VIENNA (Reuters) - Keyboardist Joe Zawinul, who played with Miles Davis and helped shape jazz fusion with his band Weather Report, died in his native city of Vienna on Tuesday, aged 75.
Zawinul, voted best keyboarder 30 times by music magazine Down Beat’s critics’ poll, including this year, had sought medical attention last month after a tour. He died of a rare form of skin cancer, local news agency APA reported.
“Joe Zawinul was born on July 7, 1932 in earth time, and on September 11, 2007 in eternal time. He lives on,” APA quoted his son Erich as saying.
Growing up in Vienna’s poor Erdberg district during Nazi rule, Zawinul first showed his talent by playing the accordion with his family. He later won a free place in the Vienna Conservatory. As a young man his friends were the late former Austrian President Thomas Klestil and pianist Friedrich Gulda.
In 1959, Zawinul won a piano scholarship at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where many careers in contemporary music began, before joining the bands of U.S. jazz stars Dinah Washington and later Cannonball Adderly.
Miles Davis first approached the budding pianist in New York’s Birdland jazz club, wanting to hire him, Zawinul once told an interviewer. Zawinul turned him down but said that when the time was right, they would make history together.
And when the time was right, they did. Ten years later, Zawinul wrote “In a Silent Way”, the title cut for Davis’ 1969 album regarded as one of the trumpeter’s first forays into jazz fusion, a genre drawing on rock, R&B and other styles.
He played on and composed for Davis’ “Bitches Brew” album in 1970, a chart-topping record considered revolutionary for the day and marking his crossover to a rock and pop audience.
Zawinul started Weather Report in 1970 with saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The band did much to bring electric piano, synthesizers, and African and Middle Eastern rhythms to mainstream audiences in a jazz setting.
Before its breakup in 1985, Weather Report released 17 albums. Its most famous song, “Birdland”, published on the “Heavy Weather” album in 1977, won separate Grammy awards in three decades — for the original version as well as for covers by Quincy Jones and Manhattan Transfer.
Following the break-up of Weather Report, Zawinul had fronted the Zawinul Syndicate for the past 20 years. After the group’s tour this summer, he sought medical attention and was admitted to the Wilhelmina Clinic in his native city last month.
In 1963, Zawinul married Maxine, the first African-American Playboy bunny, whom he met in the Birdland club too. They mainly lived in Malibu, California. The couple had three children.
He also spent a lot of time in Vienna and started his own club there, also called Birdland. He had planned to give a concert in Vienna’s concert hall on September 29.
Vienna Mayor Michael Haeupl said the musician would be buried in a grave of honor in Vienna.
Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich