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Exploring the Music of Joe Zawinul on His Birthday – July 7th

Joe Zawinul

Joe Zawinul (July 7, 1932 – September 11, 2007) – Keyboards – Composer


Last week, when I wrote about the jazz fusion sub-genre, the name Joe Zawinul came up as a major force in the sub-genre. Today I have a reason to write about and listen to Joe’s music,  because on this date in 1932, Joe was born. Joe was born, raised, and classically trained on the piano in Austria. Around 1959 he knew that to grow in the jazz genre, he needed to come to the US, so he applied for a scholarship to Berklee School of Music through Down Beat Magazine. He won a $200 scholarship , came to America.And like they say the rest is history and that’s what his career was historic. You can read the full story here.

Joe left Berklee to play with Maynard Ferguson and then Dinah Washington, but his career didn’t really take off until he join Cannonball Adderley’s band and penned “Mercy, Mercy” Mercy” which appears on the Cannonball Adderley Quintet‘s album Live at “The Club”. After leaving Adderley, Joe joined forces with Miles Davis. He worked with Miles on Miles’ albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. One of his contributions to Bitches Brew was the track that encompasses the whole second side of the album “Pharaoh’s Song” . Joe and  Davis became two of the most prominent of the creators of Jazz Fusion!  Zawinul went on to form Weather Report with Wayne Shorter, whom Joe had met when they were both members of Maynard Ferguson’s band.

Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter disbanded  Weather Report in 1985 at that time ……

….the band had produced 15 albums, including the Grammy award-winning 1979 live double-album, 8:30. Weather Report was a perennial winner of awards in music publications around the world. The band left behind a legacy that noted jazz critic Stuart Nicholson once described as “one of the most significant bodies of work in post-1960s jazz.” Tossed into the fusion or jazz-rock category by writers and critics, the truth is Weather Report was a genre all its own. As Joe once put it, “Weather Report is the leader in a field of one.” Read more

After leaving Weather Report, Joe recorded one album under his own name Dialects. I listened to some of the album the afternoon. I chose the album because it was an Editor’s Pick at AllMusic.  From Wikipedia:

Dialects - Joe ZawinulOn the original liner it appears: “The Compositions on this CD are my impressions of the many peoples and places I have visited; their moods, songs, laughter, dances; the sights and sounds of the daily lives I have glimpsed or imagined as I’ve toured around the world. Won’t you join me in this global celebration. Joe Zawinul.” More

The album is actually almost a one man show with Joe recording almost everything with his synthesizers in his home studio. Bobby McFerrin did add some of the vocals, It has a Third World feel to the music that is great!!

After Dialects, Joe Zawinul formed the band with which he would stay with the remainder of his life the Zawinul  Syndicate. Joe’s final album, 75, was recorded live with the Syndicate on his 75th birthday at Lugano, Switzerland. At the time the album was recorded, Joe was suffering from the effects of the terminal skin cancer that would take his life, in addition Joe would lose his wife Maxine who was also ill. Maxine passed away within the month that 75 was recorded. Joe continued to tour and play right up until the end which came on September 11, 2007. Why did he tour until the end? When asked that question Joe’s response can be paraphrases as, because as a musician, music was his life!

Awards bestowed on Joe Zawinul…

  • named Best Electric Keyboardist 28 times by the readers of Down Beat magazine
  • his albums won two Amadeus Austrian Music Awards.
  • the recipient of the 2000 Hans Koller Austrian State Prize;
  • the 2002 Ring of Honor awarded by the City of Vienna;
  • the first International Jazz Award, co-presented in 2002 by the International Jazz Festival Organization and the International Association of Jazz Educators;
  • the 2002 North Sea Jazz Festival Bird Award,
  • the 2003 Montreal Jazz Festival Miles Davis Award;
  • the Silver Medal for Meritorious Service to the Republic of Austria.

Joe Zawinul holds honorary doctorates from

  • Berklee School of Music,
  • Three Town College in New York and
  • the Academy of Music in Graz, Austria.

in addition…

  • The Austrian Post honored him with a special stamp in 2004,
  • and he was the official Austrian goodwill ambassador to seventeen African nations.

Well, I’m impressed after exploring the music and life of Joe Zawinul. How about you??

 Links for Further Explorations of the Music of Joe Zawinful

Official Website
Zawinul OnLine
All About Jazz

Here’s a performance of “Orient Express” from May of 2007 not long before he passed away. So Joe, Happy Birthday, wherever you’re playing tonight, thanks for your innovative spirit, because that’s what jazz is all about, and I promise to explore your music more fully!!