World Tour CD Detail Zawinul Online Banner

Last update: Mon, Sep 12, 2005
Zawinul's live set-up, circa 1998-1999: Left-hand keyboard stack facing
the band: Korg M1 (top), Korg WaveStation (bottom); Right-hand
keyboard stack facing audience: Custom Keyboard Switching Box (top),
Korg Prophecy (top), Sequential Circuits T-8 (bottom); Korg Trinity behind
Zawinul. Photo courtesy Az-Iz Films.
One of the interesting aspects of Zawinul's career is that he and Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report at about the same time that the first electronic music sythesizers were becoming available to working musicians. As synthesizers became more capable, Zawinul's sonic palette grew and this is well-chronicled in the series of Weather Report albums.

The following instruments are listed roughly in the chronological order in which Zawinul used them.

Wurlitzer Electric Piano

In a 1975 Down Beat interview, Zawinul told of playing the Wurlitzer for the first time in 1959. "The first person I heard playing one was Ray Charles. We worked with Ray on tour when I was with Dinah Washington. When the house pianos were bad I used the Wurlitzer, you know." According to a 1979 Rolling Stone article, one year when Cannonball Adderley's band played the JazzMobile, New York's bandstand on wheels, "the only available piano was a Wurlitzer electric. The sound of this odd little keyboard inspired Zawinul, the product of a Viennese conservatory, to write 'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,' a soul-jazz classic that became Adderley's biggest hit." [RS 282]

EMS Putney

According to a 1984 downbeat article, Zawinul's first synthesizer was an EMS Putney suitcase model--presumably the AKS, manufactured in the late 1960s by Electronic Music Studios. In the article, he described it as "some of the most cumbersome shit ever. It has little pegs that you stick in [a matrix], and it was terrible. But it didn't discourage me because I knew something simpler was around the corner."

A Guide to the EMS Product Range, 1969 to 1976, by Graham Hinton

Fender-Rhodes Electric Piano

Zawinul first used the Fender-Rhodes in 1967 on the Cannonball Adderly album 74 Miles Away. It was a part of his setup until early 1983 when he replaced it with a Rhodes Chroma. He used an assortment of effects processors, including a phase-shifter, echoplex, and wah-wah pedal. Speaking of the Rhodes in 1975, Zawinul said, "There was always a nice relationship between the artists and Harold Rhodes, the inventor of the Rhodes piano. Of course, he always wanted to improve the instrument and he would constantly be asking cats what was happening with it. In the beginning, it was not really a piano that could be used for traveling that much. It was getting messed up, getting quickly out of tune, and so more and more he started adjusting it. Today, it's a heck of an instrument."

Arp 2600

One of the all-time classic synthesizers. The 2600 was a three-oscillator synthesizer, meaning it was capable of producing three tones simultaneously. According to Arp's advertising literature, Zawinul began playing the 2600 in 1971; Sweetnighter was the first record on which he used the instrument. Zawinul owned two 2600s, each of which had a different sonic character, as he explained in an Arp ad:

"I want orchestral sounds from a synthesizer, the kind of realism beyond imitation. I can make the 2600 sound like Coltrane, just like Coltrane...or change it to soft, haunting flutes. My first 2600, 'Eins,' is my soft synthesizer, with a clear, clean sound I have never heard on any other. 'Zwei,' my second 2600, gives me a harder edge, so they are complementary."

At the time the Mini Moog was a popular synthesizer, and in a 1975 interview Zawinul explained why he liked the 2600s better than the Moog: "I like the Arp because of what I can do with it. I hear the Moog, it's immediately the Moog. With the Arp I can do things that will fool the heck out of you. I can hide between voices, I can do all kinds of things. To me it's a much more natural sound. The variety of colors is greater, too. Woodwind sounds... if you have the right hearing, you can really get it. But it takes time and work--like if you've got the coordination of a fighter, getting those combinations together--it's the same here, you get your moves together so that you can perform with it."

Zawinul sometimes inverted the keyboard of one of his 2600s, which he described as "playing upside down with my right hand, while I play rightside up chords with my left hand. It's a real head trip." They were also capable of being coupled together, permitting six-oscillator chords as Zawinul used on the Mysterious Traveller track "Scarlet Woman."

Zawinul toured the world with his 2600s and used them extensively on Mysterious Traveller, Tale Spinnin', Black Market,and Heavy Weather. (The "Birdland" intro was played on the 2600s.) "I have my own 'magic book' of sounds I've created on the 2600," Zawinul said. "Melody lines from 'Black Market,' 'Scarlet Woman,' and lots of music and sound effects from other albums I've done."

