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Austrian-born JOE ZAWINUL is one of a handful of musicians to bring the expressive potential of the synthesizer into the jazz mainstream. And, at age 72, he is still considered one of the great jazz innovators.
In 1959 he emigrated to the U.S., where he played keyboards with Maynard Ferguson and the great Dinah Washington before joining alto saxophonist great Cannonball Adderley in 1961 for nine years. Zawinul then moved on to a brief but fateful collaboration with Miles Davis, just at the time Miles was moving into the electric arena. It was Zawinul's tune "In a Silent Way," in fact, that served as the title track of Miles' first electric foray, and Zawinul had a potent impact on Bitches Brew, as well.
After releasing his debut solo album on Atlantic in 1970, Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter put together what was to become the most important jazz group of the '70s and beyond, Weather Report. Drawing on the power and theatricality of rock and R&B, while maintaining allegiance to jazz and the pure spirit of improvisation, they carved their own niche in the fusion movement of that decade. Bandmembers came and went, including Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius, Victor Bailey, Peter Erskine, and Omar Hakim, but the band's spirit prevailed over the course of 17 albums, including the groundbreaking album Black Market and the massively popular Heavy Weather, with Zawinul's infectious song "Birdland." That song, in versions by Weather Report, Manhattan Transfer, and Quincy Jones, won separate Grammy awards in three successive decades, and Weather Report itself won a Grammy for their momentous live album, 8:30.
In the 20 years since Weather Report disbanded, Zawinul has continued to create adventurous new grooves, with groundbreaking and award-winning efforts in the groups Weather Update and the Zawinul Syndicate. Other special projects have included an adventurous solo album, Dialects (1986), and work as producer and arranger on Salif Keita's landmark album, Amen (1991).
As another tributary of his creative life, Zawinul has also pursued classical composition. His ambitious Stories of the Danube was released in 1996; a solo project, Mauthausen, a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, was performed in 2000 on the site of the Austrian concentration camp after which it is named.