Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Zawinul Zen

In 2006 The Zawinul Syndicate came to Blues Alley in Washington DC. Blues Alley is located litterally in an alley in Georgetown, a wonderful old school jazz club that can only hold about 75 people. Zawinul loved to play this intimate venue. What none of us knew was that Joe would pass away the next year.

I had recently bought Joe's double live CD 'Vienna Nights', which had been recorded in his club Birdland in Austria. After all the success of Weather Report and all the fantastic musicians that have passed through the Zawinul tutelage, I read that Joe felt this current band's rhythm section had more groove than any band he'd ever had. What? More groove than Pastorious, Erskine, Bailey, Hakim? After getting the CD, I found out I couldn't call Zawinul a shameless promoter of his latest record - Linely Marthe on bass and Karim Ziad on drums absolutely kill on this record. So when I heard Zawinul Syndicate was coming to DC, my bass player buddy and myself got there early, to nab that front row table about five feet from the stage.

Being a guitarist, I was always surprised how much I liked this keyboard player. Joe had long ago decided not to allow himself to repeat anything when improvising, and it kept him relevant. You also would never hear any thin or cheesy keyboard patches coming from his equipment. Always fat and warm, and his use of the vocorder made the music even warmer. The vocorder added the human voice, but in no discernible language. A melting pot of all languages. Joe was doing 'world music' before the term ever existed.

Back to Blues Alley. The show was fantastic. Sitting three feet in front of Linley Marthe during his bass solo is a musical experience you won't forget. All the while Maestro Joe is orchestrating the band, leading his pupils with simple winks and nods.

After the show, my buddy and I went upstairs, pretending to wait for the bathrooms. We knew the band's dressing room was up there, and sure enough, the door was slightly open. With a copy of 'Vienna Nights' and a sharpie marker held out, my buddy pushed the door slightly. Zawinul sees the CD and motions for us to come on in. The room must be only six by eight feet in size, it's just the band and us. Wow. Joe is sitting upright in the corner, on a counter with full mirrors behind him. Like a guru, reflecting images of himself.

"What's your name" he says, and signs my CD cover with the hands that have played all those great tunes. At 74 years, still an emissary of fusion. Priceless.

Get to know Joe personally with this great DVD:
Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story! thanks