Author Archives: Curt Bianchi

Zawinul Rehearsing At Home, 1985

I don’t usually post about YouTube videos, since I figure you can just go to YouTube and search for Zawinul yourself. But I recently came across one that is worth bringing to your attention.

Back in 1985, NBC News aired a three-minute profile of Zawinul, including clips of him rehearsing in his Pasadena living room studio, which he called “The Music Room.” At the time, he was preparing for his tour of Europe as a one-man band. In the clip, you see brief glimpses of him working on a solo version of “Corner Pocket” (from the Weather Report album Sportin’ Life) as well as a version of Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday.”

Now the entire, raw hour-and-a-half video of Joe working in his studio has been posted. It’s a cool and unique piece because it shows Joe working through “Corner Pocket” for solo performance. One of the things you’ll notice is just how hard it was for Joe to not only play the piece himself, but to also make the necessary “moves” from instrument to instrument, putting them into the right mode or program as the piece continues. These were technologically primitive days compared to what’s possible now, and what Joe pulled off in concert was pretty amazing.

Two Years With the Zawinul Syndicate Nearing Re-release

Back in the year 2000, Tony Zawinul, Joe’s eldest son, released a video documentary about the Zawinul Syndicate. It was a cool behind-the-scenes look at the band and its travels in the late 1990s. This is the band of the World Tour CD, with Gary Poulson, Paco Sery, Manolo Badrena, Victor Bailey and Richard Bona.

Two Years was released on VHS tape, but disappeared pretty quickly, never making it onto DVD. I still get occasional requests asking how to get a copy, and it now appears that Tony is preparing to release it in digital form, as he announced on the Zawinul Legacy Band Facebook page. He’s taking pre-orders starting on Christmas Day. Go to the Heavy Weather Shop and sign up for email updates.

Tony is also crowd-funding a documentary about Weather Report. You can go to my Weather Report site for more details.

Keeping Joe’s Music Alive — Fall 2013 Edition

The Zawinul Legacy Band returns to action this fall with a tour of Europe. The lineup will be Scott Kinsey on keyboards, Robert Thomas, Jr. on percussion, Amit Chatterjee on guitar, Mike Baker on drums, and Hadrien Feraud on electric bass. Kinsey worked with Joe in the production of his last studio album, Faces & Places, and he embodies Joe’s spirit more than any keyboardist working today. Thomas, Chatterjee and Baker are all veterans of Joe’s bands, and Feraud is one of the top young electric bass players today. Having heard Scott Kinsey’s own band several times, as well as recordings of the Legacy Band’s previous European performances, this is a tour not to be missed. Details can be found at the official Joe Zawinul website. I have also updated the Tour Dates page here at Zawinul Online.

The band will also perform next year in New York as part of Carnegie Hall’s Vienna: City of Dreams program, a three-week citywide festival during February and March 2014 that features symphonic and operatic masterpieces, chamber music, and lieder, as well as a sampling of new sounds that are emerging from this historic cultural capital.

UPDATE: Amit Chatterjee will not be a part of this tour due to personal reasons. Saxophone and Flute player Katisse Buckingham will replace him. Buckingham’s credits include gigs with the Yellowjackets and Scott Kinsey.

Aziz Sahmaoui and University of Gnawa in North America This Month

Aziz Sahmaoui, a long-time member of the Zawinul Syndicate, will make a handful of rare appearances in North America this month. More information can be found at World Music Central. Sahmaoui will be performing in the following cities:

July 21: Montreal at Nuits d’Afrique
July 24: Cleveland at Cleveland Museum
July 25: Chicago / TBD
July 26: Los Angeles at Grand Performances
July 27: Calgary at Folk Fest
July 28: Calgary at Folk Fest
July 31: New York City, Outdoor Stage Lincoln Center

“We Had So Much Fun”

Today would be Joe Zawinul’s 81st birthday. To honor his memory, I have chosen a couple of clips from an interview I did with him in February 2007. We sat outside on lounge chairs at Joe’s Malibu home, high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. At the time, Joe’s wife, Maxine, was in the hospital. I wasn’t aware of the seriousness of her illness, just that Joe seemed tired. I wondered if I should leave, but he said no, we should do the interview. Of course, Joe himself was also ill and would pass away seven months later.