It's worth noting that these instruments had no presets--that is, no way of remembering the settings for a particular sound. Each sound had to be recreated by moving a series of sliders and reconfiguring patch cables. Arp 2600 page Arp 2600 page

Oberheim Four-Voice

Another classic instrument. Zawinul's first recorded use of Oberheim "polyphonic" synthesizers was on the album Heavy Weather, including the cut "Birdland." The instrument featured four independent voices of two oscillators each, permitting chords to be played. A programmer option allowed only some of the settings of a sound to be saved.

Tom Oberheim, the synthesizer's inventor, said Zawinul "knows what he's doing from a semi-mysical point of view. He gets incredible sounds out of his 2600, and he knows how to use the Oberheim 4-Voice very well. He gets some of the best sounds I've heard from it, yet he doesn't have the electronics background." [KB May 77] Oberheim Four-Voice page Oberheim Four-Voice page

Oberheim Eight-Voice

A monstrous keyboard, as the images at the links below attest. Essentially, it was two four-voice units built into one big box. Given its size, and its tendency to drift out tune, it must have been difficult to rely on for gigs! Zawinul's keyboard manager, Jim Swanson, built a separate keyboard controller for the Eight-Voice, with five octaves instead of four, and eight programming switches so that Zawinul could do program changes from the keyboard and not have to deal with the Eight-Voice itself. Oberheim Eight-Voice page Oberheim Eight-Voice page

Sequential Circuits Prophet 5

Another all-time classic synthesizer. Featuring five voices and ten oscillators, it was the first polyphonic (multi-voice) synthesizer in which every parameter could be stored and recalled. Plus, it sounded great. If you were a pro back in 1979 and 1980, you simply had to have one, as this Sequential Circuits ad attests. Zawinul had two, a Rev. 2 and a Rev 3.2.

Zawinul first used the Prophet 5 on Mr. Gone, and in a 1978 downbeat interview he said the album was his best yet because of the Prophet. "It's a great ensemble instrument," Zawinul said. "The touch feels good, a lot of resistance. And the sounds are amazingly accurate. The trumpet sounds exactly like brass--on this album [Mr. Gone] it's like having a big, swinging orchestra." Zawinul was also able to play one of his Arp 2600s from the Prophet keyboard, either separately or simultaneously with the Prophet. "This Prophet keyboard is an incredible machine; it has what I've always needed to make the music come off. I have forty-four different programs, including a string sound that you will not know isn't a symphony orchestra. It hasn't changed the way I write music, it just means there's no limitation." [RS 282]

The Prophet quickly became Zawinul's main instrument--"the essential keyboard for me," he said near the end of 1978--and his entire setup was built around it. Zawinul said he had "a fantastic string sound on the Prophet-5, unequaled by any other synthesizer," which can be heard on "In a Silent Way" from the 8:30 album. Supposedly Zawinul's first Prophet 5, serial number 00002, was turned into a coffee table by a Sequential Circuits engineer. Prophet 5 page Prophet 5 page

Arp Quadra

A multi-voice instrument with what Zawinul described as "an excellent bass sound" on the bottom two octaves, and strings, synth and duophonic lead synth on the top three or four octives. It also had touch sensitivity, which allowed the timbre to change based on how much pressure was applied to the keyboard.

According to some accounts I have read, Zawinul's Quadra failed at the start of Weather Report's autumn 1980 European tour, and he replaced it with two Sequential Circuits Prophet 5's. However, the Quadra was still a part of the touring setup--alongside the Prophet 5's--during the Procession days. Quadra page Quadra page

Sequential Circuits Prophet T8

It had eight voices of polyphony and a velocity- and pressure-sensitive keyboard, but some thought it lacked the sonic character that made the Prophet 5 so popular. Zawinul acquired one in early 1984, and according to a downbeat interview that same year he said of the T-8, "I have as much control as you can have. It's velocity- and touch-sensitive so when you touch down you can get your own vibrato; you can pre-program your vibrato and speed." That the T-8 is still a part of Zawinul's live set-up 16 years later indicates just how much he likes the instrument. Prophet T8 page

Korg Trident

According to a March 1984 interview, Zawinul had one of these, saying it "was nice, but it broke down after a while and I quit using it." Ironically, he later became a Korg endorsee. Trident page Trident page

CBS/Rhodes Chroma

The Chroma was the last synthesizer designed by Arp, but in the wake of the company's financial failure the instrument's design was purchased by CBS/Rhodes, who subsequently manufactured it. It was a 16-voice, 16-oscillator instrument, and sported a 64-note wooden, weighted keyboard, which gave it a feel similar to the Rhodes electric piano or an acoustic piano. (Up until then, nearly all synthesizers had plastic, unweighted keys, similar in feel to an organ.) Later models had aftertouch, which permited the sound to be modified based on the pressure applied to the keys.

