Thursday, September 13, 2007

Say It Ain't So (About) Joe

The world of jazz lost one of its greats this week when Joe Zawinul died on Tuesday in Vienna. The Austrian-born keyboardist was privileged to work with several of the all-time jazz greats in Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley, not to mention his stellar co-founder of Weather Report, Wayne Shorter. After Weather Report disbanded in 1986, Zawinul continued to tour with his own group, Zawinul Syndicate.

He also made his mark as a composer, penning "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" for Cannonball and "Birdland" for Weaher Report. As I told my evening combo tonight, it really says something if a jazz composer whom 90% of the world wouldn't know by name has nonetheless written two tunes that would both at least be familiar melodies to those same people. Zawinul also contributed a great deal to the music by advancing the role of electronic keyboards in jazz; this may well have been overdone by some in the '80s, but the overall sonic palette has benefited from this expansion.

I remember hearing that Zawinul had been hospitalized about a month ago, but I was hoping he was OK. I salute his contribution to our art, and I'm thankful I had the chance to see him perform a few times.

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