In the first clip, Joe talks about how his participation in Salif Keita’s 1991 album, Amen, came about.

Joe Talks About Salif Keita

In the next clip, Joe talks about the recording of Amen.

We Had So Much Fun

The album was very successful for Keita, but also proved to be something of a turning point of Joe, as it introduced him to a new community of musicians that helped him to fully realize his vision for the Syndicate. “We had so much fun,” he recalls. We had fun, too, Joe. We miss you, but the music lives.

(If you like these, I’ve posted some other interview clips in the past as well. In this one, I ask Joe about the importance of the human voice in his music and he gave me a revealing explanation of his musical philosophy. And in this one, he talks about the making of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”)

The New Joe Zawinul Official Website

The new Joe Zawinul official website went online today. You can check it out here.

There is a section about the Zawinul Legacy Band, which includes Scott Kinsey, Matt Garrison, Bobby Malach, Robert Thomas, Jr., and Mike Baker. All of them, except for Kinsey, played with Joe either in Weather Report or the Zawinul Syndicate, or on record. And in Scott’s case, he was an important behind-the-scenes contributor to Joe’s album Faces and Places. (The broken words at the beginning of the song “The Spirit of Julian ‘C’ Adderley” was put together by Scott from the speech by the Reverend Jesse Jackson that appears at the beginning of the Adderley album Country Preacher.)

According to the website, the Legacy Band will perform in Europe this fall. No dates have been announced as of yet. The band is also booked next year as part of Carnegie Hall’s city-wide Vienna: City of Dreams festival.

The Joe Zawinul Music School and the Zawinul Foundation

Recently I learned of two separate but related initiatives that are keeping Joe’s musical legacy alive, especially among young people.

About four weeks ago I happened upon a web page describing an album, Our Tribute To Joe Zawinul, performed by the faculty and students of The Joe Zawinul Music School in Gumpoldskirchen, Austria, located about 30 kilometers southwest of Vienna.

What? There’s a Joe Zawinul music school? Why did I not know this? Inquiries to the school via email went unanswered, but with the help of Google translation I learned that it was established in 1977 and in 1988 launched Austria’s first department of popular music. In 2003 Joe consented to the naming of the school Die Joe Zawinul Musikschule (The Joe Zawinul Music School), the only school to bear his name. Joe’s remarks giving his consent are on the school’s website, which translated to English (by me, a non-German speaker) read:

Music is one of the few forms of communication that enable interpersonal communication and understanding between people without language barriers and intellectual boundaries. Especially in this day and time, especially for young people, it is particularly important to promote and maintain the choice of musical and its creative potential.

The music school at Gumpoldskirchen is doing something significant. In collaboration with a far-sighted council, the school established Austria’s first department for popular music with comprehensive training and outstanding, internationally renowned teachers. Since it’s launch in 1988, the school has constantly improved and expanded.

I therefore happily comply to the renaming of the school “Joe Zawinul Music School” and hope that it will serve many young people as a musical training facility.

Our Tribute To Joe Zawinul was undertaken in 2012 to mark the occasion of Joe’s 80th birthday. According to the liner notes by the school’s principal, Andreas Tieber:

The Joe Zawinul Musikschule Gumpoldskirchen, the only music school worldwide allowed to feature the artist’s name, is aware of the responsibility resulting from that distinction. Since the foundation of the first Austrian Department of Popular Music at our school in 1988, and the naming in 2003, we are always ready to mediate music in the sense of our mentor.

We, the teachers and students, which to take the 80th birthday of our friend and sponsor, Joe Zawinul, on July 7th, 2012 as an occasion to respectfully honor his artistic heritage by the creation and publication of a CD, containing a selection of his compositions in new arrangements and instrumentations.

With our work, we hope to contribute to the celebration of one of the most impressive musicians of the 20th century’s artistic legacy in a respectful way, and simultaneously we would like to show that the compositions of Joe Zawinul are able to impress children and teens as well as music students.

You can listen to excerpts from the album here. It is available for purchase here.