Chris Ryan's Rhodes Chroma site Chroma page

Oberheim Xpander

The Xpander hit the market in 1984, and it was just about the ultimate analog synthesizer module in its day. It was a six-voice multitimbral instrument that required a separate keyboard connected by the then-new MIDI interface. It could store up to 100 programs and an addition 100 multitimbral setups. Xpander page Xpander page

Korg VC-10 Vocorder

Zawinul's use of vocal processing has been a major part of his sound for years. The idea behind the Vocorder was to control the sound of a synthesizer with the human voice. Zawinul's early uses of the Vocorder included the melody line on "8:30," the didgeridoo-like sound on "Procession," and the "chipmunk" voices on "Two Lines" from the Procession album. Vocorder page

E-Mu Emulator

One of the early sample-based instruments. Unlike Zawinul's previous synthesizers, which created sounds based on analog oscillators, filters and envelope generators, the Emulator was capable of digitally recording a sound, then playing it back by transposing it to different notes on the keyboard. Among other things, the Emulator replaced the grand piano in Zawinul's setup. Emulator page

Linn Drum LM-1

Introduced in 1980 at the hefty price of $4,995, the LM-1 became the classic drum machine of the '80s. It was the first programmable drum machine to feature sampled sounds. Zawinul used it on the title track of Domino Theory, with Omar Hakim overdubbing, as well as the track "Can It Be Done," on which Zawinul played all of the instruments backing the vocal. LM-1 page

Oberheim DX

According to the April 1988 issue of downbeat, the DX was part of Zawinul's electronic percusion gear. DX page

Korg DDD-1 Drum Machine

According to an April 1988 downbeat article, the DDD-1 was part of Zawinul's electronic percussion gear, and probably saw use on the Dialects album. DDD-1 page

Korg DDM 110 Drums
Korg DDM 220 Percussion

According to the April 1988 issue of downbeat, these two machines were also part of Zawinul's electronic percussion gear. DDM 220 page

Casio CZ-101

A small, inexpensive "consumer" keyboard, Zawinul reportedly used it during his 1986 European performances with Friedrich Gulda, placing it inside a grand piano. I don't know exactly how he played it in the manner. CZ-101 page

Korg DW-8000

According to the April 1988 issue of downbeat, this keyboard was part of Zawinul's collection. DW-8000 page

Korg DSS-1 and DSM-1

An early digital sampler and synthesizer. The DSS-1 was the keyboard version, the DSM-1 the expanded rackmount version. According to the April 1988 downbeat, Zawinul had both. DSS-1 page

Korg Pepe

This one-of-a-kind instrument was custom made by Korg in the mid-1980s at the request of Zawinul. It is not a synthesizer, as it has no capabilities to produce sound of its own. Rather, it is a MIDI controller consisting of a mouthpiece for breath control, and a set of accordion-like buttons. A picture of Zawinul playing the Pepe appears in the April 1988 issue of downbeat. In the accompanying article, Zawinul says, "Originally, I was an accordion player and it was always my dream to have an instrument like the accordion. It looks like a bassoon mouthpiece, but I used a mouthpiece from a Melodica. On the right hand side, it's an accordion with buttons. It's very difficult to learn the accordion with two notes on each button, but with Pepe's six notes, it becomes a real head trip."

According to a source at Korg, the Pepe has about 13 buttons that were made from Korg's DDD-1 drum machine, and are arranged in a manner similar to that of a piano keyboard. The breath controller is attached on the left side of the instrument. The overall dimensions of the Pepe are approximately 15" x 4" x 1". It is played by holding it with the left hand, pressing the key pads with the right hand, and blowing into the breath controller for additional expression.

Zawinul used the Pepe extensively on all of the Zawinul Syndicate releases except World Tour, as well as the album My People.

Photograph of Zawinul playing the Pepe in 1992
Another photo of Zawinul playing the Pepe

Korg M1

First manufactured in 1988, the M1 went on to become the all-time best selling music synthesizer, with over 250,000 units sold. At the time the Roland D-50 and Yamaha DX-7 were popular polyphonic synthesizers, but the M1 was something of a revelation, featuring 16 voices of sample-based oscillators which could be played as 16 separate timbres, or in various combinations adding up to 16. It sounded great, had a built in sequencer, and could be had for a relatively affordable $2,000. An M1 is still a part of Zawinul's touring setup, occupying the top keyboard position facing the rest of the band. M1 page

Korg WaveStation

This keyboard, first manufactured in 1990, is still a part of Zawinul's touring setup. It is the bottom keyboard facing the band, underneath the M1.

Korg Prophecy

This keyboard, first manufactured in 1996, is also still a part of Zawinul's touring setup. It is a throwback of sorts, being a monophonic instrument used for leads or bass lines. Zawinul frequently uses it in concert for lead lines and solos. In Zawinul's live setup, it's the small keyboard sitting atop the stack facing the audience.