Jazz musician Joe Zawinul recalled his experiences palying in Cannonball Adderley’s band during the 1960s: “I often had to sit in the bottom of the car when driving through certain parts of the South… those things never fazed me, I wanted to play with the best and I could play on that level with the best”.
On 11 September he died of a rare skin cancer at the age of 75. Jazz fans will remember Zawinul as a pre-eminent keyboardist and composer who helped pioneer jazz fusion an amalgamation of rock and jazz to worldwide acclaim.
He was a gargantuan musician who won the Downbeat US jazz magazine poll of best keyboardist 30 times during his lifetime. His mastery of ARP, Oberheim and Prophet synthesizers set the standard of jazz fusion in the seventies.
Zawinul was born to working-class parents (his mother was a Sinti ‘gypsy’) on 7 July 1932 in the poor Erdberg district of Vienna in Austia. His musical promise was developed in the Conservatoire.
After an introduction to jazz he forsook his classical training for a scholarship at Berkley in the US during 1959. There Zawinul hooked up with jazz musicians Dinah Washington and Cannonball Adderley, and began working as a jazz musician.
Zawinul scored a Billboard chart hit with his tune ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’, and wrote ‘Country Preacher’ as a tribute to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Together with Miles Davis he composed the exquisite jazz crossover album In A Silent Way in 1969.
A collaboration with saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter gave rise to the Weather Report project, which brought African and Middle Eastern sounds to wider jazz audiences.
Zawinul worked with many sidemen in the group notably bringing the extraordinary fretless bassist Jaco Pastorious to wider audiences. “The internal balance was superb there was no ego projection”.
Weather Report had a profound influence on music with its skillful arrangements mainly created by Zawinul.
He would go on performing and recording with the Zawinul Syndicate. He participated in some of the best music ever created.
Anwar Ditta, a heroic anti-racist campaigner, died last week.