Faculty and students of the Zawinul Music School

It’s good to see Joe’s legacy carried forward with young people, which brings me to the Zawinul Foundation For Achievement. The foundation is spearheaded by Joe’s eldest son, Anthony. It’s mission is to “[encourage] and cultivate the pursuit of a dream to perform in the fields of Art, Education and Sports through the creation, identification and support of grants, awards, scholarship, internships, and commission opportunities.” There are several initiatives already underway.

The first is the installation of a display of Joe’s personal belongings, including some of his keyboards and other memorabilia from his career, in the entrance hall of the Zawinul Music School. It is the initial step toward an eventual Zawinul museum and cafe.

The installation coincided with the inaugural Zawinul Awards at the school. Four students were nominated for the first Z Award, and the winner, vocalist Katharina Wollmann, was announced at a ceremony held at the school on May 26.

The foundation has also announced the 2014 Joe Zawinul International Music Program. The program will be held at the Zawinul Music School June 15-30, 2014, encompassing private instruction, ensemble performances and culminating with a live performance at the prestigious Open Air Donauinsel Festival on the banks of the Danube River. In addition, scholarships will be awarded to cover student expenses. Further information can be found here.

These are noteworthy developments in the preservation of Joe’s legacy and his music, and I wish the foundation and the school well.

Anil Prasad’s Zawinul Interview

Anil Prasad, the journalist behind the superb Innerviews website, has brought back his 1997 Zawinul interview after being absent from the site for a few years. It’s one of the best Zawinul interviews you’ll find anywhere. A wide-ranging conversation, it touches on Joe’s relationship with Jaco and Cannonball, among other things. You can read it here.

Anil also provides a bit of behind-the-scenes story about the interview:

A true touchstone of my music journalism career is back on the Web in an extended “director’s cut” edition: My extensive Joe Zawinul interview. It’s from 1997 and is one of the most extensive interviews Joe ever gave. It’s the first interview in which I felt I was able to truly hold my own against an incredibly powerful personality. I asked some tough questions and didn’t waver, as you’ll see. Joe is my favorite musician of all time, so this was quite an occasion. Funny story: Joe and I did a number of interviews which were compiled into this piece. During one of them, he said some of the most outrageous stuff imaginable, cutting down musicians and music industry people in the most incredibly brutal way. It was amazing stuff. I noticed while he was going off, that he was looking at the recorder. He actually picked it up, looked at it, and smirked at me several times as he was engaged in this verbal assault. I left going “Oh my God, I got Joe Zawinul on tape saying all this incredibly controversial stuff!” I went home. The tape recorder wasn’t running. The tape was blank. Joe knew it all along and said all this stuff he knew I would have no record of. For the record, ever since this event, I run two recorders for every interview I do. :-) Miss you Joe….

The Syndicate: Upcoming Performances

The Syndicate has a couple of performances scheduled for next month in France and Switzerland. In July, they will celebrate Joe’s birthday on the seventh at Porgy & Bess in Vienna with special guest, accordionist Klaus Paier. They are also booked at the North Sea Jazz Festival. I’ve updated the Tour Dates page. It looks like the lineup has changed a bit, with only Paco Séry and Allegre Correa remaining from the the Zawinul Syndicate. The full lineup is Emile Parisien (saxophone), Correa (guitar), Thierry Eliez (keyboard), Munir Hossn (bass), Séry (drums), and Arnold Moueza (percussion).

Speaking of Paco Séry, I failed to note earlier the release of his album The Real Life. The label describes it as a mix of “Africa, Funk, Jazz, Hip hop, R&B,” and I’d say that’s about right. It’s kind of like seriously grooving world music. (How could it not groove with Paco behind the drum kit?) If you liked his first album, Voyages, you’ll like this one, too.

Peter Erskine’s New Book, No Beethoven

As I write on my Weather Report site, Peter Erskine has published a great new ebook that’s part autobiography, part Weather Report memoir. A must read for Zawinul fans, as well as anyone interested in Peter’s life story, Weather Report, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorious, or the many musicians Peter has worked with throughout his career. I’ve written a brief review over at the annotated discography.