Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Joe Zawinul has died. Only 4 hours ago in his homeland of Austria. When a musician I love passes away, it's like a piece of me also goes.

For those who were adventurous with their music listening in the 70s and 80s in India, and had moved beyond The Beatles, rock'n'roll, Southern rock et al, jazz was the sound you were getting to know.
Zawinul, Pastorius, Acuna, Shorter, Badrena: Weather Report

Weather Report was certainly a band you would have heard. I know I did. Their 1974 album - Mysterious Traveller was the first recording I ever heard of theirs, and they barged into my heart and my spirit was inflamed. They became, and have remained, one of my favourite bands of all time, regardless of the genre they were reputed to represent. With the likes of Wayne Shorter on sax and the incomparable Jaco Pastorius on bass, as well as Alex Acuna nd Manolo Badrena on drums and percussion, it was no wonder that downbeat magazine of that era called WR the best jazz band in the world. On their break-up in the late 80s, I was saddened, as much as I was sad when The Beatles broke up. And then with the vagaries of international music distribution, such as it was in this country, especially for new and modern jazz, I lost touch with Zawinul as a solo artist and didn't even know he had a band called Zawinul Syndicate. Until the mid-90s when New Delhi, my home then, hosted an EC Jazzfest.

The European Community Jazz Fest was held at Pragati Maidan in the Hamsadhwani open air amphitheatre and featured some wonderful musicians from the continent, including some I was hearing for the first time like Britain's Django Bates and his incredible piece - Food for Plankton. The last day featured the greatest - who else? Joe Zawinul and the Zawinul Syndicate!

The previous two or three days of that Fest is overshadowed by my memory of ZS. Here was my musical icon playing live for me, surrounded by his keyboards, and of course his mind-blowing band. Because of the friends I had in the press who had access to the best seats in the house, and a backstage pass for after the show, I was so thrilled to be in the presence of greatness that I was struck dumb! For me that was a concert to die for. Towards the end when Zakir Hussain came on for some impromptu jamming, I was breathless. His tabla trading beats and rhythm with Manolo Badrena's Latin percussion and Zawinul's keyboard licks were like musical heaven on earth, a fitting finale that I, and all the audience didn't want.

I know I sound like a fluffy teenager as I re-read what I've written, but it's what I felt and even now, that feeling though quite dissipated, is still somewhere in me, in my head and my heart. In my soul.

I've just finished listening to Zawinul on Miles' album In A Silent Way, and now I'm going to listen to my entire Weather Report collection, as I wait to download a double CD called Brown Street from 2006 which is Zawinul Syndicate recorded live in Vienna. I'm downloading this from a torrent site and I am eternally grateful to all the powers-that-be for the invention of this facility to do so.
Weather Report in performance in 1978

What made Zawinul an icon in the music world? He wasn't so just for me, but for all music fans who love jazz, and not what my good friend David Mac calls plink-plonk! Zawinul introduced the sound of the electric piano and subsequently the synthesizer into jazz while playing with Miles Davis. But he went beyond jazz, or should I say he epitomised what jazz began to mean to many of us from other cultures. It was no longer the domain of the Americans. It became "world music" as we term it today. The line-ups of Weather Report, and later Zawinul Syndicate itself are indicative: American, European, Latin American, African, Indian, other Asians. He brought back to jazz (perhaps not single-handedly) what it was always meant to be - a melange, a melding, a melting pot of musics and sounds from all over the world, which when played together by like-minded musicians assumed an identity of its own, becoming a living, breathing thing we can only call... JAZZ. In that sense "world music" is a misnomer. Jazz was it before we began to split hairs.

So in honour of Zawinul, and others who have gone before him, and the yet-others who are still around doing their musical bit to bring the world truly together with peace and love through melody and harmony, this posting is my small contribution to the cause they espouse.

1 comment:

abhijit said...

...Joe Zawinul LIVES.......... forever.........