January 16, 2009

Joe Zawinul

Joe Zawinul (keyb,p): [Cannonball Adderley: Best of - The Capitol Years] [Miles Davis: Big Fun CD1 #4 CD2 #2] [Miles Davis: The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions CD1 #1-4, CD2 #1-4, CD3 #1-6] [Miles Davis / Bill Laswell: Panthalassa track #1] [Weather Report: Tale Spinnin'] Weather Report: "Eurydice" (live in Ossiach, 1971) Joe Zawinul: "In an Island Way" (+voc) Joe Zawinul: "Zansa II"

See also: Ivan Zawinul

I'm not Zawinulist, not even a Weather Reporter, but an entry on the recently deceised, likeable Mr. Zawinul cannot be missed here.
Here's my translation of German Spiegel magazine's obituary:

Virtuoso in Black and White

By Hans Hielscher

For such music one has be "free inside, has to be Joe Zawinul": That's the way how Miles Davis once praised the pianist from Vienna who died today. [...]

Already as a 17-year-old he dreamt of going to the USA as a musician. In movies like "Bathing Beauty" he sah these "villas, these wonderful swimming pools", while in post-war Vienna "there was never enough to eat". And he relished "a real super breakfast" for the first time in a club of the US Army. There Josef Erich Zawinul played accordeon in a hillbilly band.

JOE ZAWINUL: Icon of Jazz

The working class boy with Sinti ancestors, who was born on the 7th of July in 1932 could have taken a different path in life. Zawinul was invited to a pianist's competition in Geneva in 1949, a competition that Friedrich Gulda had won the year before. But at a certain moment Zawinul lost interested in practicing "eight hours of Beethoven" every day. Improvised music was appealing more to him; therefore this highly talented youth was hitting the blossoming jazz scene of Vienna. He explained his rapid development in this scene with his personal motto: "You get into a band as the weakest part and you leave it as the strongest."
This young musician's American dream came true when he found an announcement of a scholarship at the Boston Berklee School of Music in Downbeat magazine. Zawinul sent one of his records there and was accepted. Originally meant to be a limited period study residence, he stayed in the US for nearly all his life. After just a few weeks in Boston he was hired by the trumpet star Maynard Ferguson. The Austrian got a Green Card.
An engagement in the trio of the singer Dinah Washington followed. The Afro-American diva described her piano-player as a musician "with the touch of George Shearing and the soul of Ray Charles".

Afro-American Viennese humor

Zawinul felt attracted by the blacks, because they were the best players of the music that he loved the most. Furthermore he was amused by the humor of the African-Americans, which reminded him of the Viennese humor. In addition to his many friendships with blacks there was a very personal attachment: He married an African American. With the Cannonball Adderley Sextet he was travelling through the USA as the only white member of the group and he experieced nights when the whole band had to spend the night in the car because the hotel was allegedly booked out. Besides piano Zawinul also played the Fender Rhodes keybpard in the Adderley Sextet and scored a worldwide hit with his composition "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy".

"To be able to write such music", Miles Davis noted, "one has to be free inside, has to be Joe Zawinul with two brown children, a black wife, two pianos; has to be out of Vienna, a cancer and without any cliché". Davis hired Zawinul für the production of his albums "In a Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew" as composer and keyboarder.

Zawinul refused the offer to join the band of Davis. Probably these two strong personalities wouldn't get along with each other on a long-term scale, although they had a deep regard for each other. "Miles is the father", Zawinul said, "and we are his sons. But even if you're small and standing on your father's shoulders, you can see farther than he can. That's the way it is like with us, too."

Music, as unsettled as the weather

Zawinul co-determined the development of jazz when he founded the jazz-rock group Weather Report together with the saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Just like the weather, the music of this group was supposed to change all the time. To achieve this, Zawinul was relying on the new possibilities of electronics. His slogan was "play electric, sound acoustic". He compared the synthesizer with an accordeon: Both instruments "possess a number of different registers, which can be used to change the tonal color." Weather Report was fascinating more than just the jazz community but also rock fans and was celebrated worldwide. Zawinul composed further hits like "Birdland."

In his years after Weather Report the musician Zawinul, with residences in Los Angeles and Vienna travelle through the world with his "Zawinul Syndicate". Besides the possibilities of electronics he was more an more interested in percussion styles from all over the world. In the different line-ups of his band there were often excellent percussionists from Africa. His musicians could all have been his sons, if not his grandchildren.

The jazz and rock musician Joe Zawinul has also written symphonic works, among them a memorial called "Mauthausen - Vom großen Sterben hören" (Mauthausen - To hear of the great dying) in 1998, commemorating the 60th anniversary of building the nazi concentration camp Mauthausen.

Until he got ill, Joe Zawinul was a happy man. In 2002 he said in an interview with Spiegel: "Sometimes I think, I am dreaming, when I look out on Santa Monica Bay from my house in Los Angeles." Today he died at the age of 75 in Vienna.

P.S.: For a nice view on the Czech roots of Joe Zawinul and his influence in this wonderful country, see the article of Lou Kash.

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