for espousing a vision of the jazz
tradition that stops well short of the kind of groove-oriented electric
music with which Mr. Zawinul has been identified for most of his career.
Wynton Marsalis, the organization’s artistic director, has not been shy
about dismissing Mr.
Davis’s electric music, and fusion in general, as motivated more by
commercial than artistic considerations. 

Jazz at Lincoln Center has broadened its artistic scope in recent seasons.
Although a spokesman played down the suggestion that the inclusion of acts
like the Zawinul Syndicate (and, next year, avant-gardists like the pianist
Cecil Taylor) represented a change of policy, there was a time not that long
ago when the idea of the organization’s welcoming an ensemble whose leader
sits at a bank of synthesizers and uses samples, loops and a vocoder would
have seemed unlikely.

Asked to comment on Mr. Zawinul’s music and its place in the Jazz at Lincoln
Center universe, Mr. Marsalis was diplomatic. “This season,” he said through
a spokesman, “our theme is the many movements considered to be innovations
in jazz from New Orleans to the swing era, bebop and fusion. Joe Zawinul is
a soulful representative of the fusion innovation. He played with Ben
Webster, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, and he can play.” 

Mr. Zawinul says he is “very happy and very proud” to be playing at the Rose
Theater. And although his concerts are billed as “Fusion Revolution,” he
says he would rather not call what he plays fusion. “Weather Report was an
entity of its own,” he said. “You can’t call it rock or fusion or all these
comical words.”

The Zawinul Syndicate, in terms of personnel as well as grooves, has always
been aggressively multinational — the current edition includes a guitarist
and a percussionist from Brazil, a second percussionist from Morocco, a
bassist from the island of Mauritius and a drummer of Ugandan descent who
was born in Marseille — but he would also prefer that you not call it world

“That is incorrect,” Mr. Zawinul said. “If anything, this is music for the
world. But I don’t know what ‘world music’ means.”

So how would he characterize his music? Speaking on the phone from his home
in Southern California, he was quick to answer.

“I love that word ‘jazz,’ man,” Mr. Zawinul, 74, said emphatically, in a
voice still redolent of his native Vienna but flavored with inflections and
argot acquired over a half-century in the United States. “ ‘Jazz’ is a
beautiful word.”

He concedes that not everyone is comfortable applying that word to the
Syndicate. “I know what it is that we’re doing,” he said. “We’re
improvising, it’s incredibly rhythmic — actually more rhythmic than music
used to be — and it is entertaining.”

“I connect jazz,” he said, “not with what’s happening today in America so
much as when I was young and listened to Jimmie Lunceford, Ellington, Miles
Davis, Bird, Dizzy Gillespie: how beautiful music was then and how exciting
music was then. That’s what I connect myself with.”

The connection is a lifelong one. A
conservatory-trained pianist who says his life changed when he was 12 and
heard a fellow student play “Honeysuckle Rose,” Mr. Zawinul was in the thick
of the American jazz scene almost as soon as he arrived in New York in 1959.
After working with, among others, the trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and the
singer Dinah Washington (he played on her hit “What a Diff’rence a Day
Makes”), he spent a decade with the saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s group,
enriching its repertory and expanding its audience with earthy compositions
like “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” that belied his Austrian roots. 

He has gone on to make music that some critics and musicians view with
ambivalence and others tend to ignore. But he has an enthusiastic worldwide
following, and there is no shortage of young players who see him as an

“Usually an artist finds their ‘signature’ and then they continue refining
their signature over time,” the pianist Jason Moran said in an e-mail
message. “It’s rare that an artist has multiple signatures. Joe has gone on
many signatures, and that is what inspires me.
He’s beyond being pegged.” Mr. Zawinul’s “ridiculously beautiful” solos, Mr.
Moran added, go “way beyond what a ‘normal’ keyboardist would do in a
‘fusion’ band.”

And Mr. Zawinul’s influence, like his music, crosses boundaries.

Asked how he accounted for the steady influx of talented young African and
Latin American sidemen into his band over the years, he answered: “They find
me, man. All these kids in my band, they knew me from since they were young.
Like I grew up with Ellington and Count Basie, they grew up with Weather

So, Mr. Zawinul, what do you think of your host, Wynton Marsalis?

“More power to him,” he said. “We need somebody like him, a jazz guy, to be
on top in the music business. I have great respect for him. On the other
hand, what he is playing and what he is saying are two different things.

“The man is full of knowledge, but he is stuck. If you can’t move, you don’t
want others to move.”

Then, with a feistiness perhaps surprising in an elder statesman but
entirely characteristic of Mr. Zawinul, he offered a further thought.

“I listen to the radio when I drive, and all I hear on the jazz station is
the bebop formula,” he said.
“There is very little individuality, actually, in most of the music they
play today.

“I know what we are doing is very, very good. We are an audience band, but
we don’t talk down to the audience. What we play is incredibly melodic and
interesting music. And we get standing ovations everywhere we play.

“We are a threat, man.” 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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