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Joe Zawinul

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Joe Zawinul
Zawinul in 2007
Zawinul in 2007
Background information
Birth nameJosef Erich Zawinul
Born(1932-07-07)7 July 1932
Vienna, Austria
Died11 September 2007(2007-09-11) (aged 75)
Vienna, Austria
  • Jazz
  • jazz fusion
  • world music
  • Musician
  • composer
Years active1949–2007
Formerly of

Josef Erich Zawinul (/ˈzɒvɪnəl/ ZOV-in-əl; 7 July 1932 – 11 September 2007)[1][2] was an Austrian jazz and jazz fusion keyboardist and composer. First coming to prominence with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, Zawinul went on to play with Miles Davis and to become one of the creators of jazz fusion, a musical genre that combined jazz with rock. 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 DownBeat magazine.[3]


Early life and career[edit]

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[4] (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.[5] 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.[4] He then accompanied Dinah Washington.[6] 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. As recounted in Zawinul's New York Times obituary, "It was uncommon then for a black bandleader like Adderley to hire a white sideman like Mr. Zawinul and touring could be problematic. 'I often had to sit in the bottom of the car when we drove through certain parts of the South,' Mr. Zawinul said in a 1997 interview with Anil Prasad of Innerviews magazine. But, he added, with characteristic bravado, 'Those kinds of things never fazed me; I wanted to play music with the best, and I could play on that level with the best.'"[7]

At the end of the decade Zawinul recorded with Miles Davis on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, as Davis was establishing the genre of jazz fusion, combining jazz with rock.[2]

With Weather Report[edit]

Zawinul with Weather Report in Toronto, 1977 Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin

In 1970, Zawinul founded Weather Report with Wayne Shorter.[5] 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 among others. 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.

In 1991, Zawinul was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music and on this occasion performed with a group consisting of Matthew Garrison, Torsten de Winkel, Abe Laboriel Jr. and Melvin Butler.[8]

With The Zawinul Syndicate[edit]

The Zawinul Syndicate, live in Freiburg, 28 March 2007

The Zawinul Syndicate was a jazz fusion band formed in 1988. It evolved out of Weather Report.[9] Their style could be described as a combination of unusual grooves, driving and swinging rhythms and many borrowings from different music cultures.

Zawinul himself stated that he gave the band its name due to a syndicate bearing more resemblance to a family than "just" a band.[10]

After the death of Zawinul in 2007, several members of The Zawinul Syndicate decided to reform and perform Zawinul's music live under their shortened name The Syndicate.[11]

Several major members of the Syndicate over the years include Scott Henderson, Bobby Thomas Jr, Linley Marthe, Paco Sery, Manolo Badrena, Nathaniel Townsley, Sabine Kabongo, Gary Poulson, Richard Bona, and Victor Bailey.

Stories of the Danube[edit]

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.

Joe Zawinul's grave in Vienna Central Cemetery, Vienna


Zawinul became ill and was hospitalized in his native Vienna on 7 August 2007,[12] 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 11 September 2007.[13][14] He was cremated at Feuerhalle Simmering and his ashes buried in Vienna Central Cemetery. His wife Maxine had died earlier the same year. They were survived by their sons Erich, Ivan, and Anthony.[7]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

