Tuesday, September 11, 2007

One of the Giants has passed: Joe Zawinul

Jazz Legend Joe Zawinul Dies at 75

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Joe Zawinul, who soared to fame as one of the creators of jazz fusion and performed and recorded with Miles Davis, died early Tuesday, a hospital official said. He was 75.

Zawinul had been hospitalized since last month. A spokeswoman for Vienna's Wilhelmina Clinic confirmed his death without giving details. His manager, Risa Zincke, said Zawinul suffered from a rare form of skin cancer, according to the Austria Press Agency.

Zawinul won widespread acclaim for his keyboard work on chart-topping Davis albums such as "In A Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew," and was a leading force behind the so-called "Electric Jazz" movement.

In 1970, Zawinul founded the band Weather Report and produced a series of albums including "Heavy Weather," "Black Market" and "I Sing the Body Electric." After that band's breakup, he founded the Zawinul Syndicate in 1987.

Zawinul, who was born in the Austrian capital, Vienna, and emigrated to the United States in 1959, is credited with bringing the electric piano and synthesizer into the jazz mainstream.

This past spring, he toured Europe to mark the 20th anniversary of the Zawinul Syndicate. He sought medical attention when the tour ended, the Viennese Hospital Association said in a statement last month.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said Zawinul's death meant the loss of a "music ambassador" who was known and cherished around the world. "As a person and through his music, Joe Zawinul will remain unforgettable for us all," Fischer said in a statement.

Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer praised Zawinul's "unpretentious way of dealing with listeners" and said he wasn't "blinded by superficialities."

"Wherever he performed, he impressed with his playing," Gusenbauer said in a statement.

Zawinul's son, Erich, said his father would not be forgotten. "He lives on," Erich Zawinul was quoted as saying by APA.

Zawinul played with Maynard Ferguson and Dinah Washington before joining alto saxophonist great Cannonball Adderley in 1961 for nine years, according to a biography on his Web site. With Adderley, Zawinul wrote several important songs, among them the slow and funky hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."

Zawinul then moved on to a brief collaboration with Miles Davis, at the time Davis was moving into the electric arena. It was Zawinul's tune "In a Silent Way" that served as the title track of Davis' first electric foray.

Funeral plans were not immediately released, but Vienna Mayor Michael Haeupl told reporters he would be given an honorary grave in the capital.

I always dug Joe Zawinul. Right before I quit gigging to go back to school and on to white collar, I had a scruffy little 5 piece band in Knoxville in 1978 - 1979 -- 'bone, tenor, guitar, bass, and drums. Young, green cats, 18-19 years old, UTK jazz students (drummer Ronnie was 26). What we lacked in credible chops we made up for in enthusiasm. I named the band "Birdland" in remembrance of the jazz club in Manhattan of the same name where my high school garage band bass player Cuz JoJo and I used to sneak in with fake IDs to hear the jazz greats of the day (we played Chuck Berry etc, but listened to the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Jack MacDuff, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Stitt, etc).

MP3 cut of us here doing "Birdland," our principal chase tune (along with Steve Allen's "Gravy Waltz") in a Holiday Inn lounge (to a catatonic "crowd" of about eight, IIRC), recorded lived patched into a cassette deck off our board, LOL! (And, then there was our "Eleanor Rigby Reggae." Man! 28 years ago!)

RIP, Joe. Thanks for the voluminous inventory of stunning music.

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