[JPL] From the Los Angeles Times Joe Zawinul, 75; influential jazz
keyboardist led Weather Report By Don Heckman
Jazz Promo Services
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Wed Sep 12 13:02:22 EDT 2007
>From the Los Angeles Times
Joe Zawinul, 75; influential jazz keyboardist led Weather Report
By Don Heckman
Special to The Times
September 12, 2007
Keyboardist Joe Zawinul, whose innovative playing and composing influenced
musical genres reaching from soul jazz and avant-garde to fusion and world
music, died early Tuesday in Vienna. He was 75.
According to the Associated Press, his death was confirmed by a spokesperson
for Vienna's Wilhelmina Clinic, where he had been hospitalized since August.
Zawinul's manager, Risa Zincke, told the Austria Press that he suffered from
a rare form of skin cancer.
Zawinul's achievements stretch across five decades and numerous stylistic
A native of Vienna where he played accordion as a boy, Zawinul arrived at
the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1959.
But he quickly left school and gigged with Maynard Ferguson and Dinah
Washington before joining the quintet of alto saxophonist Julian
"Cannonball" Adderley in 1961.
His groove-driven piece, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," with its surprisingly
authentic -- for a European musician -- connection with American blues and
gospel music, was one of the significant compositions of the then-popular
soul-jazz style and was a hit for Adderley.
Switching into a different mode, he was a vital participant in Miles Davis'
transition into electric jazz, writing the title song for "In A Silent Way"
and performing on "Bitches Brew," albums that opened the door to
combinations of jazz, rock and electronica that would follow.
>From 1970 to 1985, Zawinul co-led the groundbreaking ensemble, Weather
Report, with saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter. Viewed by many as the band
that defined jazz fusion, it was universally praised as a creative
breakthrough, the character of its sound driven by Zawinul's synthesizers.
"The synthesizer was not a toy in Joe's hands," Shorter said Tuesday. "He
even practiced how to touch the keys on a synthesizer. He'd say, 'You touch
them differently than you touch an acoustic piano. People approach it like
it's going to do something. You have to play it like it's not going to do
anything; you have to do everything.' "
Weather Report's effects were felt across genres, triggering the arrival of
a succession of jazz fusion ensembles, as well as jazz-oriented pop groups.
Despite its popularity, however, and largely because of the presence of its
two leaders, the band retained the respect of the most critical jazz
Reviewing the Playboy Jazz Festival in 1982, Leonard Feather wrote in The
Times, "Weather Report is less a collective of five men than a single
instrument with 10 magisterial hands; a soaring sonic spaceship controlled
by two far-from-automatic pilots, Zawinul and Wayne Shorter."
According to Shorter, however, the group was initially formed with far
different goals in mind. "When we got together," Shorter said, "we spent
very little time describing what we wanted to do. In the beginning, we
mostly talked about music as literature. Almost compared like to James Joyce
-- sentences without periods or commas, without capital letters, or maybe
with all capital letters.
"The musical changes that took place emerged along the way. Instead of
saying, 'Let's do this,' and then planning to take it someplace else the
next night, we just worked on a musical dialogue. We knew that sending out
what we were trying to do, and having it be received, wasn't going to take
Nevertheless, Zawinul's "Birdland," released on Weather Report's 1977 album,
"Heavy Weather," was a significant jazz hit, garnering Grammy awards for the
original version, as well as cover versions by Quincy Jones and one with
lyrics by Manhattan Transfer.
The band broke up in 1986, and over the last 20 years of his life, Zawinul's
musical activities largely centered on his sextet, the Zawinul Syndicate.
Mixing rhythms from every part of the world with his own complex of
synthesizer sounds, he would sit behind his keyboards like an alchemist,
tossing musical phrases back and forth to musicians from across the globe.
"I'm a traveler and a listener," Zawinul told Bill Kohlhaase in the L.A.
Weekly in 2000. "I'm into the folklore of music, but I've never taken a
single bar from another culture. The music [of the Zawinul Syndicate] is
just the feeling I have for it. It's what I have in my stomach."
Zawinul also composed and performed in other contexts. A recording of his
"Stories of the Danube," a seven-movement work for orchestra, incorporating
several of his well-known themes, was released on Philips in 1996.
And in 1998, he appeared as a soloist on the site of the World War II German
concentration camp in Mauthausen, Austria, drawing a crowd of 10,000.
Zawinul's illness apparently had already progressed in July when his wife,
Maxine, who was the first African American Playboy bunny, died. Shorter
recalled seeing him around that time and asking about his health.
"The only thing that he said to me," he recalled, "was something really
quick: 'I've got this cancer, man.' He just kind of tossed it off. Not that
he was in denial. It was more like he was talking about a nuisance. That was
In August, Shorter, finishing a European tour, visited Zawinul at a concert
in Hungary. Although they had spoken several times about a Weather Report
reunion, it had never actually taken place.
"As we drove in from the airport," said Shorter, "his son said that this
could be the last time Joe and I would play together. When we got to the
concert, I went on stage near the end of his program. Joe and I did the
introduction to 'In A Silent Way,' which is the part that his wife, Maxine,
liked. When we played together, it was very concise and to the point -- very
eye to eye, that kind of thing. When we finished they got a wheelchair, and
that was the first time, and the last time, I saw him in a wheelchair."
Zawinul lived in Malibu and Vienna, where he started his own club, Birdland.
He is survived by three sons, Anthony, Erich and Ivan, and several
Although no funeral plans have been announced, Vienna Mayor Michael Haeupl
said Zawinul would be buried in a place of honor in Vienna.
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