Recording date Title / Co-leader Label Year released Notes
1959-09 To You With Love Strand 1961 As Joe Zawinul Trio
with Ben Webster
Riverside 1963
1966-02-07 Money in the Pocket Atlantic 1966
1967-10-16, -21
The Rise and Fall of the Third Stream Vortex 1968
1970-08-06 –
Zawinul Atlantic 1971
1985 Di•a•lects Columbia 1986
1988-05-20, -21 Music for Two Pianos
with Friedrich Gulda
Capriccio 1988 Produced by Wolfgang Hirschmann. WDR Big Band conducted by Jerry van Rooyen on 1 track.
1988? The Immigrants Columbia 1988 As The Zawinul Syndicate
1989? Black Water Columbia 1989 As The Zawinul Syndicate
1992? Lost Tribes Columbia 1992 As The Zawinul Syndicate
1992 –
My People ESC 1996
Stories of the Danube Philips Classics 1996 Commissioned by The Brucknerhaus
World Tour ESC 1998 [2CD] Live with The Zawinul Syndicate in Trier and Berlin. Nominated to Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Performance.[15]
1998 –
Mauthausen - Vom großen Sterben hören ESC 2000 Accepted a request for memorial music from the Mauthausen concentration camp community.[16] Wayne Shorter on 1 track.
2000 –
Faces & Places ESC 2002 Partially live recorded in Sydney and Paris. Nominated to Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.[15]
2002-11-07 Midnight Jam ESC 2004 [2CD] Live at Zawinul's 70th birthday party at the Leverkusener Jazztage with WDR Big Band
2004-05-26 – -30,
2004-09-21 –
Vienna Nights: Live at Joe Zawinul's Birdland BHM/JVC 2005 [2CD / 1CD (JVC)] Live with The Zawinul Syndicate in Vienna. Dedicated to Thomas Klestil.
2005-10 Brown Street Intuition 2006 [2CD] Live recorded in Vienna with Victor Bailey, Alex Acuña, Nathaniel Townsley and WDR Big Band
Absolute Zawinul
featured by The Absolute Ensemble
Intuition 2009 Conducted by Kristjan Järvi. Partially live recorded in Vienna. Overdubs recorded in June 2007 and June 2008. Posthumous release.
75 BHM/JVC 2008 [2CD] Live recordings with The Zawinul Syndicate. A session at Zawinul's 75th birthday party and another TV session with Wayne Shorter at Veszprém. Posthumous release. Won Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.[15]


  • Concerto Retitled (Atlantic, 1976)
  • Joe Zawinul and The Austrian All Stars, His majesty swinging nephews 1954 - 1957 (RST, 1992)
  • The ESC Years (ESC, 2011)

As leader of Weather Report

Posthumous compilations

As leader of Weather Update

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ Carlberg, Robert (April 1986). "Joe Zawinul Interview". Electronic Musician. Berkeley, California: Mix Publications. p. 44. Josef Zawinul (pronounced zav-in-ul) was born July 7, 1932 in Vienna, Austria, a city rich in musical history.
  2. ^ a b Richard S. Ginell. "Joe Zawinul". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  3. ^ [1] Archived 11 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b Walters, John L. (13 September 2007). "Obituary: Joe Zawinul". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b Kernfeld, Barry (2002). Kernfeld, Barry (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. Vol. 3 (2 ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries. pp. 1015–1016. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.
  6. ^ "Zawinul, Joe". Encyclopedia of World Biography, v. 28 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Gale. 2008. p. 389.391. ISBN 9780787622213.
  7. ^ a b Keepnews, Peter (12 September 2007). "Joe Zawinul, 75, Jazz Fusion Pioneer, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2023.
  8. ^ "Joe Zawinul, 75, influential jazz keyboardist". Archive.boston.com. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Joe Zawinul | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  10. ^ Bianchi, Curt. "Zawinul Online » 20 Years of the Zawinul Syndicate". www.zawinulonline.org. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  11. ^ Bianchi, Curt. "Zawinul Online » 2015 Tour Dates". www.zawinulonline.org. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  12. ^ Curt Bianchi (7 August 2007). "Joe Zawinul Hospitalized in Vienna". Zawinulonline.org. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  13. ^ McDonald, Ray (12 September 2007). "Keyboardist Joe Zawinul Dies". VOA News. Voice of America. Archived from the original on 16 January 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  14. ^ Schudel, Matt (12 September 2007). "Joe Zawinul, 75; Keyboardist Was a Pioneer of Jazz Fusion". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  15. ^ a b c "All GRAMMY Awards and Nominations for Joe Zawinul". The Recording Academy.
  16. ^ "Uraufführung der Orchesterfassung von Joe Zawinuls "Mauthausen … vom großen Sterben hören" im MuTh". MUK (in German). 25 October 2022.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]