Joe Zawinul with the Zawinul Syndicate (Freiburg, Germany, 2007)
|Josef Erich Zawinul|
|Born||7 July 1932|
|Died||11 September 2007 (aged 75)|
|Genres||Jazz, jazz fusion, world|
|Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Zawinul Syndicate|
Josef Erich Zawinul (7 July 1932 - 11 September 2007) was an Austrian jazz keyboardist and composer. First coming to prominence with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, Zawinul went on to play with trumpeter Miles Davis and to become one of the creators of jazz fusion, a musical genre that combined jazz with rock and roll. He co-founded the groups Weather Report and The Zawinul Syndicate. He pioneered the use of electric piano and synthesizer, and was named "Best Electric Keyboardist" twenty-eight times by the readers of Down Beat magazine.
Zawinul grew up in Vienna, Austria. Accordion was his first instrument. When he was six or seven, he studied clarinet, violin, and piano at the Vienna Conservatory (Konservatorium Wien). During the 1950s he was a staff pianist for Polydor. He worked as a jazz musician with Hans Koller, Friedrich Gulda, Karl Drewo, and Fatty George. In 1959 he moved to the U.S. to attend Berklee College of Music, but a week later he received a job offer from Maynard Ferguson, so he left school and went on tour. He then accompanied Dinah Washington. He spent most of the 1960s with Cannonball Adderley. During this time he wrote "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Walk Tall", and "Country Preacher" and played electric piano. At the end of the decade he recorded with Miles Davis on In a Silent Way as Davis was establishing the genre of jazz fusion, combining jazz with rock.
In 1970, Zawinul founded Weather Report with Wayne Shorter. Their first two years emphasized a relatively open, group improvisation format similar to what Miles Davis was doing in a more rock oriented format. However, Zawinul started making changes with their third album, Sweetnighter. Funk elements such as bass guitar and wah-wah pedal began to be introduced to the band's sound. With the fourth album, Mysterious Traveller, the musical forms were composed similar to classical music, and the combination of jazz harmonies with 1970s groove helped move the band into its most commercially successful period.
The band's biggest commercial success came from Zawinul's composition "Birdland" on the 1977 album Heavy Weather, which peaked at number 30 on the Billboard pop albums chart. "Birdland" is one of the most recognizable jazz pieces of the 1970s, recorded by The Manhattan Transfer, Quincy Jones, Maynard Ferguson, and Buddy Rich. The song won him three Grammys.
Weather Report was active until the mid-1980s, with Zawinul and Shorter remaining the sole constant members through multiple personnel shifts. Shorter and Zawinul went separate ways after recording Sportin' Life, but it was discovered they had to do one more album to fulfill their contract with CBS Records. This Is This! therefore became the band's final album.
Absolute Zawinul, a CD recording by Absolute Ensemble, with music by Zawinul, is the last studio recording done during the year that Zawinul died in 2007, and features some of his original music as well as orchestrations by Absolute Ensemble member, Gene Pritsker, which he created in collaboration with Zawinul.
Zawinul also wrote a symphony, called Stories of the Danube, which was commissioned by the Brucknerhaus, Linz. It was first performed as part of the Linzer Klangwolke (a large-scale open-air broadcast event), for the opening of the 1993 Bruckner Festival in Linz. In its seven movements, the symphony traces the course of the Danube from Donaueschingen through various countries ending at the Black Sea. It was recorded in 1995 by the Czech State Philharmonic Orchestra, Brno, conducted by Caspar Richter.
Zawinul became ill and was hospitalized in his native Vienna on 7 August 2007, after concluding a five-week European tour. He died a little over a month later from a rare form of skin cancer (Merkel cell carcinoma) on September 11, 2007. He is buried in the Zentralfriedhof Cemetery in Vienna.
With Weather Report
With Cannonball Adderley
With Nat Adderley
With Miles Davis
With Victor Feldman
With Jimmy Forrest
With Eddie Harris
With Sam Jones
With Yusef Lateef
With Herbie Mann
With Dinah Washington