Speaking Of Joe Zawinul

Last updated: Feb 1, 2007

Thanks to Sanctuary Publishing, I received an extra copy of Brian Glasser’s Josef Zawinul biography, In A Silent Way. Rather than keep it, I chose to give it away to by selecting the writer of a personal anecdote about Zawinul.

I’m going to keep this page active, and hope to add more of your stories over time. Feel free to send me yours at my email address on the About page. Thanks!

Saga In 1977

It is April 9, 1977, and I drive 60 miles to Royal Oak (a suburb of Detroit Michigan) to see Weather Report at an old time Art Deco movie theater. My date and I are in our 50s so it is usually no problem to smuggle several cans of Budwiser into the theater in my baggy coat and my date’s large purse, to enjoy during the performance.

Nearing the theater we stop at a carry out to buy two six packs of beer. We notice that several neighborhoods are dark. Arriving at the theater (which is dark), we are informed that earlier an electrical storm had visited the area and several circuit breakers had kicked out. It would take a while to reset them, and the show would be delayed for one to one and a half hours.

Not having eaten we search for a restaurant that is lit to eat and kill time until the concert starts. We find a Chinese restaurant that has its lights on and enter. We are seated in a booth in a very dim room. After our eyes become accustomed to the light, we look around the room. We are the only customers except for a large round table in the center of the room where seated is the entire Weather Report band and its manager. I go to their table, introduced myself and thank them for all the pleasure they have given me through the years. We all shook hands and I returned to my table. After dining we returned to the theater.

We enter the theater and have no trouble smuggling in our beer, while most of the younger folks are searched for beverages. We are seated and wait for the show to start. The lights dim, and we hear the faint sounds of an organ as an organ console slowly rises from the orchestra pit. The playing gets louder. This is a real organ with pipes—no electronics here! As the console reaches its maximum height, we can see the organist, and it is Joe Zawinul. After a few minutes of the organ recital, Wayne Shorter joins him to make a duet. After a while the band joins in (still behind the black stage curtain). The curtain opens and Joe leaps on the stage and takes a seat behind his keyboards. And the rest of the concert is under way.

Years later I’m sitting in a bar in Toledo, Ohio, talking with a guy next to me, and we start discussing music. Turns out he is also a huge Weather Report fan. I relate my experience as stated above to him and he says he was at that concert and taped it with a cassette recorder hidden under his coat, with a couple friends holding stereo mikes about 8 feet apart. He had the tape in his car, so we went to my house to hear it. We heard about ten minutes of the tape and he said he had an appointment to keep, and to guard his precious tape with my life and he’d return for it. Well, five years later and I’d heard nothing from him; I didn’t even know his last name. I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and forgot about the whole incident.

Fast forward twenty years and I discover the Zawinul news list on the Internet. Upon joining the list, I relate part of the saga above and someone asks if I had a recorder under my coat along with the beer. I replied no, but I do have a tape of the concert. (I had long forgotten about it.) Andy Forward emailed me and offered to make me a CD of that tape, which he did, so I gave him the tape, which he uses to trade for other Weather Report items.

—Bill Eckle
January 31, 2001

Macedonia

So, it happened to be 1996; the Skopje Jazz Festival in Macedonia. Our hero was really in the mood. Due to his global, worldwide interest he realised a fantasic world music gig with his group, including the outstanding throat vocalist from Syberia, the great Bolot. Also, he promoted the family Bidzovski—he relatives of the wife of his son—to the audience. The interpretation was in Macedonian: Familija, Familija. It was nice to here the master talking in our language.

Long live the master of the world….

—Petar Palenkov
February 1, 2001

Stories From Z’s Studio Tech

One of my favorite Zawinul stories can be found by going to my web site< and clicking on the “Zawinul Story” link. Another story: Back in ’94 the Zawinul family was moving from Los Angeles to New York city. As Joe’s studio tech, I was there helping him pack up his studio equipment for to be shipped. It allowed me to spend several hours “one-on-one” with the maestro! One of our jokes during that time was when we were trying to figure out how to do something or trying to find something, when one of us was successful the other one would say “Hey, you’re a pretty smart guy… almost as smart as me!”

Here’s another story: Back in the 80’s when I started getting in to Weather Report I would spin one of their disks and hold the album cover up to my friends. I would point right to the picture of Zawinul and tell my friends that “this guy is the shit”!!! This happened years before I ever had any idea that I was going to be working with the man. I ended up telling Joe about this and he just said “oh yeah” and gave me a chuckle and kind of a sly smile!

He’s back in LA and we are just starting to work on the wiring layouts to get the equipment installed in his new studio. My wife and I were over at his house for a Super bowl party and had a really good time.

—Mitch Robertson
February 1, 2001

Catalina, 1999

Weather Report was (and still is) one of favourite bands. I saw them live in Sydney in the 70’s with Jaco and Peter Erskine. My memories of that concert are of amazement as Joe played Birdland out with the melody in chords in his left hand and improvised a solo with his right, all over the fury whipped up by Jaco and Peter.

In 1999 I spent a couple of weeks in Los Angeles and went to Catalina’s Bar and Grill one night to see the Syndicate. Catalina’s is a very small club, only a hundred or so seats. I got to sit right in front of the keyboard stack. My friend Dave who plays bass, and I were watching Joe’s keyboard tech setting up his gear, when all of a sudden Dave recognised the tech—it was Scott Kinsey, an excellent player himself, whom Dave had met in Brisbane when Scott was on tour previously.

On to the show. I was sitting closer to Joe than most of the band, with only Victor Bailey comparably close on the other side of the keyboards. I could see every move Joe made. Apart from listening to the incredible music, I learnt so much from watching a true genius at work. Having transcribed a number of Joe’s solos from the record, to actually see how he played made so much fall into place for me that night.

As there were empty seats for the second show, we were able to stay. In the break I ventured out the back to find Joe sitting in the band room chatting away to friends. Plucking up my courage, I went in and introduced myself. When Joe heard me he said ‘oh, you from Orstralia, mate’ in the broadest Australian accent he could muster. I told him how much I was enjoying the show, how much his music had meant to me, and how much we wanted him to come back to Australia. It must have worked, because he was out here only a few months ago.

I went back to resume my seat and watched the second show, which was much like the first, with a couple of different numbers in the middle. These guys worked so hard, as the music is so intense. In both shows Joe expressed his gratitude to Catalina’s as he had played there many times over the years. Nearly two years later that night still stands out as the most memorable live gig I have ever attended.

I didn’t get to meet Joe again in Brisbane this year, but I sure enjoyed the music, and I’m going to enjoy the book.

—John Williams
February 8, 2001