Pioneering Austrian jazz pianist Joe Zawinul was one of the front runners in the development of jazz fusion along with Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and Miles Davis. Best known as the founder of the band Weather Report, with Miroslav Vitous and Wayne Shorter with whom he had previously recorded two albums as part of Davis’ studio band, in his final years he headed the ensemble called The Zawinul Syndicate.Mr. Zawinul is often credited with aiding revolutionary fretless bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius rise to popularity by giving him the position as bassist for Weather Report in the mid 1970s. Pastorus debuted on the track Cannonball, which is a tribute to Cannonball Adderley.Several artists have honoured Zawinul with songs, notably Brian Eno‘s instrumental “Zawinul/Lava”, McLaughlin’s instrumental “Jozy” and Warren Cuccurullo’s “Hey Zawinul“. Zawinul, along with Corea and Hancock, was one of the first to integrate electric pianos and early synthesizers like the ARP 2600 in 1973’s Sweetnighter. He was among the first to use a Fender-Rhodes with a Phasing effect and a Wah-Wah pedal. His creativity and attention to detail resulted in a very contemporary and modern sound. He also has played the kalimba on Weather Report’s Mysterious Traveller and Mr. Gone. Classically trained at the Vienna Conservatoire, Zawinul played in various broadcasting and studio bands before emigrating to the U.S. in 1959, where he played with Maynard Ferguson and Dinah Washington before joining the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1961. Zawinul’s biggest commercial success  came from his composition “Birdland”, a 6-minute opus featured on Weather Report’s 1977 album Heavy Weather. “Birdland” is one of the most recognizable jazz pieces of the 1970s, covered by many prominent artists from The Manhattan Transfer to Maynard Ferguson. Even Weather Report’s version received significant mainstream radio airplay â€” unusual for them â€” and served to convert many new fans to music which they may never have heard otherwise.
Zawinul was hospitalized in his native Vienna on August 7, 2007, only one week after concluding a six-week tour in Hungary. He died of cancer on September 11, 2007.